Well, it finally happened. On Sunday the Minnesota Vikings beat the struggling Buffalo Bills decisively on the artificial turf of Mall of America Field. In a season when the Vikings have failed to live up the expectations they raised in 2009, nothing has been a given. Inferior teams have been permitted to rack up early leads and hang around well into the fourth quarter (like the Arizona Cardinals in week 8) making almost none of the Vikings' wins this season a foregone conclusion. But Sunday was different.
I don't know about other Vikings fans out there, but when Arthur Moats hit Vikings' quarterback Brett Favre on the third play of the game, I feared the worst. In less time than it takes to type it, Favre was out with yet another surprising and debilitating injury and Tavaris Jackson was in to replace him.
My faith in Tavaris Jackson as a starting quarterback is...low. He has a good arm, he's athletic, and he can run for first downs, but he's failed to prove he has the mental toughness and decision-making to be an elite NFL quarterback. Considering the ups and downs his career has taken, I don't blame him for having confidence issues. That said, I cringed a little when he came onto the field Sunday for the injured Favre.
And, my concerns seemed valid when Jackson threw a pick 6 to Buffalo cornerback Drayton Florence on the Vikings second possession of the game. That was the first of three interceptions for Jackson, but in contrast to some of his previous performances, on Sunday he showed that he could put the bad throws behind him and just focus on the next series. In a way, Jackson's performance exemplifies the Vikings' attitude under interim head coach Leslie Frazier-resilient.
Last Saturday night I said that if the Vikings beat the Buffalo Bills I would use this song. I try to keep my promises, even those made in close proximity to mechanical bulls. So here it is, a song by some of my favorite gloom cookies.
That's the attitude that had been missing during the first ten games of the season. And that focus on resilience helped Tavaris Jackson return to the field and help lead the Vikings to a 38-14 victory over Buffalo in which he threw a pair of touchdowns to Sidney Rice*. He's no Favre (although the interceptions might make you think otherwise), but Jackson filled in well completing 15 of 22 passes and quarterback rating of 85.0. And, it was nice to have a quarterback who was mobile enough to prolong plays with his legs.
By week 12 of the season there isn't an NFL team out there that hasn't lost starters and the Vikings are no exception. Sunday was the second time this season that Jackson has had to go in for Favre and the Vikings were also without offensive starters Steve Hutchinson and Percy Harvin. But the players on the field found a way to carry on and produce one of the Vikings' most balanced performances of the season.
Rather than the defense needing to bail out the offense, or the offense needing to make a final press to save the game because the defense couldn't stop an opposing offense, both sides of the team provided the other with opportunities instead of challenges-and that made for a refreshing change. The defense had the luxury of being able to play with a lead, and, as a result, they were able to pressure the Bills' offense into an interception for Antoine Winfield and five fumbles, four of which the Vikings recovered.
The last two wins have brought the Vikings up to 5-7 for the season. That those wins came against a mediocre Redskins team and struggling Bills team shouldn't take away from the fact that watching the Vikings now has a significantly lower chance of making me wish I could physically stomach the idea of cheering for the Packers. Fans have a reason to cheer again, the players can feel proud about their performance, and the Wilfs can continue to press for a new stadium-feels like Christmas to me.
Over the next three games the Vikings will have to find a way to beat teams with winning records if they hope to hang onto even the whiff of a chance of making it to the playoffs. That they were able to win in such a convincing manner over a struggling team helps me believe that the Vikings will be able to put up a good fight against tougher opponents. If the Vikings can find a way to be resilient after the season they have had, maybe their fans can find some resilience too.
*Seeing Sidney Rice back on the field wrestling with a Bills defender for a touchdown was a thing of beauty. I love, love, love the physical way Rice plays receiver. And, with Brett Favre becoming ever more dinged up (if he plays) and Tavaris Jackson not having as many reps with the first teams offense, being able to throw to a receiver where you need to get the ball just vaguely in his zip code is a plus.