Let’s face it – we’ve grown used to the Vikings going on the road for big season-defining games and laying eggs. But today’s egg-crapping session was more frustrating than usual because, at halftime, it really looked like we had a handle on the game. We were up on the scoreboard, 13-6. Our offense was clicking as well as it ever clicks. Our defense was bending but not breaking (aided by some iffy redzone playcalling and ill-timed Tampa Bay penalties). For a minute, Vikings fans could let themselves imagine that the team had gotten over the hump and were ready to ascend to the top ranks of the NFC. And then…the second half happened. You don’t need to look much beyond the statsheet to figure out why the Vikes were outscored 13-0 in the final two quarters to lose the game. It’s all right there in black-and-white (or maybe black-and-blue in the case of Gus Frerotte):
Total Yards: Buccaneers 200 – Vikings 64
Passing Yards: Buccaneers 119 – Vikings 50
Rushing Yards: Buccaneers 81 – Vikings 14
Time of Possession: Buccaneers 20:38 – Vikings 9:22
Turnovers: Buccaneers 1 – Vikings 2
That is complete domination. It began after the opening kick-off of the third quarter and continued right up until Chester Taylor fumbled to end the Vikings’ last, desperate drive. I don’t know what Jon Gruden said to his team at halftime, but whatever it was, it lit a fire under their butts. They came out like a different team – inspired on offense, and completely nasty on defense. And leading the charge was Jeff Garcia, who scrambled and scrapped like he’d wound ten years off his age. You can question Garcia in a lot of areas but you can’t doubt his toughness and tenacity. He ran around so much, it actually tired out the Vikings’ pass rushers – to the point where it was Garcia offering a hand to a prostrate Jared Allen after a run. That image summed up the game for the Vikings: The relentless old pro quarterback standing over the young stud defensive lineman, smiling.
The contrast between Garcia’s game and Gus Frerotte’s was striking. When Garcia was rushed, he simply used his wheels to get out of harm’s way, delivering a pass, often with deadly accuracy, or running for yardage. And when Frerotte was rushed? Ever see a raccoon freeze and then reverse direction in front of a delivery truck? This is the advantage of a mobile quarterback: Even when the protection breaks down, he can make plays. But with Frerotte, you either block everyone long enough or you watch your entire passing game break down.
Gus Was Good in the First Half, and So Was Everyone Else in Purple
Frerotte doesn’t deserve to be completely slammed for this game. He actually played well in the first half, delivering his single TD strike of the game to Bobby Wade. Everything worked well for the Vikes for the first 30 minutes. Adrian Peterson ran for 71 yards, and looked like he was on his way to another huge day. The defense had some problems against the pass but was typically stout against the run, and held up well once the Bucs got in the redzone. To lead 13-6 on the road at the half seemed a fulfillment of Brad Childress’s every hope and design. But, obviously, football games have two halves. The Bucs came out after the break motivated and ready to kick some. The Vikings? It’s hard to imagine a team being flatter. Nothing would work once the Bucs got on top of things. Peterson managed only 14 yards in the second half thanks to Tampa’s gang-tackling. Frerotte spent his time running for his life. The pass rush was neutralized by a combination of blocking and scrambling, and the secondary was torn to shreds. And despite all this…
The Vikes Still Had a Shot
Like the title says – it was not over until it was over. The Bucs, despite their dominance, were unable to put the final nail in the coffin and had to ask the Vikes to do it to themselves. Two moments stand out above the others: Late in the third – an Adrian Peterson pass-drop on a fourth down try after Gus Frerotte was blitzed by Ronde Barber and somehow stayed upright. Deep in the fourth – a Maurice Hicks fumble on the kick-off return after the Bucs booted a field goal to make it 16-13. The first was the unfortunate result of bad decision-making by Brad Childress, who goes for it on fourth down an awful lot for a guy who’s supposed to be conservative. The second was, well, pure bullcrap.
Actually, a third sequence stands out now too: Late in the third – Cedric Griffin forces Clifton Smith to fumble and Ben Leber recovers. This is the break the Vikings have been looking for; it’s 13-13 and they have a chance to grab back the momentum. Gus Frerotte completes two long-gainers, to Sidney Rice and Bernard Berrian, giving the Vikes a first down on the Tampa Bay 29. And then…Peterson stuffed for three yard loss, sack, sack, punt. The ensuing Tampa Bay possession takes 9 minutes off the clock and results in a 16-13 Buccaneers lead. And then the fumble by Hicks, and then another field goal by Tampa to make it 19-13. The Bucs would tease the Vikings a little by missing a field goal to ice the game, allowing Minnesota a last-ditch drive with just under two minutes remaining. That final shot at a miracle went like this: incomplete pass, offensive pass interference, sack, fumble. Game over.
Was This Jared’s Worst Game?
Jared Allen declared after the season-opener against the Packers that he’d never had a worse game. He may now have a new performance to place up there in his pantheon of personal futility. But he wasn’t alone today – the entire defensive line sucked, especially in the second half. The Bucs got so frisky they even started running it at the Williams Wall, and succeeding. Maybe Pat and Kevin needed to lose some water-weight before the game. Damn the NFL for taking away their piss-pills. The only defensive starters who deserved kudos today were Antoine Winfield and Chad Greenway. As usual, Darren Sharper was MIA (is he still getting paid?). Madieu Williams managed to get on the field despite his bad shoulder and made one or two decent plays. The main storyline, though, was Jeff Garcia scrambling and guys chasing him and never catching him. Garcia ended up 23/30 for 255 yards with no TDs or picks (no TDs because Jon Gruden apparently doesn’t believe in throwing it in the red zone). Garcia ran 6 times for an additional 21 yards. The Bucs actually outrushed the Vikings for the game, 108-99. Obviously, the Vikings are not going to win games in which they are out-gained on the ground.
Chad Greenway led the Vikings with 16 tackles, one of which was a sack. That was the only sack of the game for the Vikings.
Chester Taylor caught 2 balls for 15 yards. I would’ve expected more of a contribution from Chester given the big plays he’s been making, but he was almost entirely dropped from the offense. Stuff like this is why Childress gets bashed.
Bernard Berrian caught 3 balls for 46 yards. At least he didn’t vanish utterly like he did against the Packers. He needs to be a major weapon again if this team is going to make a run.
Bucs tight end Jerramy Stevens caught 6 balls for 84 yards and a TD. Tight ends now salivate at the thought of facing the Vikings’ pass defense. When these guys negotiate contracts, whatever they accumulate against us should immediately be thrown out as non-representative.
I thought Dick Stockton was the most senile announcer in the world – until I heard Sam Rosen. Does he ever correctly identify a player? “Y.A. Tittle back to pass. Oh, sorry, Jeff Garcia I meant.”
Guess what kids – there’s a three-way tie for first in the NFC North. Three teams at 5-5. Parity? Mediocrity? Someone will win this division at 8-8.