There were moments during the Vikings‘ 20-16 win over the Lions where it felt like certain cosmic forces were aligning themselves against Minnesota. One such instance came late in the second quarter: Jared Allen was pursuing a scrambling Daunte Culpepper when rookie Lions offensive lineman Gosder Cherilus lunged from a prone position and took Allen’s knee out with either his shoulder pad or helmet, sending Allen crumpling to the turf with an apparent nasty injury. Allen, after writhing in pain for a moment, got to his feet and began barking at Cherilus and stalking toward him, ready to rumble. Ray Edwards – not always Mr. Prudent himself during his career – got in front of Allen and prevented any action that might’ve led to another fine or even an suspension. A still-fuming Allen was aided to the sideline and went immediately to the trainer’s table to be examined. The hearts of Vikings’ fans were either in their throats at this moment or sunk to the bottoms of their toes. What could be a worse omen for our future than to lose the man who has become the very identity of our defense? The guy who unleashed hell on Kyle Orton and the Bears in the win that catapulted us into sole possession of first?
Thankfully, this ill-omen would prove less powerful than it initially seemed. Jared, after flexing the leg for awhile and getting taped up, returned to the game with perhaps a slight loss of mobility and fought through to the end. Another injury, it turned out, would prove more significant: Not long after the Allen play, Gus Frerotte found himself getting picked off by D-lineman Corey Smith after a tipped ball and having to attempt a tackle. The play didn’t look like anything much, but Gus came out of it with a back injury and had to ultimately be driven off the field on a cart. This meant that the Vikings, with the whole second half ahead of them, would be forced to turn to Tarvaris Jackson, the quarterback who lost his starting job after shouldering much of the blame for the team’s 0-2 start.
T-Jack in Relief
Gus Frerotte has been anything but perfect since replacing Tarvaris as the starter in Week 3, but there are few rational Vikings fans who would argue that we would’ve been better off with the version of Jackson that came out at the start of this season looking mostly dazed and confused. The great thing about life, though, is that second chances are possible – and there was always a strong likelihood that the aging Frerotte was not going to make it through the season, meaning Jackson would probably get his. The question was whether Jackson had benefited from his time on the bench or merely moldered. On the basis of the one half of football Jackson played against the Lions, it appears he may have learned a few things by watching the veteran. Jackson looked crisper and more in command in this game than he has at any time during his Vikings career. He executed most of his throws flawlessly, the only glaring exception being a deep ball to Bernard Berrian that was badly overthrown. Most importantly…he did not make the big mistake. The biggest knock on Frerotte has been the turnovers – Tarvaris played two quarters without committing one. And Gus, his detractors point out, isn’t mobile, while Jackson can scramble and make plays (as he did on a roll-out pass to Visanthe Shiancoe for a touchdown today).
Of course, two quarters of good football against a hideously awful Lions defense isn’t enough to completely overthrow the bad memories we have of Jackson. Outside of the occasional flash, he was never more than a mediocre quarterback, and was often flat-out awful. He will have to play more, and succeed more, before I am ready to declare him resurrected. But for today, Jackson was just what the doctor ordered. He was decisive and accurate and for the most part made good decisions. If nothing else, Jackson should’ve convinced Brad Childress that, if Frerotte returns as the starter and struggles, he can be relied upon to pitch well in relief.
Adrian Peterson Had a Good Day That Was Almost a Terrible Day
The Vikings won because they took control of the game in the second half. It started on their opening drive of the third quarter when the offensive line began asserting itself (I’m assuming there was some halftime tweak) and the backs found running room and were able to carry the offense down the field for a touchdown to make it 13-6 Minnesota. Adrian Peterson was a big part of the second half turnaround, rushing for 74 yards after being relatively bottled up in the first half – and yet, it was not a very good day for Adrian; in fact, it was almost an awful day. Adrian, who has been known to have fumble problems from time to time, lost control of the football on no fewer than four occasions, and was bailed out by circumstance all four times: once when the ball bounced forward out of bounds, a second time when he was ruled after a challenge to have been down before losing the ball, a third time when the ball again trickled to the sideline before being recovered, and a fourth when he fell on it after a slightly muffed exchange with the quarterback. Brad Childress, through all of this, kept his confidence in Peterson and wound up handing him the ball 23 times and going to him on a crucial swing pass late in the game. However, I am positive that Chilly was not happy with his superstar running back and will be having a talk with him at some point. Adrian is a great player and without him we would not be where we are – but if he keeps losing the ball, Childress will have to seriously consider mixing in Chester Taylor more than he has been.
We’re Lucky it Was the Lions
The Vikings made enough mistakes to lose today…but, in the end, the Lions were simply not good enough to capitalize on them. The few Detroit fans who still give a damn (and there weren’t many of them at Ford Field judging by the size and quietness of the crowd) can point to coaching decisions as playing a key part in this loss. There’s nothing wrong with going for it on fourth downs when you could elect to kick a field goal, especially when it’s early in the game and you’re scrapping for your first win of the year – but calling a quarterback sneak with an old, out-of-shape Daunte Culpepper against Pat and Kevin Williams? The Lions could realistically have blown this game open in the first half, given how effective they were at stifling the Vikings’ offense, and given the opportunities Gus Frerotte handed them with his two interceptions. But the Lions managed only 6 points the first half and, for all the heart they showed, found themselves behind with a little over 10 minutes to play in the third. They never gave up – they simply weren’t able to make plays in the redzone, and as the game progressed, were unable to manage the Vikings’ blitzes. And their defense gave up too many good runs to Adrian Peterson and never harassed Tarvaris Jackson enough to force a mistake. The Vikings’ played only a so-so game, but the Lions are simply not a good team.
Jared Allen’s two sacks raised his total to 12.5 on the season, breaking Keith Millard‘s record for most sacks in a player’s first year with the Vikings.
Darren Sharper led the team with 8 tackles. He still looks incredibly slow when he has to give help, but at least he can come up and tackle reliably.
Darius Reynaud appears to be the answer as the kickoff returner. He rang up a 43-yarder today that might’ve set up a shortish scoring drive for the Vikes had Frerotte not promptly been picked off.
Tarvaris Jackson finished 8/10 for 105 yards and 1 touchdown. Frerotte was 7/10 for 70 yards, 0 touchdowns and 2 picks.
Daunte Culpepper was 14/24 for 220 yards, 1 TD and 0 picks. He seemed reasonably comfortable with the Lions’ offense and was able to make some plays scrambling. His big play was a 70-yard TD pass to Calvin Johnson when the Vikes got caught bringing a safety up, leaving Darren Sharper alone to try and help Cedric Griffin who is neither physical nor fast enough to cover Megatron one-on-one under any circumstances. All things being equal, we’re lucky Culpepper was not able to find Johnson more consistently. He could’ve had a second TD pass to Johnson had Johnson not gotten tangled up with Antoine Winfield in the endzone and fallen down (the contact was ruled incidental by the officials).
Benny Sapp sucks.