If the Vikings were trying to set a tone by coming out the first play of the game vs. the Jets and running a crazy reverse-pass with Percy Harvin and Randy Moss…well, it worked. Unfortunately, the tone it set was not one of high-flying offensive abandon but head-scratching offensive ineptitude. The reverse-pass ended not in a defense-rocking, crowd-stifling gain as intended but a five-yard illegal man downfield penalty, and was, perhaps predictably, followed immediately by a Jim Kleinsasser false start that set the Vikings back another five yards to make it 1st and 20. That possession ended with a Chris Kluwe punt…as would the next four Viking possessions. The pattern was finally broken late in the second quarter when, instead of punting, the Vikings gave the ball away on a Brett Favre fumble.
Had it not been for the defense (and some butterfingers by the Jets’ receivers), the Vikings might’ve been blown out in the first half. Fortunately, as has been the case for most of the season, the D was up to the challenge. Each time the Jets penetrated into the red zone, the defense held, forcing New York to settle for field goals. Then mother nature got in on the act: The driving rain that had pushed back kick-off 45 minutes before subsiding now returned, helping to derail what looked like a sure Jets touchdown drive late in the second quarter against a winded Vikings defense. Mark Sanchez’s throws were accurate in spite of the rain, but the wet ball evidently was too slippery for the Jets’ receivers, and once again New York was held to a field goal.
Weather, stout Vikings red zone D and lack of Jets sticky-handedness conspired to keep the score reasonable going into the half. Your only hope as a Viking fan was that, somehow, some way, the passing game would get sorted, allowing for a big second half comeback. Those hopes seemed flimsy, however, when one considered how malaise-ridden the offense looked in the first half, and how frustrated and even over-the-hill Favre appeared. But, as has been said many times before, we should never underestimate Brett Favre’s capacity to conjure offensive magic. Maybe it was a play-calling adjustment, maybe it was Gunslinger pride welling up, maybe it was an elbow massage he got in the locker room…I don’t know what it was, I just know that, in the third quarter, the switch flipped and Favre became Favre.
Finally, after a week of build-up and a first two-plus quarters of frustration, Favre found Randy Moss deep. The touchdown was the 500th of Favre’s career, but more importantly, it cut the score to 12-7. Sadly for the Purple, the special teams guys must’ve still been thinking about the touchdown as they lined up for the ensuing kick-off, because they allowed Brad Smith to return it 86 yards to the 19. Once again the defense was called upon to save the day, and once again it held the Jets to a field goal. This field goal, however, would prove especially key to the way the rest of the game played out…because when the Vikings got the ball back, Favre found Percy Harvin streaking over the middle, and Harvin scored to make it 15-13; and now Brad Childress, somewhat controversially, decided to go for 2. As it turned out, the Vikings should’ve easily converted the 2-pointer, but Favre failed to see Naufahu Tahi wide open in the end zone, and instead tried a pass to Visanthe Shiancoe that was picked off. The scoring would play out in the second half in exactly the right way to make Childress’s decision look dumb: Shonn Greene scored a touchdown to put the Jets up by 9, making it a two-possession game with 4 minutes left. Hindsight is 20/20 I realize, but had Chilly kicked the extra point, it would’ve been an 8-point game then, and the Vikings could’ve played things with a little less desperate urgency. As it was, the Vikes still got the touchdown to cut it to 2, thanks to Favre’s second scoring hook-up with Percy Harvin. But now they needed one more score, and were running out of time and time outs.
The game should’ve actually been over right there truth be told, but the Jets went silly in their playcalling, passing when they should’ve been running it to keep the clock going, and the Vikes ended up getting the ball back one last time with 1:48 remaining, needing only a field goal to win. Alas, the Jets defense decided now would be a good time to rise up (as they hadn’t done throughout most of the fourth quarter), and they picked off Favre to score and end the game. When all was said and done, the Vikings’ offense took too long getting on-track, the defense ended up gassed after being on the field too much in the early going, and despite looking better than he had all season, Favre still came up short in the end. And even with Favre’s magic, in all honesty, the game should not have been close. The Jets did the Vikings plenty of favors along the way, especially in their red zone playcalling, and managed to let Minnesota hang around.