Yes, I know exactly what you're thinking, because I thought it for a while last night myself.
Nine months of preparation. . .millions of dollars spent. . .an off-season of lies perpetuated by the Green Bay front office and placed at our doorstep. . .and the Vikings go out and put up a performance like THAT!?
But there are some important things to remember here. By the end of last night's game, the Vikings were down to their third-string left tackle. When you get down to the #3 guy on the depth chart at any position, the result is usually going to be less than optimal, but I thought that Marcus Johnson actually held up pretty well at a spot that, I'm assuming, he hasn't gotten a heck of a lot of snaps at. I'm not sure how severe the injury to Artis Hicks' elbow is, but whoever starts at LT this coming Sunday is going to have to deal with Dwight Freeney, so this is something that needs to be resolved sooner rather than later.
The most important thing to keep in mind here is that this is, still, just one game. Yes, it hurts worse and sucks more because it was a loss to Green Bay. But there are still 15 more of these to go this season, and I have a feeling that things will be getting better the rest of the way. Having my theory proven true hinges on the abilities of one man.
As of this moment, I've given up trying to figure out how Brad Childress constructs his offensive game plans. The first half of last night's game was one of the single worst first halves of football I've ever seen. Tarvaris Jackson had 7. . .yes, SEVEN. . .pass attempts in the entire first half, and only completed two for 16 yards. Yes, we have Adrian Peterson at our disposal, and he was his usual God-like self last night, given the circumstances. . .but during the pre-season, we saw an improvement in Jackson's play. Brad Childress told us all off-season about how Jackson had improved and was going to be a big surprise this year.
And then you go out in the first half and give him, basically, zero opportunities to make plays.
When I posted the injury report on Friday, I suggested that the Vikings would be wise to get Peterson and Chester Taylor out on the edges, as well as roll out Tarvaris Jackson frequently in an effort to get Green Bay's ailing defensive line to chase him around and wear themselves out. Did we run a single time to the outside last night? Was there a toss or a sweep play to be found anywhere? If there was, I don't recall it. When you have Steve Hutchinson and Matt Birk, two of the premiere "pulling" players at their positions, at your disposal, you should be running towards the edges a lot. . .and, for some reason, the Vikings seem to be content to just keep slamming people into the middle of the line repeatedly.
The offensive game plan simply MUST be more creative from this point forward if the Vikings are to reach the potential that we all know they have. Granted, the absence of Bryant McKinnie plays a big part in that, but even with Hicks or Johnson out there at the LT spot, the Vikings need to start doing some different things with Jackson and with the best RB combo in football.
And yet, despite all of that and despite Brad Childress' terrible first half playcalling, the Minnesota offense outscored Green Bay's offense. They actually outgained the Packers in net yardage, 355-317. The Vikings had more first downs than Green Bay did (21-15). Both teams were right around 40% on third-down conversions. Tarvaris Jackson and Aaron Rodgers both had 178 passing yards and 1 passing TD. (Granted, Rodgers looked far more efficient in doing so.) It was truly a tale of two halves for Minnesota. After letting the Packers win the time of possession battle in the first half, the Vikings had possession for a longer time in the third quarter than they did in the entire first half (12:08 TOP for the Vikings in the first half, 12:42 TOP in the third quarter). There was a point in the second half where the Vikings had run 29 offensive plays to Green Bay's 3.
As is the case in the National Football League, one or two plays made the difference in this football game. A few examples of such plays?
How's about back in the first quarter where the Packers' faced 3rd and 13 and ran a draw play to Brandon Jackson. Jackson fumbled the ball forward, and it looked like numerous Vikings had a shot at recovering the football. . .but at the end of the play, Greg Jennings recovered for Green Bay on the other side of the first-down line, and the Packers kept possession. A recovery there for Minnesota would have set them up at around the Packers' 30-yard line, and they likely could have gotten at least a field goal out of something like that.
The killer, of course, was Will Blackmon's 76-yard punt return in the third quarter. That was a combination of a bad, line drive kick by Chris Kluwe and pretty terrible overall coverage by the Vikings' special teams. Big returns will happen, of course, but usually Kluwe has significantly more hang time on his punts than he had one the one Blackmon took back. Hopefully this won't become a trend over the course of the season.
Speaking of special teams, how much different could things have been had the Vikings recovered what was a perfectly acceptable onside kick by Ryan Longwell? Granted, they got the ball back anyway, but if they could have set up shop in Green Bay territory (which is where they would have been, thanks to a dumb penalty on the Packers during the PAT after Adrian Peterson's TD run), they could have better capitalized on the momentum that they had built to that point.
Yes, last night's loss was disappointing, to say the least. Yes, it's a game that the Vikings could have won. Yes, Brad Childress is now 0-5 against Green Bay as the Vikings' head coach (and nobody is more infuriated with that than I am). But it's only one game, and the time has come to move on and start looking forward to the home opener against Indianapolis on Sunday afternoon. Hopefully things will take a much different path than they took on Monday night.