Phew, that felt too close. It seemed like the Vikings should have had this one in the bag several times over, but the Bears just kept finding ways to threaten even after Jay Cutler was knocked out of the game. That said, I will willingly tip my cap to the vanquished foes, because even though they were Brian Urlacher-less, they managed to do probably the best job against Adrian Peterson that I've seen done in a long while. Of course, the cybernetic freak of science and nature still busted over 150+ yards yesterday, well on pace to snag that 2K season.
Also, in case you noticed that I was far more silent on Twitter than normal (you did notice... right?), that's because I had the pleasure of joining up with a few other Norsemen readers to watch yesterday's game. Thanks for coming out guys, I hope you enjoyed the win (and the bar scenery...) as much as I did!
OK, enough positivity from me. It's compliment sandwich time, wherein I temper everyone's happiness and enthusiasm with my unflappable pessimism and negativity. I suggest the "Kilt Club" sandwich for your selection today, delicious!
Compliment: Seriously, kudos to the Tilted Kilt yesterday. Great beer selection, excellent food, and unlike a lot of sports bars that try and pass off an at best 6 for an 8 by dressing her skimpily, I genuinely think their "eye candy" is attractive. Even if they don't always remember to take your card when running your check.
But: Dude, fix your AC! The temperature was fine but it was like sitting under a waterfall there at the bar. The back of my shirt must have looked like the back of Richard Pryor's shirt after a standup special. I even moved seats at one point but still was in the splash zone.
That said: Again thanks to those who came out, it's always nice to have someone to talk Vikings football to during commercials, and I look considerably less crazy for getting excited/ pissed off when I'm not the only one watching the game.
Compliment: Bill Musgrave seems to have learned an oddly elusive lesson recently: when featuring the best running back in the NFL (by leaps and bounds no less), running him when inside the 10 yard line for a TD is a good idea.
But: Running him on 3rd-and-long is not. It's even worse when you decide to run on 3rd-and-long, but instead decide to go with Toby Gerhart. Look, I think Gerhart's a solid RB and I do still believe there are teams out there he'd be starting on. That said, giving him the ball in that situation is boneheaded play calling, plain and simple. Hell, even with Adrian Peterson- who has a legit chance to tear one off and get you the first down and then some- it's still not a great idea. It's not like we were ever really running away with the score or anything.
That said: The play calling did overall seem to take a step up yesterday. Again, as mentioned above, there were boneheaded plays to be sure, and I do still firmly believe Musgrave needs to go. That said, at least his play calling wasn't as head scratching yesterday as it has been as of late- and that was a major part in us snagging the win.
Compliment: For a bit in the early part of the game, Christian Ponder really looked like he was going to have one of his "good games". Honestly, I thought the long pass to Aromashodu- while still ending ultimately in an incomplete- was a fine play by the QB. And unlike the last two weeks, when he was lame-ducking it around the field and just getting lucky Kyle Rudolph can catch anything within 10 yards, several of the passes he did make were spot-on.
But: I do put the blame on his lone INT largely on his shoulders, but I'm going to focus more on his pocket presence. While again early on he was looking better in that department, it seemed he quickly reverted to his scramble-even-when-not-necessary trademark. I get that the Bears have a good pass rush, and were certainly putting the pressure on Ponder, but there were times he took off somewhere when it just wasn't necessary.
That said: It may sound like a back-handed compliment, but he didn't lose us the game yesterday, and for that I thank him. I genuinely mean that- again, his lone INT aside, his decision making seemed considerably better yesterday, including when under pressure. I still don't think he's our QBOTF, and I certainly don't think he really did anything to prove me wrong there yesterday, but if he can just transform into a guy who at least protects the ball (mostly) like yesterday, our shot at the playoffs may not be dead after all.
Compliment: Speaking of, I may not be the statistician that Arif is, but I do believe our chances at reaching the playoffs jumped yesterday by 138.29%. OK, maybe that's an over exaggeration. In fact, it may be even numerically impossible. But a solid win over a division rival, coupled with Tampa Bay's loss (WOOOOO!), our odds have definitely increased.
That said: I know Eric hates the term "moral victory" and to an extent I do agree with him, but yesterday's win does have something of an extra-special ring to it. Leslie Frazier finally beat a worthwhile NFC North foe, and the worst we can now go in the division is .500, which feels soooo good considering we were outright swept last year. Considering our questions at the QB position, I like how this team has been able to beat quality opponents (from time to time) this year. I really do feel like we have returned to our 2008 form... just add in some solid QB play and we're a legit contender. To have made that turn around so quickly is impressive.
Compliment: Wow have we fixed our secondary. If there's anything that has single-handedly made the difference between 2011 and 2012, it's that. Our safety position has gone from LOLWUT (H/T Ted) to "we've got three starters for two available positions". Our cornerbacks can make INTs. Josh Robinson is still at times raw around the edges, but for a rookie CB he is showing that he is absolutely going to be a force to reckon with in a year or two. Speaking of, at this point, I truly believe Antoine Winfield, should he so wish, can remain on the team for that amount of time going forward- which is HUGE considering I genuinely thought last year was going to be his last.
But: We do still need to work on some tackling fundamentals, including wunderkind Harrison
Ford Smith. He hits hard and, aside from his overall technique, has absolutely been a brilliant starter in his first year. I just don't like how he tends to leap forward without wrapping up. If you just watch tackling machine Winfield, you'll see the difference. Smith's tendency to underutilize his, you know, arms has led to a few missed tackles he should have made. And honestly, I think his tackling style is what led to that unfortunate concussion last week.
That said: Winfield has taken Smith under his wing and I can't think of a better tutor in this department. Considering how much Smith sings his praises (as he damn well should), I think we're going to see a major evolution in this come next year. I get that changing how he tackles in the midst of his rookie season is a bit of an uphill battle; when the pressure's on, you revert to your base instincts and ignore sage advice that even you admit is proper. Give him the offseason to focus on this, again with Master Yoda having taught him the ways of the Force, and Smith is going to be freaking unstoppable in 2013 and beyond. Some questioned the jump back up into the first round to snag him. They were wrong.
Compliment: While I didn't really notice it in-game, Jasper Brinkley actually did a decent job. Overall this may have been his best game of the season, if not his entire career. Hopefully this signals a turn-around from the on-again, off-again LB, who was possibly slated for replacement come offseason.
But: Overall the LB corps still is a bit of a far cry from its 2009 incarnation, when it was a run-stopping mid-field massacring force to be reckoned with. Chad Greenway remains someone who, if he's within 7 yards of you, you don't want to have a football in your arms around. But we are seriously missing EJ Henderson out there, and if we truly want to take the next step defensively, we need to look at this in the offseason.
That said: While there was the occasional whiffed tackle that nearly made you laugh out loud, and the soft coverage that allowed the short pass for the first down, I thought- based purely on the ‘eyeball test'- this was one of our better games in terms of preventing the mid-field slicing and dicing that has cost us some wins. I said in 2010 and 2011 that the LBs were being forced back because of the incredibly horrifying situation that was our secondary, but that's just no longer the case. We have guys in the backfield who can prevent plays, so now our LBs are free to be in the middle to prevent the dink-and-dunks that, when used properly, can ruin your day. And they showed that ability for the most part yesterday.
Compliment: Ted mentioned this in his ever articulate SMR, but I have to take a second and also thank Michael Jenkins myself. No, the guy didn't exactly match Brandon Marshall or anything like that, but he was solid exactly when he needed to be, including a very gutsy catch for a key first down at one point when I thought he was going to drop the ball after being nailed by two guys. Kudos to someone on our WR corps to step up.
But: I picked Jarius Wright up in my fantasy football league basically as a "let's see what happens". It was a no-risk gamble because at the time I had already locked up the first seed in the playoffs, meaning even if his low production cost me the last game, oh well. Coupled with the playoff bye this week it was the definition of a no-lose move. But now I don't know what I should do with him. He's here and there, but not quite making the impact we were all hoping for. Yes, he's a rookie who didn't even get activated until just a few weeks ago, so anyone truly expecting Percy Harvin Lite was drinking some serious Kool-Aid, even after his big first game and subsequent impressive second outing. Granted, he ran his route beautifully on Ponder's INT, and I just don't understand the people blaming him for that. But if we are going to remain competitive going forward, he needs to get in on some plays more often.
That said: I don't think Jenkins will be- or should be- back next year. I thank him for his service with us as he has had his moments, including again yesterday when things could have gone differently had he not made his catches. And Wright, as a rookie, absolutely deserves to be back next year as his moments indicate a higher ceiling than what we've seen. While Devin Aromashodu takes part of the blame for not making a beautiful pass from Ponder and turning it into a TD, our WR corps yesterday looked at least the part of something that could at least be relied upon from time to time. When teams start to completely key in on Adrian Peterson- as the Bears did post first-quarter yesterday- we need them to make a catch here and there, and for the most part that happened. Of course, Harvin MUST be extended this offseason, as we are abysmal in the passing department without him.
Compliment: Everson Griffen did not by any stretch of the imagination intentionally hit Jay Cutler with a helmet-to-helmet hit. He was falling forward as Cutler was being brought down, and their helmets incidentally banged into each other.
But: No freakin' but here. He was fined for an absolute BULL**** "late hit" against Aaron Rodgers last week that even Troy Aikman and Joe Buck thought was BS. (And when those two drooling Packer homers say so, you know you're not just seeing it through purple-colored lenses.) And now it's being reported he could be fined again. This is absurd and I truly hope he appeals the fine.
That said: I understand and support the NFL's decision to ban helmet-to-helmet hits. If you lead with your helmet to crack someone in their noggin, you deserve a flag and a fine, if not worse. Chad Greenway did that against Calvin Johnson in our first matchup against the Lions, and I was 100% OK with the punishment he and the Vikings received. But this is beginning to become a bit of a joke, and it shouldn't be. Players are occasionally going to have incidental contact with their helmets hitting another player's helmet. Its football, and injuries and bang-ups happen. I'm not a mouth breather who thinks that means they should just "shut up and take it" when it comes to severe injuries, but that said, it's still a violent sport where injuries (severe and otherwise) are simply an accepted risk. You cannot start throwing a flag every time someone's helmet touches someone else's. I've seen helmet-to-helmets called when the impact was probably less than the "you did great, here's a smack to the back of your helmet buddy!" impacts. (Seriously, some of those look a little painful, I'm just sayin'.) The fact that Griffen was fined for a "late hit" against Rodgers last week was ludicrous enough; if he is fined for the accidental contact with Cutler this week, then you're hitting insanity. He's not known as a dirty player and for some damn reason is starting to get that rep, simply because he's out there playing football and occasionally runs into QBs.
OK, there you have it. G-d, it feels good to write one of these again, and it feels infinitely better considering it's about a win over Da Bears. My only concern going forward is Jay Cutler's health; if he can't play against Green Bay next week, then they- and by some extension we- are screwed. Just like I was a Lions fan last night (haha, not really but whatever) I guess I'll kinda be a Bears fan next week. Skol Norsemen/women, Cutler has still never won in the Metrodome, and the Vikings beat Chicago!