Just to keep things interesting and keep everyone guessing, on Sunday the Minnesota Vikings beat the Washington Redskins 17 to 13 at FedEx Field. In what's becoming the theme of the 2010 season, expect the unexpected from this team. The Vikings have lost games they were expected to win and now they've won a game they were expected to lose. And that's a big, hairy deal.
Let's forget for a moment that just about every analyst out there agrees that the Redskins are a "mediocre at best" team and appreciate what a rare and wonderful thing it is to see the Vikings to truly play as a team this season. It wasn't pretty or perfect, but in a wonderfully unspectacular fashion the Vikings learned from and limited their mistakes, capitalized on the Redskins' mistakes (How great was E.J. Henderson's interception off a tipped Donovan McNabb pass?), and won. I don't care how much analysts might downplay this Viking victory, a win is a win. You don't get extra points for style.
It was reported last week that interim head coach Leslie Frazier, in order to set the tone for the rest of the season played some mood music during practice. Join me after the jump for Coach Frazier's musical selection and a look at why things are looking up. You know, besides the fact that the Vikings won.
Last week, with the firing of Brad Childress as the Vikings head coach and naming Leslie Frazier as the interim head coach, I thought it would be wise to cultivate low expectations for Sunday's game in Washington. After all, the Vikings hadn't won on the road in more than a year, they would be playing outside, and they had a new coach.
Despite all the reasons why Sunday's game could have been yet another disappointing loss in a season full of disappointing losses, the Vikings won. And, their win was as much about the things they weren't doing as it was about the things they were doing. Unlike recent Vikings' performances, during Sunday's game the Vikings didn't sabotage their success with the things that have plagued them all season.
- Turnovers. The most notable difference between Sunday's game and other games this season was that the Vikings' offense did not turn the ball over-no fumbles, no interceptions, nada. It was nice to see the Vikings make the Redskins work to get the ball back. While the coverage teams have performed poorly, it still seems like a better option than simply handing possession over with turnovers and interceptions. And that goes back to the ball security that Frazier emphasized to players leading up to Sunday's game. I read that Frazier told players to protect the ball as if it was an injured child. That's the kind of image that will stick with a person, and maybe that's why instead of forcing throws, Brett Favre was willing to take a couple sacks.
- Penalties. On Sunday the Vikings were flagged three times for penalties for 15 yards while the Redskins were flagged six times for 35 yards. Honestly, the Vikings having only three penalties almost surprises me more than the Vikings not turning the ball over in Sunday's game. Sloppy play has resulted in costly penalties all season, putting the Vikings at a yardage disadvantage and negating good plays. It was a nice change to see that the brilliant play on a punt return that was negated by a penalty was against the Redskins and not the Vikings.
- Playing to strengths. Prior to Sunday's game I read that Frazier was going to listen to Favre's advice. Novel idea that, listening to the guy who has played for two decades and is older than some of the coaching staff. And, during the week Favre said that one of the problems is that offensive strategy gets too complicated. His point was that if a team executes plays well, then it doesn't matter if a defense knows it's coming or not, that defense still has to stop it. Well, Sunday's game was a good example of exactly that. The offensive play-calling wasn't electric, but it played to Favre's strength with plenty of bootleg plays called that had him rolling out of the pocket. And, even though after the first Minnesota possession of the game the Redskins had to know the Vikings were going to run the ball a whole lot, they still weren't able to prevent the Vikings from rushing for 137 yards.
- Resilience. There were mistakes and misfortunes during Sunday's game. The Redskins marched 83 yards for a touchdown on their first possession and they converted on third downs. Ray Edwards and Adrian Peterson both came out of the game with ankle injuries. But despite the rocky defensive start and the injuries, the Vikings found a way to regroup and battle through to win. After Washington's first drive the Vikings allowed only three more third down conversions the entire game and Toby Gerhart and Brian Robison both stepped up with solid performances when Peterson and Edwards were injured. With as much as this team as gone through this season, it wouldn't be surprising if they had used up all their resilience, but it looks like they found a previously untapped supply.
Clearly, the Vikings will have to work very hard and have some very good luck if they are going to have even the hope of winning a Wild Card for the playoffs. But, strange stuff happens every week in the NFL so until the Vikings are absolutely eliminated from playoff contention, I'm going to hold onto hope that a talented team with a new coach and the resolve not to quit has a shot.