The Vikings are 2-4 coming off a brutal loss to their biggest rivals. Their starting quarterback spent most of the week in a walking boot and only got to practice one day. Their previously dominating defensive line has become something of a question mark. And now they get to play the 5-1 New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. An old line occurs to me right now, something about no rest for the wicked. But that’s how it is in the NFL: just when you think things can’t get any harder, you have to go play the Patriots – with Brett Favre talking openly about not being able to finish the game. If you think it’s tough to beat the Patriots, try doing it with Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback.
Brad Childress would probably prefer to try it with Tarvaris, but Brett Favre is not going to let him. Come hell, high water or an avulsion fracture, Favre will take the field Sunday afternoon, extending his consecutive games streak to 292. Of course, because this is Favre, it won’t be enough to just play a series and come out. Favre needs to be the hero, and what would be more heroic than saving the entire Vikings season in the face of impossible odds? If Favre were to somehow pull out a victory today, it would rank up there with the most amazing feats of his career. Unfortunately, we all saw last week what can happen when Favre gets his hero on: three second half interceptions against the Packers. That’s not the kind of rescuing the Vikings need. As a matter of fact, they don’t need any kind of rescuing at all, they just need a good consistent quarterbacking performance to complement their running game and defense. Favre is capable of giving them that, but only if he’s able to put his Superman bit aside and stay within the offense. If the ankle is strong enough, he can still make the throws. The question is, will he make the right throws at the right times?
There’s no doubt in my mind that, if Favre is even 75% healthy, he’s still a better option than Tarvaris Jackson. T-Jack may be by far the more mobile quarterback right now, and we know his arm is probably in better shape, but when it comes to feel for the game, savvy, leadership and all those intangibles, T-Jack doesn’t even belong in the conversation. If you’re going to pull out an upset win against a team like the Pats, you need Favre’s guile and experience and playmaking ability. Once again, everything depends on Favre keeping his massive ego in check and just playing the game. Oh, and of course, the Vikings have to protect him well, because now he can’t move even the little bit he could before. If the Vikings don’t pass protect, it could be a very short day for Mr. Favre. And then Chilly will get his secret wish: Favre out and T-Jack in. In that case, the Vikings wouldn’t have a chance in hell of pulling out the victory. As it is, the chances of their stealing a win in New England seem remote at best.
Those chances would increase somewhat if the defense could kick things up a notch. Specifically, I’m thinking about the defensive line. Two weeks ago against Dallas they were able to get some pressure on Tony Romo (even though they didn’t tally a sack), but last week against the Packers, Aaron Rodgers had almost no one in his face, and it showed up in his passing performance (which would’ve been even better had it not been for some miscommunication with his receivers). I realize the Patriots don’t necessarily feature the deep passing game as much as they did before Randy Moss got traded away, but don’t be fooled: if the Pats see that the front four aren’t getting pressure, they will take deep shots. Bill Belichick is the kind of coach who will always take whatever the defense gives him. He’ll dink-and-dunk all day if that’s what’s best; but if Brady has the time, he will go for the jugular. It would help the Vikings’ cause immensely for the defense to force some turnovers. That aspect of the game was sorely lacking the first few weeks, but over the last two games, the Vikings have picked off four passes. They’re still not exactly a ball-hawking defense, but they’re getting there. A dominating defensive performance from the front line all the way back to the safeties would go a long way toward taking the pressure off Brett Favre or Tarvaris Jackson, or whoever winds up playing quarterback.