Anyone wanting to know what has been wrong with the Vikings in 2010 need only look at the tape of Sunday’s 27-24 win over the Cardinals. Nearly every issue that has plagued the team this year cropped up during the course of that game: penalties, turnovers, special teams breakdowns, lack of pass pressure, pass protection failures including missed blitz pick-ups by running backs, inconsistent quarterbacking, questionable playcalling. By the mid-point of the fourth quarter it appeared the Vikings had finally crumbled under the weight of all these accumulated problems – most of which, I don’t need to point out, were not the direct responsibility of embattled head coach Brad Childress. The Cardinals, playing a brand of loose and opportunistic football that stood in stark contrast to the Vikings’ slogging, gaffe-ridden approach, built a 24-10 lead with only 4:39 left in the game, and seemed well on their way to sticking a dagger in the Vikings’ hopes for a 2010 playoff run. And then something magical happened: the Vikings seemed to slough off all that long-accumulating garbage and, for the first time all season, just played football. The fans who remained in Metrodome – you know, the loyal ones who didn’t all leave when they thought it was over – were treated to one of the great comebacks in Vikings history, a furious offensive and defensive rally resulting in 17 unanswered points through the last 4 minutes of the fourth quarter plus overtime. Game won, season saved…Brad Childress not fired (for now).
What made the victory so sweet was that everyone on the team seemed to contribute. Guys who had become goats for their disappointing performances throughout the season – Jared Allen, Bernard Berrian, Lito Sheppard – were suddenly making plays. Finally, all that talent seemed to come together, all the pieces seemed to be working in harmony. At the heart of the whole furious football whirlwind was Brett Favre himself. With time running out the Vikings went to a hurry-up offense, and suddenly Favre was transformed from the creaky old man at the end of his string to the maestro whipping up one last masterpiece. He hit receivers all over the field: Visanthe Shiancoe, Berrian, Adrian Peterson, Greg Lewis. When it was over, Favre had put up a career-high 446 yards on 36 completions, with no completion longer than 33 yards. And he did this without field-stretching Randy Moss “opening things up” for his receivers. The Vikings bucked conventional offensive wisdom all day by demonstrating that you can put together a huge offensive game without winging balls deep. Percy Harvin burned would-be tacklers all over the field, Bernard Berrian turned short slants into good gains, and Adrian Peterson showed he can be a weapon in the passing game by catching all four balls thrown to him, including a beautiful swing pass for a touchdown. Maybe, finally, Brad Childress and Darrell Bevell have learned that falling behind doesn’t have to mean dropping Peterson from the game plan.
But of course, the brilliance of the Vikings’ late rally shouldn’t blind us to the realities of what preceded it. The team would not have been 14 points behind late in the fourth quarter had they not repeatedly shot themselves in the foot. It started with Brett Favre’s interception to Kerry Rhodes, which would’ve resulted in six points had Greg Camarillo not chased him down from behind and caused him to fumble it out-of-bounds for a touchback. Then there was Favre’s second interception, which happened on the goal line, and was caused because Bryant McKinnie whiffed on a block, allowing the pressure to alter Favre’s pass. Speaking of pressure…once again, Adrian Peterson must be criticized for missing some blitz pick-ups, resulting in Favre taking hits his old body can’t afford to take. The coaching staff, placed in a desperate situation by the scoreboard, had no choice but to leave Peterson in the game regardless of what it might’ve meant for the pass protection, and Peterson rewarded them by making plays. Percy Harvin made plays too – in fact, he was most of the offense throughout the first half – but Harvin also had his breakdown, fumbling a kickoff return which was taken for six by the Cardinals. This play, early in the third quarter, seemed the most damaging blow to the Vikings’ chances, and the gaffe that might finally result in Chilly getting his head lopped off by an enraged Zygi Wilf.
That the Vikings were able to overcome all this self-inflicted damage – 3 turnovers, 11 penalties, a kickoff return touchdown allowed, a housed turnover allowed and another that should’ve been, a redzone INT – is testament to their grit and their talent. However, a question presents itself: if the Vikings have this much grit and talent, why hasn’t it shown up more often this year? Why did they need to get in such a dire situation before they could wake up and finally play like we thought all year they were capable of playing? And an even more important question: does this one rally spark the team to a run of victories, or was it instead a last hurrah before the on-set of twilight? At 3-5 the Vikings are back in the playoff picture, but if they lose next week to the Bears and drop to 3-6, will they not be right back in the meat grinder again? Yesterday’s win was a beautiful win, but it was only one win. If the team wants to really build on it, they have to play well from the start to finish of games, not sleepwalk through three-and-a-half quarters before finally jolting awake at the realization that they’re about to lose again. As Brett Favre himself said yesterday, you can’t win every game like that.