What a rebound by the Vikings. Here are my 10 points…
1. Yesterday’s win over the Bengals was the most impressive all-around performance by the Vikings all year, given the level of competition. A week after getting outworked by the Cardinals, the Vikings showed they haven’t become a candy-ass finesse team by pushing around a pretty physical Bengals defense. The key was the running game, which got back on-track after derailing in Arizona. For the first time in a long time, the Vikes dedicated themselves to running the ball, and were able to visibly wear down the Bengals’ line as the game progressed. Adrian Peterson had his best showing in weeks, and when they mixed in Chester Taylor, he found holes too.
2. If you threatened Brad Childress with waterboarding, I bet he’d admit that the Vikings became way too dependent on Brett Favre, and it was their own fault that the running game was able to slide as far as it did before this weekend’s rebound. The playcalling against Cincinnati showed the determination to get back to tough, physical, run-first football. And I imagine the tight coverage by those terrific Bengals corners probably dictated that somewhat as well. It was just the right move to stick with the run and make it work no matter what. The formula yesterday was closer to what we anticipated before the season: AD as the primary weapon, with Favre in more of a support role. I bet if you asked Favre, he’d say he was glad to have less of the onus on him.
3. And then there was the defense. Is there any doubt now that Antoine Winfield is one of the biggest impact players in the league? His presence elevated the Vikings D in a way that must’ve been obvious to even the most inexperienced of observers. He’s one of those guys who, when you need to stop a drive, he will answer the bell, either with a huge tackle on a runner or a big play in coverage. Having him back was like opening up the window on a stifling hot day and feeling a cool breeze come blowing right in your sweaty face.
4. Props to rookie starters Jamarca Sanford and Jasper Brinkley, who both acquitted themselves admirably in a fairly tough spot. Brinkley made a couple of big stops early against the run, and both players avoided making any glaring rookie mistakes. Brinkley, especially, looks like a guy with a bright future. I am less worried about the impact of the Tyrell Johnson and E.J. Henderson injuries after watching them play. In fact, I can’t see any discernible difference between Sanford and Johnson. I frankly don’t care which guy ends up starting.
5. Cedric Griffin deserves high praise for the play he made jumping and tipping the ball away from Chad Ochocinco in the endzone, a play that effectively ended the Bengals’ hopes of mounting a comeback. There was a time when I thought Cedric was about the worst player in the league when it came to making such plays, especially on fades against good receivers, but he must’ve worked on timing his leaps. And that shot to the face of Ochocinco that knocked Ocho’s helmet off should not have been a penalty. I thought it should at the time, but upon further reflection, it was a bad call.
6. We won the game by 20, but I still thought the offense suffered a little from the loss of Percy Harvin, who not only missed practice all week, but wasn’t even at the facility. There were a couple of third-and-longs that probably would’ve gone to Percy, and may very well have been converted, that ended up not resulting in first downs. You can cover two good wide receivers like the Bengals did most of yesterday, but try covering three. That third guy really makes an offense dangerous. Especially when he’s lightning fast and fearless going over the middle.
7. John Sullivan‘s play has convinced me that the Vikings need to bring in someone next year to compete at center, either via the draft or free agency. He just gets beat too much.
8. Favre’s pump-fake on the Sidney Rice touchdown was a thing of beauty. It’s the little things that make Favre so special. And his interception wasn’t a terrible one. He probably shouldn’t have thrown it, but he was being rushed from behind and just failed to get enough air under the ball to clear the coverage guy. It’s not a December swoon. We just need to stick with the plan of running more, and get Harvin back in there, and get Visanthe Shiancoe healthy and back in the rhythm, and Favre will be just fine.
9. I think we all take Ryan Longwell a little for granted. It’s time to throw him some random love. He’s money. In fact, I would take him over any kicker in the league right now. How much do you think Jerry Jones would pay Zygi Wilf to have Longwell for the rest of the season, were such transactions legal? $100 million?
10. Playoff scenario time: Yes, the Vikings have clinched, so now we can think about seeding. If the Cardinals lose tonight, the Vikings can sew up the #2 overall seed with a win over Carolina on Sunday night. This raises an interesting question: If the Vikes clinch the 2-seed and first round bye with two games left, knowing the Saints are going to be impossible to catch for the #1 seed, how do you handle those last 2 games? Do you sit all your starters for both games? Let starters play the first halves? Let starters sit in the Bears game knowing it’s outdoors in the cold, then let starters play the final game in the warm comfort of the Dome just to keep them from getting too rusty? I’ll be curious to see how Chilly handles it.
Tags: Adrian Peterson Antoine Winfield Arizona Cardinals Brad Childress Brett Favre Carolina Panthers Cedric Griffin Chad Ochocinco Chester Taylor Cincinnati Bengals E.j. Henderson Jamarca Sanford Jasper Brinkley Jerry Jones John Sullivan Minnesota Vikings New Orleans Saints Percy Harvin Ryan Longwell Sidney Rice Tyrell Johnson Visanthe Shiancoe Zygi Wilf