24 hours later, and I am still trying to digest what I saw. After a day of improbable plays, the Vikings won on the most improbable of all—a 32 yard frozen rope to
Cris Carter Greg Lewis, who replaced the unceremoniously dumped Bobby Wade on the eve of the regular season. It was Lewis’ 4th play of the game. Not catch. Play. It was also his 4th play of the season.
Really?It was the anti-Nate Poole, anti-snatch-defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory, anti-Tarvaris Jackson/Sage Rosenfels probable finish all rolled into one. I originally wrote it was the anti-Hail Mary game, but until Favre and Lewis do that in the playoffs, I can’t go to that level. It was a game that had everything and nothing, all rolled into one. Typical Adrian Peterson 35 yard burst in the first quarter, then virtually nothing. Solid Vikings defense, except for the, you know, fourth quarter drive that put the 49ers in the lead. The special teams gave up and took a touchdown. And the game also exposed the biggest flaw and the greatest strength of this 2009 Vikings team, both from the same person: Brett Favre. He can’t throw the ball almost 50 times every week if the Vikings are going to win consistently, but when you absolutely, positively, need one guy to make one throw, you have Favre do it.
I’ve been a Vikings fan for almost 40 years, and this was one of the five best game endings in Vikings history. Hell, other than the Kramer to Rashad Hail Mary to beat Cleveland in 1980 that clinched the Central Division, I can’t think of a better ending.
On to the grades.
Run Offense: C. The Vikings were effective early, and used the threat of Adrian Peterson to open up the vertical passing game. But after Peterson’s 35 yard first quarter burst to the right, he was held in check…All Day (get it, all day?). To their credit, the Vikings stuck with the running game well into the third quarter, but eventually abandoned it and put their fate in the hands of Favre, which they can’t do every week. Chester Taylor has been virtually invisible through the first three games, and that’s troubling. Taylor is a substantial run threat, and provides a great change of pace alternative to Peterson, but has been missing in action from a rushing standpoint so far.
Pass Offense: A, but with an asterisk. Any throw and catch of that magnitude merits an A, but it was like needing to pull a 100 on the final to get to an A. There were issues with the passing game, but it was the first 300 yard passing game by a Vikings quarterback in 4 years. Favre missed a couple of wide open receivers, and said receivers dropped at least 6 balls by my count (I might be off on that, but not by much). Pass protection was again spotty. They only gave up two sacks, but Favre was pressured all day long. He also tried to force a couple throws into double coverage, causing an interception, and had a horrid fourth down throw to Harvin with just over two minutes left in the game that should have been a pick 6 for Dre Bly. But Oh….MY, how the ending made up for some of that.
Besides the TD to Lewis, there was one other pass that stood out where I thought ‘no way Jackson or Rosenfels makes that throw’. Late third quarter, Vikes are pinned deep in their territory and its third down and 15, I believe. Fail to make this conversion and Kluwe is punting from his end zone. I looked at my Dad and we both said at the same time ‘screen pass to Taylor’. Instead, Favre drops back, and throws the ball to a well covered Bernard Berrian (who had a forgettable game otherwise) with an opening about the size of a postage stamp. Berrian catches the ball near the first down marker and runs to the 41. First down, Vikings. Maybe 10 guys in the world can make that throw, and no way Rosenfels or Jackson even try.
Run Defense: A. Coming into this game, if you had told me that the Vikings would hold San Francisco to 58 yards rushing, Favre would throw for 300 yards and 2 TD’s, San Francisco would go 0-11 on third down conversions, and Percy Harvin would score a TD on a kickoff return, I would have assumed that the Vikings win the game by three scores. This was the vaunted Williams Wall we’ve been waiting for, and the Vikings did a much better job of gap discipline this week. The defensive line was more disruptive, and when the Niners tried to run to the perimeter, the defense did a very good job of stringing out the play. Glenn Coffee made a couple of nice runs in the third quarter, but overall Minnesota did a very good job of making San Francisco one dimensional.
Pass Defense: B-. If you take out the monster game and clutch catches Vernon Davis had, this was a very solid performance. But you can’t, so it wasn’t. The Vikings smothered the 49ers in the first half, but Shaun Hill found Isaac Bruce and Vernon Davis almost at will in the second half. The Vikings were as porous in the second half as they were impregnable in the first. The pass rush started out very strong, with a Jared Allen sack on the first play, but that was it. Pressure on the QB was intermittent at best for the rest of the game, and Hill had ample time to find open receivers on San Francisco’s second half scoring drives. But when Minnesota’s defense had to make a stop at the end of the game, they did.
Special Teams: D, with an asterisk. Percy Harvin’s kick return was like pulling a 100 on the semester final to avoid abject failure. I think if the Vikings go in the locker room up 16-7 as opposed to down 14-13, I think the second half is completely different and the last second heroics probably aren’t necessary. Harvin’s kick return was huge and provided a much needed momentum shift, but the reason the Vikings needed that was because of the blocked FG that the Niners returned for a score at the end of the first half. If the special teams units continue to give up big plays like that on a regular basis, the Vikings will lose a critical game that might cost them a division title or playoff berth. It’s tough to look at the positives, but Harvin was a big one. His speed is incredible, and he has a legitimate chance to go the distance on every kickoff return. Darius Reynaud is as an exciting punt returner as Harvin is kick returner, and a significant injury to him will adversely affect the punt return team. But they cannot yield another special teams score this year and continue to win football games, they just can’t.
Coaching: B. I like the game plan the Vikes had going into the game—run Adrian Peterson, even if he doesn’t get big chunks of yards, take the lead so the 49ers have to play catch up (putting the game in Shaun Hill's hands), and go downfield when the opportunity presents itself. For the first 29:59, it was working almost perfectly. Peterson was okay but not dominant, Favre threw a 30 yard TD dart to Sidney Rice, and the Vikes dominated almost the entire first half. They were poised to take a 16-7 lead against a very good team, and everything fell apart. Minnesota still tried to run the ball in the third quarter, but the Vikings abandoned the run at about the right time and looked to Favre to get them the win. And he did. Statistically, both offense and defense played well, but there were some critical breakdowns in the second half, and the game was on the verge of getting away from the good guys. I give them an overall B because finally, FINALLY, there was a two minute drive from the Vikings that was crisp, effective, and showed a sense of urgency. And yeah, I panned cutting Bobby Wade for Greg Lewis a few weeks back, but maybe Brad Childress knows what the hell he’s doing. A win is a win, and the Vikings are 3-0. I’ll take that any day of the week.
Bring on the Packers.