When word came that Christian Ponder wasn't going to be able to play, my head and my heart declared war on each other. My head told me that the 40/60 or 50/50 shot the Vikings had to win the game just dropped to maybe 1 in 7, but my heart tried to talk my head into thinking the Vikings would be okay:
Heart: Listen, head. It'll be okay. Joe Webb is the Secret Weapon.
Head: Shut up. He hasn't played all year.
Heart: EXACTLY! Green Bay hasn't game planned for him. THEY WON'T KNOW WHAT'S COMING!
Head: But he's only good in relief. He's starting.
Heart: This is last minute. IT'S THE ULTIMATE RELIEF!
Head: No, a decent bowel movement after a three day constipation is the ultimate relief.
Heart: Point taken. But consider this--We still have Adrian Peterson.
Head: But if Webb can't establish a passing game, AP will get shut down.
Heart: BUT TONY DUNGY JUST PICKED THE VIKINGS!
So, I went into the game thinking the Vikings still had a shot. After the first drive that put the Vikes up 3-0, I was a little more encouraged.
Then, reality set in. By the time Joe Webb threw a bounce pass to
Kevin Love Devin Aromashodu to end the first half, my Dad and I literally laughed out loud. Seriously, he looked at me, did this:
And we both laughed. Literally, we laughed our asses off for a good two minutes. More out of frustration and 'what might have been' if Ponder had played, and we watched the second half more detached than anything else. We knew the game was over, so we just endured the ending.
But still, 2012 was a good season for the Vikings, the playoff game aside. What was supposed to be a 5 win team went 10-6, 4-2 in the toughest division in the NFL, and ran the table in their last four games with the toughest remaining schedule in the NFL, and made the playoffs thanks in large part to what might be the best running back in NFL history.
Let's think about where we were at this time last year: We had no idea what we had at the quarterback position. Our best player had a shredded knee, and there was serious doubt as to if he would play in 2012, and when he did return at what level. There was no stadium, the lease on the Metrodome was expiring, and there was a good chance the Vikings last season in Minnesota was fast approaching.
The playoff loss is bittersweet to be sure, especially considering the opponent, but there is a new dawn in Minnesota, and the future is bright. There was nothing redeeming about that game that needs to be re-lived, so let's focus this SMR on the season as a whole.
So, as the Call would tell us, Let The Day Begin:
Here's to the losers in the game
Here's to the soldiers of the bitter war
Here's to the wall that bears their names
Here's to you my little loves with blessings from above
Now let the day begin
Here's to you my little loves with blessings from above
Let the day begin, let the day begin, let the day start
Blue Chip Stocks:
Adrian Peterson, RB: He is the best running back many of you will ever see play. I was able to watch Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Eric Dickerson--all of the great backs from the 1970's through today. Lots of people reading this never had that privilege, but you have...we have...Purple Jesus. Years from now, you'll be able to sit your grandson on your knee and say "I saw Adrian Peterson run the football for the Minnesota Vikings in 2012", and your grandchildren's eyes will go wide and say "NO WAY Grandpa".
And you'll smile a little bit, maybe chuckle, and say "yes, yes I did. I'll never forget his game against Green Bay with the playoffs on the line...", and your grandchildren will shake their heads in amazement as you recall his exploits and his almost super human feats.
And you will too.
Percy Harvin, WR: Harvin is in kind of a weird place for me as a Vikings fan. I don't think there's any more dangerous offensive player with the football than Harvin, Peterson included. Harvin has a gear that even AP doesn't have, and whether it's a kickoff, swing pass, or off tackle run, every time Harvin gets through that first wall of defenders into the second level, you suck in your breath and say "here we go". It was widely reported that Harvin was frustrated with the team's performance at about the midway point, but I wonder how he feels after the team finished 10-6, went to the playoffs, and we saw sizable improvement in Christian Ponder, for the most part, as the season wore on.
Harvin's status will be the palace intrigue this off-season, and I am of the opinion that the Vikings need to give him an extension and make him part of the future as this team ascends. A guy that puts as much on the line as Harvin does would probably get frustrated with sub par play, but I hope he was as encouraged by Ponder's play the last part of the year that I was, and that he can come to an agreement that keeps him happy and in Minnesota.
Everson Griffen, DE: This might be a surprise for some of you, but if there is a player on the roster that brought his game to another level at just the right time, Everson Griffen would be the guy. I would even give him serious consideration for Vikings Defensive player of the year. After a very rocky rookie season (ahem, arrest followed by 'I think it would be a good idea to host a Super Bowl party in Vegas') Griffen has turned it around on and off the field and became a disruptive force from the left edge. When starter Brian Robison hurt his shoulder, Griffen stepped up his game even more. He ended up second on the team in sacs, had a pick 6 against the Rams, and recovered two fumbles.
The 2012 Draft: As good as the veterans on the roster were, the playoffs would not have been possible were it not for the 2012 draft class. LT Matt Kalil improved two positions, as Charlie Johnson went to LG and Kalil was solid out on the edge. S Harrison Smith is a big time player, and settled any doubts as to whether or not GM Rick Spielman should have traded back into the first round to select Smith, who was a tremendous upgrade from last year. CB Josh Robinson had an up and down season, but I don't think there's any question he's a solid upgrade over the likes of Asher Allen and company. And the mad genius move of the draft for Spielman was K Blair Walsh. Who saw college football version's of Mason Crosby going 35/38 on field goals this year, and a perfect 10/10 on 50 yard+ attempts, a new NFL record?
Also, Audie Cole, bitches. Audie Cole.
Christian Ponder, QB: I've always been a glass is half full kind of guy. There were some very low moments for Ponder this season, but he stepped up his game, settled down, and helped lead the Vikings to the playoffs, a scenario that nobody really saw coming when the season began. He still has a ways to go to be considered anything more than a game manager, and he needs some help on the outside, but overall, Ponder did a lot of good things in 2012, and I expect him to even do better in 2013.
Kyle Rudolph, TE: Rudolph had a tremendous season in his second year, and at times was the only legitimate receiving threat coming off the line of scrimmage. He made some ridiculous red zone TD grabs, is improving as a blocker (but when your standard for TE blocking will always be Jim Kleinsasser, it'll be tough to grade out very high), and is going to be a key part of this offense for the Vikings for years to come. I was worried that there would be a pass catching void at the TE position when Visanthe Shiancoe left, but Rudolph has stepped up and become a legitimate NFL player.
Jared Allen, DE: The Culinary Academy graduate sack numbers dropped from just one shy of an NFL record down to 12, but he also played with a torn labrum in his shoulder and will undergo surgery to fix it this off-season. Allen is now north of 30, and I'm sure we'll have discussions on DN this off-season about trading Allen, but he's still a force on the edge and should be a big part of the defense in 2013. It will be interesting to see if the Vikings will want Allen to take a pay cut, though. 2013 will be the final year of his contract extension he received in the 2008 draft day trade that brought him here from Kansas City, and he's scheduled to make just over $14 million and then become a free agent in 2014. That's a lot of coin for a guy over 30 coming off an injury with just one year left on his current deal. It could get interesting.
John Carlson, TE: This was a classic Spielman free agent signing last year--(relative) low cost, slight risk on a guy that's coming off an injury but flashed talent when healthy. Carlson got hurt in training camp, didn't play much at all in the pre-season, and struggled to find a groove all year. He signed a 5 year, $25 million contract last year, with $9 million guaranteed. In other words, if the Vikings part ways with him in the off-season, each catch he made in 2012 (8) was worth over...ONE MIIIILLLLLIIIOOONNNN DOLLARS (an you know you just said that in your Dr. Evil voice, didn't you? DIDN'T YOU?)
Wide Receivers Besides Percy Harvin and Jarius Wright: One of the reasons I think Harvin will be back with a contract extension is because I don't think any of their other receivers will be, other than Jarius Wright. Michael Jenkins, Jerome Simpson, Devin Aromashodu, and Stephen Burton didn't really do anything to make me think they'll be back next season, and no one other than maybe Jenkins was anything near a mark of consistency. So if the Vikes part ways with Harvin, their WR corps will be Wright, a guy who is re-habbing from two torn patellas in Greg Childs...and no one else. They might give Burton one more shot because he's a low cost guy, but why? What has he done in the two seasons he's been in Minnesota to make anyone think he'll be a significant contributor?
Buy: Jerome Felton and Chad Greenway being All-Pros. Felton was really an unsung hero in a position that is going the way of the Megladon, but he was a large part of the reason Adrian Peterson went over 2,000 yards rushing. He's a fantastic lead blocker, and his 17 yard catch and run against Green Bay during the last regular season game was Kleinsasser-esque. Greenway just puts solid season after solid season together, and 2012 was no eception. I thought he was much better in coverage this year than in last, and lead the team in tackles.
Sell: The play of the other linebackers. Erin Henderson was only given a one year deal, and that was the ultimate audition. I'm not sure if he got the part or not. He had some good games, but seemed very inconsistent for much of the year. He shuttled in and out as the middle linebacker in the nickel defense with Jasper Brinkley. Brinkley's playing time dropped when Henderson moved to the mike role in the nickel, as the 3 linebacker base defense was used a lot less in passing situations. Maybe it's just me, but I'm not really sold on either of these two guys, and although one of them will be back, I don't know that both will, or necessarily should.
Buy: Antoine Winfield coming back for one more season. I love Antoine Winfield. He's been the Vikings best defensive back for a decade, and even though he's lost a step, his leadership is an intangible that the Vikings desperately need. His absence was most felt when he went out during the second quarter of the regular season finale, and it will be comforting to have him back there another year. Will he consider, and will the Vikings contemplate, moving him to safety? I don't know, but it's something to look into. Chris Cook had a solid year, and Josh Robinson looks like he could be the real deal as a starter. They'll need to get another guy to play the nickel, as A.J Jefferson and Marcus Sherels just don't do anything for me, but if they can find some more CB depth, it might be a possibility, even though Jamarca Sanford was light years better this year than he was in 2012.
Sell: Getting rid of anyone on the coaching staff: Leslie Frazier proved to everyone (well, except my Dad. Nothing personal, Les, but you're the Vikings head coach, which automatically makes you an idiot. Sorry) that he is a legitimate NFL coach this year, and I think he'll garner a lot of well deserved votes for Coach of the Year. And yes, I even want Bill Musgrave coming back. Yes, he was inconsistent, and no, I don't know why he went away from the read option last night against the Packers, but for the most part, he called games that put the Vikings in position to win, especially down the stretch. And hardly anyone mentions the name Alan Williams, but he did a phenomenal job as the defensive coordinator. But if anyone should get a gold star, it's special teams coach Mike Priefer. He was the guy that said he could fix Blair Walsh and the convinced Spielman to draft him. That's what we call 'genius'. But he's a former helicopter pilot, too. So the 'genius' label was earned long before then. :)
Buy: Upgrading the backup QB position. Seriously, I'm super cereal guys. Get a veteran backup this off-season.
Sell: Christian Ponder could've played. The guy couldn't raise his arm above the shoulder, and couldn't throw the ball. No, Joe Webb couldn't either, but in a different way.
I've gone on long enough. This was a fun season, and although it ended in a way none of us wanted, the Vikings have a lot going for them. According to Tom Pelissero, they have the third youngest roster in the NFL and a solid core of good players, both young and veteran, on both sides of the ball. They have a great owner who is willing to spend money on quality free agents if they're needed, a good GM who had a draft for the ages in 2012, and has done pretty well overall, and a solid coaching staff lead by a guy that has had success at the highest level both as a player and as an assistant coach.
And we also will get to watch a brand new stadium rise from the earth in time for the 2016 season, and for the younger generation of fans, you'll get to experience outdoor football, at home, for two years.
Let te day begin, indeed. Skol!