Gameday, December 30


Year almost over, season almost over.  Despite their best choking efforts the Vikings can still get in the playoffs. Just beat Denver and hope Brad Johnson and the Cowboys’ scrubs can bump off Washington.

Well, it was a nice run. Really, a hell of a time. But all good things must come to an end and so will the Vikings’ season today. They don’t have anyone to blame but themselves either. No twists of fate or blown calls. All they had to do was beat an average team at home and they would’ve punched their ticket. But they came out nervous and tight and woefully unprepared. There’s no reason to believe they will be any better this afternoon in Denver. The only hope is that Denver, a wretched team with nothing to play for, will phone it in. And that Joe Gibbs will have another senior moment at some point in the Redskins-Cowboys game and give it away.

There are some who would argue that it doesn’t matter if the Vikings make it into the post-season anyway. “They’ll just get beat in the first round,” these football Scrooges say. “So who cares if they back in on the last week of the season?”

A totally absurd argument of course. Because there’s plenty of distinction in just making the playoffs. If you make the playoffs you’re a playoff team, if you don’t you’re an also-ran. Why would you want your team to be an also-ran? Yes, we know the Vikings are not making a Super Bowl run even if by some fluke they get in, but hey, the playoffs are the playoffs. They didn’t make a run a couple years ago either but still, how excited were we when they beat the Packers? Was it not thrilling just seeing them in the post-season? If you’re a true fan, you should want your team to do as well as possible. If that means first round and out, then so be it. Better that than finish 8-8 and have no playoffs at all. No sense of optimism going into the post-season. No feeling that adding one or two players at key positions might vault you into the elite.

Of course, the Vikings seem to need more than one or two players at key positions – they need lots of players at lots of positions. Mainly they need a big #1-type receiver to give Tarvaris Jackson a consistent downfield target. And a tight end who can actually catch the ball, so T-Jack will have a safety-valve. I could say they need a quarterback but I’m resigned to the fact that Tarvaris is our quarterback for the foreseeable future. Obviously, this doesn’t mean the team can’t try to pick up a veteran back-up in the off-season. Chad Pennington’s name has been bandied about; weak-armed Pennington would seem a natural fit for an offense where stretching the field is seemingly never an option anyway. Donovan McNabb is another name that keeps coming up too but McNabb would be too expensive and he would have to be the starter, and I simply don’t think Childress is ready to give up on Jackson yet.

But all that off-season speculation can wait until another day. There’s one more game left to play and it’s a meaningful one. All gloominess aside, we do have a chance against Denver, a team even weaker than Washington. Denver’s homefield advantage hasn’t seemed to mean much this year plus their run defense has been miserable (3rd worst in the league in fact). In some ways this game really sets up for the Vikings. But, they have to go out and execute in order for that to mean anything. They can’t have a first half like they had last week, can’t come out looking like a bunch of quivering wretches being placed before a firing squad. They need to calmly and efficiently dispatch Denver like they did San Francisco a few weeks ago, when they looked like they would steamroll into the post-season. They are capable of winning this game, winning it handily even. But they are equally capable of shooting themselves in the foot, in which case the season will be over by this evening, and there will be nothing left to look forward to but a month of Randy Moss catching bombs from Tom Brady.

Maybe it’s just end-of-the-year pessimism, but I’m taking Denver 24-17.  And next September isn’t far away.