Once again, the Super Bowl will go down without the Vikings. The final 10 Points of the season…
1. Memo to Viking fans who wish to do nothing but bash the referees: You are making fools of yourselves. That interference call against Ben Leber was probably a bad call but so what? Had the Saints lost, they could’ve screamed and yelled forever about the roughing the passer call against Anthony Hargrove, or even the earlier unnecessary roughness call against Bobby McCray where he ran Brett Favre over at a point where Favre was basically a blocker. Actually, if you add the whole game up, the Saints probably have a greater gripe against the officiating than the Vikings do. But, in truth, neither fanbase should be focusing on the referees in the wake of that mess. Blaming the refs is what nitwits do who are unwilling to see the reality of the situation, or simply do not have a grasp of reality.
2. When time passes and our brains are done filtering the irrelevant from the relevant, the one play that will stick out in our memories is the Adrian Peterson fumble at the end of the second quarter after Reggie Bush handed us six points on a silver platter. The game was 14-14 at that point, and had the Vikings sealed the deal there, they would’ve gone into the half with a 7-point lead and a huge psychological lift. The entire dynamic of the second half would’ve been changed had the Vikings led by seven coming out of the break, because even had the Saints scored in their first possession, it would only have been a tie game, and the Vikings would’ve been much less tense and maybe some of those fumbles would not have happened. And maybe the Saints, who I thought played very tight on offense in the second half anyway, would’ve been the ones feeling the pressure, and would’ve made the killer mistakes. But we’ll never know now because Peterson coughed it up. (Note: Yes I realize that fumble was technically credited to Favre, but come on, we all know who was responsible).
3. The Peterson defenders will point out that only two fumbles were counted against him in the scorebook and both were recovered by the Vikings. And they’ll probably point out that the 1st (actually 2nd) fumble didn’t mean much because we immediately came back, thanks to Visanthe Shiancoe, and moved the ball down for the score which Peterson ran in himself. So no harm, no foul on that one. And the other fumble, at least Peterson hustled and got the ball back himself. That 2nd (actually 3rd) fumble was the problem though, because afterward, Brad Childress had no choice but to yank Peterson from the game, which meant his presence was no longer on the field, a fact the Saints undoubtedly adjusted to. And what happened a few plays after that fumble? Brett Favre was picked off by Jonathan Vilma (on the same play where we thought Favre had been killed). There’s no way of knowing for sure if Peterson being off the field really created that turnover, but the point is, we all accept that defenses over-adjust to account for Peterson, which is a large part of our passing success, meaning we are much better off with him in the game than not in the game. But we don’t get the benefit of his presence when he keeps fumbling and needs to be benched to get his head together.
4. The overall lack of ball security demonstrated by the Vikings in the second half was, to me, a symptom of a larger issue that reared its head more-and-more as the game progressed: basically, that the game started getting too fast, too pressurized, too big for some of the Vikings players. The only one who really kept his head entirely, it seemed like, was Brett Favre, at least up until the last offensive play of regulation when he went dumb. Everyone else seemed to lose their shit. Darius Reynaud muffed a punt, Percy Harvin fumbled, Bernard Berrian fumbled, Steve Hutchinson lost his shoe for awhile and had to be replaced by Artis Hicks, Tyrell Johnson and Cedric Griffin both missed interceptions, the kick coverage got lax, which helped the Saints get field position on a couple of occasions. And then there was the huge gaffe, the killer gaffe, the gaffe that will haunt us forever: the 12-men-in-the-huddle call that led directly to the Favre interception. If ever a single moment demonstrated a team’s inability to keep its focus in the midst of pressure, that was it. And it was inexcusable.
5. The Vikings really should’ve gotten blown out of the water in the second half, but didn’t because, frankly, the Saints offense played almost as tight as the Vikings’. The playcalling, I thought, got too conservative from them, and helped the Vikings defense which did a good job holding up in spite of all the turnovers by their offense. I really don’t know why the Saints didn’t show more killer instinct on offense when the Vikings kept handing them chances. All I know is that Leslie Frazier and Gregg Williams were the ones who came out of that game shining. The Saints defense gave up some yards, but they punished Favre, and forced 5 turnovers. And the Vikings – again, with help from the Saints’ inexplicably gutless playcalling – played arguably as good a game as they did vs. the Cowboys, when you look at how unimpressive the Saints’ final numbers were.
6. The biggest question facing Viking fans today is: How angry should we be at Brett Favre for that final interception? If any point argues in favor of not being too angry, it’s that Favre never should’ve been put in a position to try to throw there. All the Vikings needed was to keep running it, not lose yardage, not take a sack, and above all NOT TURN THE BALL OVER AGAIN. But, then Chilly decided to get cute with the substitutions, and someone didn’t know they were supposed to come out of the game and…12 men in the huddle. Of course, it’s possible Favre could’ve scrambled for a few yards there and gotten Ryan Longwell back in range. But we’ll never know now because Favre’s first thought is always to pass and it was his first thought there. Perhaps Favre lost it under the pressure of the moment or perhaps that is just who Favre is. All I know is, we would not have been in that game at all had it not been for Favre. He kept the team together when everything seemed to be falling apart, and but for a couple of unfortunate mistakes, played as well as one could’ve expected from a man his age given the number of hits he took and the number of mistakes his teammates made around him.
7. I joked during the game that Viking fans had to be happy about the 12 men in the huddle call, because it finally gave them a solid reason to blame Childress for the loss. I now realize, however, that no matter what happened, Viking fans would’ve blamed Childress. Had Favre thrown 5 interceptions, fans would’ve cried that Childress should have run the ball more. Had Adrian Peterson fumbled 2 more times, fans would’ve screamed that Childress should’ve taken him out. Had Chester Taylor fumbled, fans would’ve blamed Childress for not putting Adrian Peterson back in even despite the fumbles. Had the Superdome roof collapsed, killing everyone inside, Viking fans would’ve figured out a way to blame Childress for that too. Childress is simply despised, for a variety of reasons, some of them irrational, and would’ve been the number 1 target of fan scorn regardless of how things went down.
8. What if…Cedric Griffin doesn’t get hurt on that kick return, putting Asher Allen on the field to commit pass interference and help the Saints keep their drive alive? Just one more thing to torture yourself about.
9. Bernard Berrian played like a man possessed up until that fumble. Where was that all season? I guess we should be grateful he decided to show up at all, but, damn man. How about trying to earn your huge paycheck every week instead of just when the bright lights are on you?
10. Even if Favre doesn’t return, the Vikings have a fantastic offensive nucleus. Sidney Rice, Visanthe Shiancoe, Percy Harvin…Adrian Peterson, if he learns to hold onto the ball. Phil Loadholt who I think could shift over to left tackle at some point. The problems are at quarterback, center, left guard (yes, Hutchinson is a question mark, because of age and health) and left tackle unless Loadholt is the answer. It will be an interesting off-season to say the least.
Bonus: It’s a good thing there are no coaching jobs open, because Leslie Frazier’s stock after the last two games is higher than it will ever be again. I’m guessing that, if the Raiders get rid of the Cable character, Al Davis will hire some weird-ass out-the-blue candidate and not even offer it to Frazier, who probably doesn’t want that job anyway.
Topics: Adrian Peterson, Bernard Berrian, Brad Childress, Brett Favre, Cedric Griffin, Chester Taylor, Dallas Cowboys, Jared Allen, Jonathan Vilma, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Percy Harvin, Reggie Bush, Sidney Rice, Steve Hutchinson, Visanthe Shiancoe