It's been way too long since I've gotten to write about a Minnesota Vikings regular season win. Not gonna lie, this feels good. If ever there was a case for this song by the Godfather of Soul, yesterday's Vikings win is it.
More after the jump. Go ahead, keep shakin' your tail feathers. Feel free to mix in some watusi.
Last night I should have gone to bed early because I'm fighting a cold, but instead I stayed up late to watch a couple of the local television stations here in Minnesota do their sports extra recaps and analysis of yesterday's Vikings win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. It seemed like even the most sedate of the beat writers couldn't help smiling and getting a little excited to see a team win the kind of game they probably would have lost last year.
Yep, yesterday had all the potential of a patented 2011 Vikings loss. Last year they lost so many games in which they'd held a lead that it had to really take a toll on team confidence. It took a toll on fan confidence too.
When the Jaguars took the ball 72 yards in 17 plays in the first quarter, it felt like 2011. The offense couldn't stay on the field and the defense couldn't get off the field. Through the first quarter Christian Ponder was booed by the non-sell-out crowd at the Metrodome on every incomplete pass.
Then, somewhere in the second quarter, it was as if the Vikings offense suddenly remembered Percy Harvin wore purple. There were great plays in the Vikings final possession of the fourth quarter that showed the Vikings weren't going to give in to defeat, but they would never have gotten to those moments if Percy Harvin hadn't lit a fire under the Vikings offense's collective butt. Before those strikes to Harvin the Vikings offense seemed to have no rhythm and little urgency, as if Winnie the Pooh's dour friend Eeyore had been in charge of the pre-game pep talk. But Harvin played like he was on fast-forward and helped reignite the Vikings' offense.
And, for a team focusing on executing and learning to believe in themselves, could there be a better poster child than Adrian Peterson? This is a guy a little more than 8 months removed from a terrible knee injury and not only was he on the field for the first game of the regular season, but he was planting his foot and cutting. He took the ball 84 yards on 17 carries and got two touchdowns. Adrian Peterson was a bruising example of the power of faith and hard work, and in the post-game interviews even players who had seen him workout on a daily basis were awed by what he had accomplished.
In Monday's press conference, head coach Leslie Frazier was still smiling about his team's first win of the season. In the preseason the coaches emphasized executing and finishing and it showed when Ponder and the offense had just seconds to get into field goal range so that rookie kicker Blair Walsh could try to tie the game. It reminded me of that final drive in the Vikings' 2009 home game against the San Francisco 49ers when Brett Favre led the Vikings to a thrilling last second victory--hitting Greg Lewis in the back of the end zone for a touchdown as time expired. While I'm not saying that Ponder is a Favre-ian magic maker, yet, he displayed the ability to get out of his head and, in a clutch situation, put the ball where it needed to be.
For me, that was one of the big themes of the game, resilience. The Vikings found interesting ways to lose the lead in Sunday's game, but they didn't let their mistakes discourage them. They showed resilience and fought back.
That was something you saw in the Vikings during 2009. They weren't perfect, they screwed up, but they believed they could win games and they came back and found ways to win games. I know that the 2012 Vikings are a long, long way off from being the 2009 team, but seeing that resilience is encouraging.
As Frazier said in Monday's press conference:
I just know in our League you just have to find ways to win, even if you don’t play your best game. Even the best teams I’ve been on, they find a way. Somebody will make a play, even if we didn’t have a good day. There are enough players on the team that believe that somebody will make a play as long as the game stays close.
On Sunday there were players on the team who believed someone would make a play so long as the game stayed close. One story of belief in action on Sunday had to do with veteran receiver Michael Jenkins. Their lead evaporated, the Vikings offense needed to to take the ball 30 yards in a mere 14 seconds so Walsh could try to tie the game and send it to overtime. To the casual observer, this seemed like a time to panic. Jenkins, however, set the offense straight. He said it wasn't impossible, he'd done it in 2008 with the Matt Ryan-led Atlanta Falcons. According to Percy Harvin (via the Pioneer Press), "Jenkins came in the huddle and said there's enough time."
The Vikings' won over the Jaguars in about the ugliest, last-second way they could have, but it proved something to themselves, if no one else. It proved that if they were resilient they could create opportunities to win. That's something I'm not sure they believed in 2011.
In the words of George Michael, "You gotta have faith."