Mmmm... sandwiches. Anyhoo, last week after our spectacular win against Detroit to become uncontested NFC North division leaders I gave us all a lunch tray sampler of compliment sandwiches to munch on. In case you didn't see that, and are wondering what a compliment sandwich is, instead of actually breaking down the process this time I'll just give you an instructional video to view:
OK, so, got it? And as I said last time, I don't do this to be pessimistic or negative; I do it because I love my team, and I want to see them grow into the greatest team in the NFL. As anyone here who is a parent knows, you don't raise a good kid with nothing but effusive praise- you must also gently correct mistakes and guide them to become the best possible. (Because I totally have the personal ability to do that with the Vikings.) So let's get to it.
Compliment: Despite two INTs, the offense looked pretty solid today. We had three TDs, and most importantly two of them passing, something I kind of called out after the Detroit win, so that was good. I thought Ponder responded very well (as has been pointed out here) after those ugly back-to-back picks, giving a nearly perfect game after that. Early in the game Ponder also proved wrong those who said he couldn't throw a deeper pass (which was dumb anyways, considering he did it last season) by sailing a perfect ball right into Harvin's waiting hands.
But: It would be really easy here to say "but two interceptions!!!". But I'm better than that and you all expect better than that. (You do expect better than that... right?) I think Mark said it best- Ponder is in his second year, and it's insane that he got as far as he did without a pick beforehand. Yes, a lot of his INT-free streak was luck, but every QB gets lucky. Considering a.) Ponder's amazing rebound from that, and b.) the fact that he's a cerebral quarterback who only learns from mistakes, I'm borderline happy that he tossed those picks. That said, there is a ‘but' to this. First off... Jerome Simpson, what the hell dude? Did you really hurt yourself in a pre-game show off leap? I know that's really just a rumor, and it's entirely possible you somehow hurt yourself in the game, but I have a bad feeling its true. If that's the case, that was kind of boneheaded. While his absence didn't seem to cause any issues this game, we're heading to Washington next week, we've got the Cardinals and the Bucs coming to town the following weeks, and then we go to what might be the most hellacious home field advantage in the NFL by visiting Seattle. If he's out for or hampered in any of those games it could be a bug up our arse. C'mon dude, we made it three weeks without you; we didn't sign you to not have you for half a damn season. And secondly... actually, I'll save that for another compliment sandwich, this ‘but' has gotten long enough.
That said: We as a team rebounded nicely from what was an unprepared absence on the field in Jerome Simpson. He actually was out there on a few snaps- I don't know how many, I'm sure Arif can provide an actual count later in the week- but for all intents and purposes you might as well have chalked this up to a fourth no-Simpson-week. It's one thing to know someone's not going to be out there and to game plan for that; it's something else when a dude goes "hey look how high I can jumOW MY ANKLE!" right before kickoff. I give kudos to the coaching staff as well as the team for not even acting like it mattered. Yes, it may have helped that we were facing what could be the league's worst defense, but all the same it was very comforting to see we're able to take an unexpected and unpleasant surprise and just roll with it.
Compliment: My G-d is Adrian Peterson insane. I know it's been beaten into the ground, but personally I still like to point out that his knee was inverted less than a year ago. And it was not just an ACL tear! Everyone mentions that but completely forgets he also tore his MCL as well as a meniscus. That means he had an even more traumatic injury than the one that we all think is amazing he's rebounded thusly from. Dude is not man. He is... manimal.
But: Maybe I'm nitpicking here, and yes, this is that ‘secondly' from above, but it seemed twice yesterday like Peterson still might not be his true 100% self. I mean, he's like 97.63%, which is still 40-70% better than pretty much any other RB out there. (In your mind's eye, imagine me with Einstein-style hair in front of a giant chalkboard actually making those figures out with ginormous math equations.) There were two runs, which mind you were amazing to begin with, where he was tackled about two centimeters short of being juuuuust GONE. Again, maybe I'm just reaching here, because both of those runs were freakin' awesome to begin with, but somehow I feel like last season or before, those tackles wouldn't have happened, and at least one of those times he would have been skipping into the endzone.
That said: Mostly I refer you to the 40-70% figure above. Even if AP has lost a tiny portion of his step, that's really not a concern. That means he's only getting better, which is awesome for us. And even if he never fully, truly becomes 100% vintage All Day again, that's just fine. He's damn sure close enough already that we have nothing to worry about. As an aside, did you see his eyes and facial expression after he ever so slightly tweaked his ankle on one play??? That was definitely a "Holy hell dude, I just had a really bad flashback there" look.
Compliment: Jeezum, our defense is GOOD. I mean, really good. I mean, nobody- NOBODY- saw this coming good. And if you say you did, you're a filthy liar. Going into this season we had question marks all over the place- on the line, in our LB corps, and in the secondary. (Ohhhh did we have question marks in the secondary.) Right now I can't see a single question mark. Our D-line is a nightmare for the opposing O-line, quarterback, and whatever poor sucker is being handed the ball for a run. Our LB corps lets very, very little escape its jaws, and they clamp down on practically everything like the teeth of Cerberus himself. And our secondary continues to take very good WRs- in this instance, Kenny Britt- and make them look a lot less so. This has been one hell of a turnaround, and I think it's very much responsible for probably 68.2% of our success. (Again- equations on a chalkboard. See it, feel it, believe it.)
That said: I kind of wanted to harp again on the missed INT opportunities, because there were probably more this game than last. But we went over that last time and once again it really didn't haunt us, so I'll drop it for now. I know you saw this one coming- what the hell Harrison Smith?! When I saw he was ejected I didn't know what the hell had happened, and I was furious. This was
Nate Tripplet's Jeff Tripplete's (oh whatever) crew out there, otherwise known as "the first victim once the NFL has its bench of officials to replace poor performers". That said, once I saw the footage, yeah... Smith was wrong, he was dumb, and he got what he deserved. Thus far Smith has more than proven he was worth jumping back up into the first round to snag him, and he's been a major piece of our defensive overhaul. I love his attitude, his tenacity, his ‘meanness'. But there's a fine line to walk and he crossed it very badly.
That said: I don't personally believe a suspension is coming. Unlike Suh's "I was just regaining my balance, I swear!" stupidity, Smith right away accepted what he did was wrong and apologized, without even so much a breath of an excuse. And his helmet-to-helmet in the preseason aside, Smith doesn't have that ‘repeat offender' rep just yet. A few years ago, Broncos WR Brandon Stokley was ejected and fined for physical contact with a ref, and did not get suspended. And even just a few weeks ago Bill Belichick was fined (of course not ejected as the game was over at that point), but didn't face any additional punishment. I know things are different for coaches than for players, but I really think Smith's wallet will be lighter... and then that will be the end of it. Hopefully, Smith will have learned his lesson on this one, and even better, it sounds like he very much already has.
Compliment: The Vikings continue to reign supreme in the NFC North, again thanks to that key win against Detroit (coupled with Chicago's loss to Green Bay). And even better they did exactly what I said I wanted them to do- dismantle, destroy, and just BREAK the Titans. We had an absolute shut out on our hands up until the defense basically pulled back and practically let Tennessee score. For all those analysts out there who harp "but aside from the 49ers, the Vikings haven't played anyone!", they're forgetting that we treated a bad team just like a very good team treats a bad team. If this was a nail biter a la the Jags, I could almost- almost- understand the argument. But we proved we are better than bad teams by breaking the Titan's back over our knee.
But: I'm still not off my ‘don't get cocky kid!' mantra. In fact, I won't be until the Super Bowl is over. (Cuz we're totally going, and we're totally winning. Yeah... don't get cocky.) The Titans may very well end up being the worst team we've faced all season. And while we did exactly what we should have done in that situation, we have to remain strong, focused, and not let it get to our young team's head. People are banging the ‘entering the bye at 9-1!' drum now, and I have to agree that it could very well be possible. However, the Redskins are a dangerous team, even if RGIII is out. The Cardinals may have gotten beaten solidly by the
Seahawks Rams (seriously, outside of the 49ers the entire NFC West is kind of a blur for me), but they still did also beat the Patriots and the Eagles, and I don't want us to take them too lightly. We haven't beaten the Bucs since they left the NFC Central division (which might be the worst thing ever... EVER!!!!), and playing the Seahawks in Seattle could be a potential nightmare. Just as 8-1 could be very possible before our Detroit re-match, so too could be 4-5. The coaches need to keep doing whatever it is they have been doing to keep this young team focused, hungry, and angry.
That said: Is anyone aware that the GREEN BAY PACKERS LOST TO THE INDIANAPOLIS COLTS?! Yeah, we sucked sooooo bad for losing to that crappy team, huh? HAH! That puts the Packers even further back in the division, and below .500. I still won't sleep on that team but it sure seems like they are in some trouble. And while the Bears may have matched our record (but are still second to us because of the divisional tie-breaker), I have always said that's the team I want to compete with for #1. Yes, Jay Cutler can be very, very good... but he can also be very, very bad. The formula is simple- intercept him once or twice, sack him once or twice. Do that before he's gotten into a rhythm and the game is yours. While we may not be a team that's pick happy, we certainly have the ability to smash right through Chicago's O-line and ruin Jay Cutler's day. Honestly, as well as that offense has been doing since the Green Bay fiasco, I'm still just not that impressed. While Green Bay has the ability to rally, and Detroit has the ability to punish, Chicago's a team that I really think can become our little female dog by the end of the first quarter. Not to mention I'm not sold on either Jay Cutler or Brian Urlacher finishing out this season.
That's it for the compliment sandwich snack platter. I hope you all enjoyed it, and please be sure to clean up after yourselves, because I'm not a damn maid. Oh, and one final thought to leave you with- yes, I am indeed 5-0 in Mark's fantasy football league, the only unbeaten SOB there, and yes, that does mean I once again pulled out the upset against a fellow writer. Oh, who, you ask? Why... Mark himself! But it wasn't as bad as the beat down I put on Arif, so he's got that going for him.
Which is nice.