Missed Opportunities


Brett Favre went into the Metrodome needing only one TD pass to break Dan Marino’s all-time record of 420. It didn’t take Favre long either – with 5:01 left in the first quarter, Favre shot a slant to WR Greg Jennings who walked into the end-zone. Favre, who got knocked to the ground on the play and may not have seen the actual record-breaking catch, popped to his feet and ran to celebrate with his teammates. Per habit, Favre quickly shook off the jubilation of the moment, returning to the sidelines to review the Polaroids – not even bothering to look up as a pre-recorded congratulatory message from Dan Marino played on the Jumbotron. After that Favre settled in, running the Packer offense efficiently if not as spectacularly in years past. Favre finished with 344 yards and two TDs, a run-of-the-mill day by his Hall-of-Fame standards, but all the Packers would need in their 23-16 defeat of the Vikings.

The game went according to form for the Packers – a lot of slant passes and crossing routes, enough running to keep the other guys honest and a solid effort by their own defense. This is the formula that’s gotten the Packers to 4-0. Sadly for the Vikings, their own effort was also more-or-less what we’ve come to expect – big chances blown, questionable coaching strategy, key mistakes at key times and overall lackluster performances by certain highly-paid members of the team. Despite all this, the Vikings still had a chance to win the game.

It may not have looked good late in the 4th when Favre pump-faked Dwight Smith out of a play and laid an easy touchdown pass out to James Jones, giving the Packers a 23-9 lead – but the Vikings were able to follow this up with an effective hurry-up drive, capped by Kelly Holcomb‘s 15-yard TD pass to Sidney Rice, which cut the lead to 23-16. A failed on-side kick looked like the end of the Vikings rally – but the Packers gave the Vikes a gift when Favre fumbled an ensuing hand-off to RB Ryan Grant and Chad Greenway pounced on it for the recovery. It almost looked like the Packers were ready to choke one away, especially when Al Harris got called for pass interference, keeping the Vikings’ last desperation drive alive. But, typically, the team would fall just short – a tipped Holcomb pass was picked off by Atari Bigby, snuffing out the Vikings’ hopes and sending them tumbling to 1-3 on the season.

It was a game full of blown chances for the Vikings. The first came on the opening offensive drive, when Kelly Holcomb missed a sure touchdown pass to a wide-open Sidney Rice – a play reminiscent of last week’s overthrow of Robert Ferguson, which could’ve secured victory for Minnesota against Kansas City. The Vikings did come out on their next offensive possession and start moving the ball again – only to be stopped by a Jeff Dugan fumble. As usual, the Viking defense fought hard to keep them in the game. After surrendering Favre’s record-breaking TD, the defense came out on the next Green Bay possession and forced a punt, and on the next stripped Donald Lee to prevent a Packer score and give the offense back the ball. Of course the offense did nothing with it. Another great opportunity would come the Vikings’ way a few possessions later though when Packer punter Jon Ryan shanked one, giving the Vikings the ball at their own 42. Things seemed to be looking up when Bobby Wade then beat Charles Woodson, and Holcomb hit him for a 40 yard reception down to the Green Bay 18. A holding penalty by Bryant McKinnie would aid the Packers in stifling the Vikings’ drive however, and Minnesota would have to settle for a field goal to make it 7-6 Packers.

On a day when the Vikings blew chance after chance, this particular failed drive stands out – for it underlines Brad Childress’s apparent inability to feel out game situations and make proper strategic moves. The Vikings were trailing 7-3 at this point; their passing game looked inept and they’d failed to cash in some earlier scoring chances, yet their defense was playing well, and most importantly, Adrian Peterson was running through the Packer defense as if it were made of crepe paper. Peterson had, to this point, racked up 108 rushing yards – 108 rushing yards, on 10 carries, in less than two quarters. So what does Childress do at this critical juncture? Run a swing to Peterson, who scored a touchdown on a similar play earlier in the year? Hand the ball off to Peterson and let him slice and dice his way to the endzone? No – Brad Childress did neither of these. Instead, Brad Childress decided that this would be a good time to rest Peterson and put in Chester Taylor – who, in this critical possession, managed to rack up two yards, helping the Vikings kick a field goal.

Do we agree with Childress that Peterson and Taylor should split time, hence preserving both? Yes. However, to simply work out ahead of time how many carries each man should get and then mindlessly stick to that plan regardless of game situations seems stubborn to the point of stupidity. Anyone with half a brain knew, at the moment of that shanked punt, that the Vikings had a chance to shift momentum and get control of the game. Peterson had up to that point been dominant – and with 10 carries, was far from being tired out. Had Childress been thinking flexibly, he might’ve decided to ride Peterson, hoping to score the touchdown and take a lead into the half – then he could’ve put in Taylor in the second half and tried to eat clock. But instead, Childress did the safe, predictable thing – he pulled Peterson, let Taylor do nothing, and watched his team end up going down 10-6 after the Packers followed Ryan Longwell‘s field goal with a drive and field goal of their own (a drive that may not have happened had the Vikings run a few more plays, and more time off the clock, on the previous possession).

One has to wonder, after this game, whether Brad Childress is up to the task of leading an NFL team. There’s no excuse in my mind for replacing Peterson with Chester Taylor at such a key moment of the game – and there’s even less excuse for the fact that Peterson wound up carrying the ball only twice in the second half, finishing the game with 112 yards despite having 108 at halftime. Maybe – maybe – you can excuse some of the occasions when Childress has pulled Peterson on third-down, citing his weak pass-blocking skills. But two carries in a whole half? After the guy made the Packer defense look like they had no business being on the field with him? I can’t wait for tomorrow’s press conference, where Childress will no doubt vainly, blubberingly attempt to justify his actions. If the man had any guts he would just come out and admit he screwed up – but he doesn’t, and he won’t. He is clearly an insecure individual, one who’s afraid to take chances at big moments, and gets overwhelmed at times when the game requires quick, nimble strategic thinking. Our plodding offense reflects our plodding coach. The shame of it is that we have a stud player on our team in Adrian Peterson – a man who always looks a step faster than the guys trying to catch him, a bit stronger than the guys trying to tackle him. A real offensive guru would figure a way to make the most of Peterson’s skills – not find excuses to keep him on the sidelines at times when he’s needed most.

Adrian Peterson is having a stellar year, despite the best efforts of his moronic coach, and despite the increasing ineptitude of his offensive line. There seemed something simmering after last week’s loss to Kansas City, when Jared Allen made a fool of Bryant McKinnie – and indeed, that simmering pot was brought to a boil today by Green Bay and their pass-rush specialist Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. The critical play came in the third quarter: The Vikings, trailing 13-6 after a Packer field goal drive to open the half, managed to move the ball down to the Packer 23, aided greatly by Chester Taylor’s 37-yard run. It all fell apart though when Bryant McKinnie was torched by KGB, who despite being basically tackled by a desperate McKinnie forced Holcomb to fumble. Thankfully the Vikings were able to recover the fumble – but by then it was fourth down, and they’d been moved back far enough that Longwell had to attempt a 48 yarder, which he made. That made the game 13-9 – but what might’ve happened had McKinnie held up against KGB and the Vikings not again been forced to kick? This on top of an earlier holding call, which helped stall the Peterson-less drive, had to have McKinnie at least half in Childress’s dog-house. And the last push into that dank and smelly place would come later in the game, when McKinnie again let KGB go by him and sack Holcomb – a whiff that was followed quickly by McKinnie’s replacement at left-tackle with Artis Hicks. Lo and behold, the Vikings then went down and scored a touchdown.

The pass protection has been bad. It was bad today for much of the game too – and it wasn’t all Bryant McKinnie’s fault. Ryan Cook got grilled by Aaron Kampman as well, but Cook at least seemed to stiffen up as the game progressed (and Kampman’s sack, to be fair, happened when Visanthe Shiancoe inexplicably wound up trying to block him one-on-one – something that may or may not have been Cook’s fault). McKinnie, however, seems to get worse as the game goes on – slower, poorer technically, more likely to commit a penalty or get burned.  And McKinnie, as we know, is being paid a sick amount of money – much more than he is worth. This will make it hard to justify benching him. So, allow me to propose something radical – just cut him. I don’t know what kind of cap hit this would cause us to have to absorb, or any of the rest of the technicalities of it – I just know that the guy is a stiff, an over-paid, under-motivated loser. He will never develop into the Pro-Bowl level player some people seem to think he has the talent to become. So why burden yourself with him? The organization was foolish to sign him to the huge extension in the first place – and every day the man is kept on the roster, that mistake only becomes exacerbated. Time to say goodbye to Bryant and the slug-like presence he represents. And soon, if things don’t change, it will be time to say goodbye to slug-minded Childress and the rest of the dopey brain-trust as well.