Over the next several days (or weeks or however long it takes us) my collaborator Jon Merkle and I will be counting down the 10 most significant Vikings stories of the season just ended. This actually includes off-season stuff plus the season itself. So, let’s begin…
#10 The Arizona Comeback
We knew the early schedule was going to be hard on the Vikings. After an opening road game against the Super Bowl champion Saints, Minnesota would come home for two against Miami and Detroit, then it was back on the road to face the playoff contending Jets. Then it was back home for another match with the Cowboys, the team the Vikings shellacked on their way to the NFC Title game last year. After that, two more road games, against the hated Packers and the always-tough Patriots.
But it wasn’t just the schedule that was against the Vikings in the early season. Once again, Brett Favre was entering the year with little in the way of practice under his belt. Sidney Rice, Brett’s favorite target in 2009, was on the shelf after undergoing hip surgery. Center John Sullivan and receiver Percy Harvin were both behind in preparation after suffering preseason injuries. Cornerback Cedric Griffin, who was still recovering from an ACL tear, was not with the team to start the season, and to make matters worse for the secondary, nickelback Benny Sapp was gone after being traded for Greg Camarillo in a move to bolster the depleted receiver corps. A further drastic step would be taken to beef up the receiver position when, after week 3, the Vikings would send a 3rd-round pick to New England for a disgruntled Randy Moss. How the addition of Moss would impact the Vikings’ fortunes was, at that point, anyone’s guess.
In the end, the early season gauntlet proved even more tortuous than we feared: The Vikings lost the opener in New Orleans, suffered a frustrating defeat at home against the Dolphins, rebounded with a badly needed win against the Lions, fell to the Jets despite the addition of Moss and a valiant second half effort by Favre, returned home to beat up the crumbling Cowboys, then lost back-to-back games to Green Bay and New England. Just like that, the presumed NFC North contenders found themselves sitting at 2-5. Randy Moss publicly bashed Brad Childress in a bizarre press conference after the New England game, and by Monday afternoon was cut from the team. This plus a number of other episodes had fans screaming for Chilly’s head. The national media began speculating on how long Brett Favre would tough it out given a woeful offensive line, depleted receiver corps and seemingly clueless head coach.
That was how things stood when the Arizona Cardinals rolled in to Minnesota. The Vikings’ season was on the line, and so to was Brad Childress’ job. The Cardinals, fans believed, were just the right team for the Vikings to face at home with playoff hopes fast dwindling. Two years removed from their Super Bowl appearance, the Cards were without Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin, had the much-maligned Derek Anderson at quarterback and sported one of the worst defenses in the league. Surely the Vikings would be able to thump this pitiful team and get their season back on track at least for one week?
As Viking fans learned over-and-over in 2010, expectations aren’t worth a hill of beans in this crazy football world. By halftime the anticipated blow-out over the Cardinals had failed to materialize; in fact, Arizona went into the break up 14-10 after a long kick-off return touchdown and some unexpectedly solid play by the aforementioned Derek Anderson. Then came the real shocker: Percy Harvin fumbled the opening kick-off of the second half, Michael Adams recovered the ball and, with a 30-yard run-back, put the Cards up 21-10. A fourth quarter field goal would extend Arizona’s lead to two touchdowns. The Vikings finally seemed on the verge of responding early in the fourth when Brett Favre led them on a march from their own 17 down to the Cardinals 6. Stunningly, despite having four cracks at it after a first-and-goal on the 6, the Vikings failed to punch the ball in, and the Cardinals took over on downs at their own 1 with a chance to begin running out the clock.
Whether it was pride or fear or the emotional leadership of old #4 we may never know, but something clicked for the Vikings after getting stuffed at the 1. The defense rose up, forcing the Cardinals into a quick 3-and-out. After a short punt the Vikings had the ball back at the Arizona 40 with 4:39 on the clock. They needed a quick score, and thanks to Brett Favre, that was what they got. Favre hit Bernard Berrian and Visanthe Shiancoe on successive plays, setting up Adrian Peterson for a four-yard TD run. With the Vikings now behind by only 7, it was once again the defense’s turn. On Arizona’s first play after taking the ball back, E.J. Henderson made perhaps the tackle of the game, stuffing Tim Hightower a yard behind the line. Two plays later, the Cardinals were forced to punt, giving Favre and the Vikings 2:24 to work with, but no time outs.
In the end, Favre would not need the time outs. His second pass of the drive went to Adrian Peterson who with speed and nifty moves turned a short screen into a 33-yard gain. Several plays and one illegal shift penalty later, the Vikings would find themselves facing a 3rd-and-6 at the Arizona 25. Favre picked this moment to make his magic: He took a low snap, dropped back and calmly tossed the ball over two defenders and into the hands of Visanthe Shiancoe for the tying touchdown. Any chance of Arizona ruining the story by putting up a game-winning score with time expiring was destroyed by Jared Allen and Ray Edwards who combined to sack Derek Anderson twice inside the last 27 seconds, leaving the Cardinals well out of field goal range.
And so it was on to overtime. The Cardinals won the toss and received the kick, but this only put Derek Anderson back in range of the Vikings’ fired-up pass rush. Chad Greenway and Jared Allen helped carry the defensive momentum into the extra period by each sacking the hapless Cardinals’ QB, forcing a punt. By now the ultimate outcome seemed inevitable, but there was still more work to do for the Vikings. Minnesota would put the ball in the hands of Adrian Peterson who quickly got the Vikings into Cards territory by ripping off a 30 yard run on first down. It should’ve now been a simple matter of the Vikings getting into field goal range, but Anthony Herrera was called for holding, backing the Vikings up 10. This was no problem for Brett Favre, who promptly hit Bernard Berrian on a slant for a 22-yard gain. This completion, amazingly, upped Favre’s passing total for the game to a career-high 446 yards. Adrian Peterson would then get the ball three more times to work it in close for Ryan Longwell, who booted a 35-yard field goal to cap an improbable 27-24 victory.
The Vikings seemed to bring themselves back from the dead with this comeback win, but in the end, the euphoria would prove short-lived. The very next week the Vikings would revert to their losing ways, dropping a home game to Chicago. Then came the death-blow for the season and Brad Childress: A humiliating 31-3 home loss to the Packers. In the grand scheme of things the Arizona win meant little, since the Vikings were unable to fully resurrect their season, but for a few minutes on the afternoon of Sunday, November 7th, at least we got a taste of what might have been..and one last chance to enjoy Brett Favre in his full glory before injuries took him away.
Site5 and Fansided Holiday Season Charity Drive: Give to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.