I find it a lot easier to tell myself that preseason games don't mean anything when the game in question is a loss rather than a win. So, despite how much fun it was to see the Minnesota Vikings beat the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday night, I have been repeating, mantra-like, that it doesn't mean anything about the team or the season we can expect them to have.
However, the game does mean an awful lot to the guys who are fighting to make it onto the roster or reclaiming their spot on the roster. The NFL is all about "what have you done for me lately?" with just about everyone looking to make a comeback from one play to the next. Maybe they're coming back from an injury, from a lackluster season, from a botched assignment, or from a tough hit and every play they are on the field is a chance at redemption. Sometimes seeing how a player, or even a coach, comes back from a screw up is as important as seeing them do the right thing from the start.
Honestly, who doesn't love a good comeback story? It's one of those things that seems wired into our human DNA, we love to see someone who has messed up or had a disappointment or setback bounce back from adversity and do well.
Saturday night's Vikings win over Seattle had plenty of comeback stories. Here are some of my favorite comeback moments from the game.
Back on his feet
Cedric Griffin saw his first reps since tearing his right ACL (he tore the left one during the NFC championship game the previous season) on October 11, 2010. Griffin made an immediate impact in Saturday night's game, disrupting a pass intended for Seattle receiver Golden Tate. Like many starters, Griffin saw only limited action in this game but it was good to see him back in action. To hear the interviews with Griffin, he acts like coming back from two torn ACLs in as many years is no big deal--to see him play, you almost believe it. I still maintain it takes one tough hombre to fight back twice from the same injury and play at a high level.
Change of scene and society
Donovan McNabb had a forgettable and demoralizing season with the Washington Redskins in 2010. It was the kind of lousy time that would make just about any player question if a career in football was still worth it. But this August McNabb signed with Minnesota looking for a fresh start and a new challenge with a Vikings team in need of veteran guidance for its young quarterbacks. Despite having had only a short time to work with his new teammates and to absorb Bill Musgrave's offense, McNabb displayed crisp play, rhythm, and confidence in an 81-yard drive that started on the Vikings' 2-yard line and ended with a Ryan Longwell field goal. One drive is hardly a season, but it suggests that McNabb and the rest of the offense are learning Musgrave's system.
Mike Singletary, before his short, troubled stint as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, was one heck of a linebacker and a good position coach. Now he's reunited with his former Chicago Bears teammate, Leslie Frazier, as the Vikings' linebackers coach. It looks like he's doing a good job too because Singletary's linebackers gave a good accounting of themselves Saturday night. Of the top five tacklers on the Vikings' defense, four of them are Singletary's linebackers. Not only that, but the linebacking corps seemed to consistently be wherever the ball was, ready to make a play. If Mike Singletary was looking to reestablish his reputation as a coach, his linebackers' performance certainly isn't going to hurt him.
Erin Henderson, considered one of the top ten linebackers in his draft class, came into the NFL as an undrafted rookie free agent and has steadily worked to distinguish himself on special teams and defense for the past three years. Entering his fourth season and now vying to start in place of departed Ben Leber at weak side linebacker, Henderson leads the team in tackles (12 solo, 4 assists) this preseason. According to an interview with defensive coordinator Fred Pagac on "Sports Wrap" (5 Eyewitness News ABC, not yet posted online), there's a good chance that Henderson will win the starting job. Personality-wise, Erin Henderson couldn't be more different from his older brother E.J., but seeing him in on so many tackles and stops Saturday night there seemed to be a strong family resemblance.
Marcus Sherels, cornerback, has one heck of a promoter in his friend Tim Nela. When Ted and I met Tim at training camp he was adamant that Sherels, with whom he had worked out during the off-season, was headed for a breakout season. Almost as if on cue, Sherels pulled in an interception during that afternoon practice in Mankato. Since then, I've had my eye on Sherels waiting to see what he'd do next. A former University of Minnesota player know for his small stature and explosive speed, spent last season on the Vikings' practice squad and was activated for the last game of the 2010 season when Madieu Williams was out with an injury. Seen as someone who could make an impact on special teams, Sherels' potentially impressive punt return ended in a fumble at the Vikings' 45-yard line. It was a rough moment for a player trying to make the 53-man starting roster, but not long after that Sherels proved he wouldn't be defined by a single play. Sherels plucked a deflected throw from Tavaris Jackson to Golden Tate out of the air and then turned on the afterburners and raced 64 yards for a touchdown. Coach Frazier was quoted in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune saying, "We talk about getting turnovers, we talk about scoring on defense so to see that happen by a young guy who is fighting to make this team that was big for our team." For my part, seeing a small defensive back make an interception and then race to the end zone reminded me of Antoine Winfield and that's a very good thing.
It's going to take a lot more comebacks for the Vikings to climb out of the NFC North basement, but seeing the overall progress in the team on Saturday night in Seattle is encouraging. Considering how much more competitive the NFC North has gotten, resilience is going to be important to a team looking for some redemption after a disappointing 2010 season. Here's to comebacks all around. Cheers!