There’s no such thing as an easy win for the 2008 Vikings. Even when they seem to have a game well in hand…well, something always has to happen to make things tight. And so it was for today’s game with the Packers: The Vikings went up 21-10 in the third after Gus Frerotte hit Chester Taylor in the flat, and Taylor made a great move on the linebacker and raced 47 yards for the touchdown. Not only were the Vikings well ahead on the scoreboard, but they were dominating the stat sheet too. The defense spent the first half harassing Aaron Rodgers, even forcing the quarterback into a pair of safeties. And though Ryan Grant was able to rattle off a couple of decent runs, the back was not much of a factor. And then…yes, there’s always got to be an “and then” for this Vikings team. And then Gus Frerotte got picked off by Nick Collins who returned it for a touchdown, making it 21-17. And then, after a stalled Viking possession, Will Blackmon returned a punt 65 yards to make it 24-21. As fast as you could say “What the frack just happened?”, the Vikings had squandered all of their hard-won lead.
However…as much as we may bash the Vikes for their bouts of head-scratching ineptitude, we also have to acknowledge that this has been a remarkably resilient team. Yes, they’ve occasionally snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, but they’ve also been able to turn their fortunes around more than once, and win games that it looked like they were sure to lose. Today, the Vikings found a way to halt the implosion: Trailing 27-21 with 5:50 to play, they put the ball in the hands of their superstar Adrian Peterson and watched him steal victory right back.
Adrian was a man with something to prove. On the previous possession, Chester Taylor was given the ball on 3rd down and came up a hair short, forcing Brad Childress to choose between punting and risking a 4th down run in his own territory. Childress initially chose to punt, but after a time-out and a failed challenge of the ball-spot, he changed his mind and decided to go for it. It appeared that Adrian had talked Childress into attempting a play on fourth down. Peterson indeed got the ball, tried bouncing left to gain the precious few feet, and saw himself being stripped before the first down could be gained. The Vikes recovered the fumble but the Packers took possession on downs. This play was clearly on Peterson’s mind as he took to the Packers defense for what would prove to be the game-winning drive. The already ferocious runner became even more determined, breaking loose at last, stiff-arming Atari Bigby and finally breaking the plane with a dive to give his team a 28-27 lead.
The Packers found themselves out of time-outs and almost out of time – but even then, Viking victory was far from assured. Bad kick coverage gave Green Bay reasonable field position, and they were able to drive it well within the range of kicker Mason Crosby who was hitting them from 60 yards during warm-ups. The Vikes would need help one more time if they were going to hold on. Thankfully, the normally dependable Crosby was off this once – his kick sailed right, and the Vikes could then run out the clock for the win. Brad Childress showed more emotion than usual after finally getting the Packers monkey off his back. And with the Bears losing to the Titans, the Vikings found themselves tied for first at 5-4 – with a home meeting against the Bears coming in three weeks.
The Vikings should be happy about their victory but, truth be told, this was not one of Green Bay’s proudest performances. 10 penalties marred their afternoon. The Vikings’ pass rushers gave the Packers’ line fits, and Aaron Rodgers often found himself running for his life. When it wasn’t Jared Allen screaming around the edge, even with a harness on his bad shoulder, it was Ben Leber or Napoleon Harris flying up the middle. Rodgers has shown poise since taking over for Brett Favre, but today he looked rattled. His attempt at slapping a fumbled ball out of the endzone resulted in a safety, and later, again as he was in the endzone, he failed to see Allen coming free and was leveled for yet another 2 pointer. The Packers would muster only 184 total yards and 13 offensive points. Had the Vikings not themselves been disaster-prone, the final score would’ve likely gone into blow-out territory.
Frerotte Was Flat Awful
Gus Frerotte was a big part of why the Vikings didn’t run away with this one. He threw three picks: The first one, to Charles Woodson, set up a Packer touchdown. The second came when the Vikings probably should’ve been running out the first half clock, and allowed the Packers to cut the Minnesota lead to 14-10 at the break. And the third was returned by Nick Collins for a touchdown to make it 21-17 Vikings. All three were bad throws. Brad Childress, clearly frustrated with Frerotte’s performance, dialed back the offense noticeably after the third pick and put the ball more in the hands of his backs, both via hand-off and short, safe pass. Luckily, the Packers are as weak in run defense as they are strong in pass defense. Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor played the heroes, both scoring a touchdown each, both putting up big yardage. Taylor would finish with 4 catches for 84 yards while running 10 times for 29 yards. Peterson would carry 30 times for 192 yards and catch 3 balls for 33 more. The remainder of the receiver corps would manage only 32 yards on 8 catches. And there were drops, notably by Bobby Wade. Bernard Berrian was completely shut down by Al Harris, whose only bad play, a penalty for illegal contact, probably shouldn’t have been called.
Charles Gordon suffered a serious leg injury while being tackled awkwardly during a punt return. There is as yet no word on Gordon’s condition.
Packer punt returner Will Blackmon knows both the wrath and the love of Mike McCarthy. He incurred the wrath after unaccountably fielding a punt inside the endzone and trying to run it out. But he felt the love later when he gave the Packers the lead with a 65-yard return touchdown. Blackmon now has two punt return TDs this year against Minnesota.
Jared Allen, already $50,000 poorer after getting fined for going low and allegedly dirty on Matt Schaub, will likely get another fine after a late hit on Aaron Rodgers that drew a roughing the passer penalty. Allen had another brilliant game in spite of this, tallying his team-leading 8th sack and generally making a mockery of Chad Clifton, a left tackle who has given him problems in the past.
Chad Greenway led the Vikings with 7 tackles and a sack. He is borderline Pro Bowl caliber right now at linebacker.
Madieu Williams had his second straight solid day with six tackles, including a vital open-field stop on Donald Driver that kept Mason Crosby’s game winning field goal attempt in the 50+ range.
Sidney Rice caught one ball for 3 yards – it was of course a touchdown (Buddy Ryan would hate this guy).
Visanthe Shiancoe caught 3 passes for 4 yards – an impressive 1.3 average. That’s the kind of game it was.
Donald Driver has had some notoriously huge games against the Vikes. Today he caught only 5 passes for 46 yards.