My plan for this entry was to write a well-organized, articulate dissertation about the game yesterday and our season in general. I have a lot of thoughts on yesterday's game, but I'm not far enough removed from the annual heartbreak dealt out by my favorite team to make much sense. So you're getting all my opinions in "ramblings" form, a format unapologetically ripped off from Bill Simmons. If he can do it, so can I dammit. I'll at least try to organize my feelings in the following order:
- The atmosphere yesterday (I was at the game)
- What I saw from the game
- Quick thoughts on the season and the future
Here goes...I might end up with a TMQ-length post here so bear with me. Since I'm too close to this team to objectively analyze anything, I fully reserve the right to change the following opinions at any time.
- First of all, that was an excellent crowd in the Metrodome Sunday. The sports talk world would have led you to believe that the stadium would be half-full of green-clad Eagles fans and we pathetic Vikings fans that barely sold the game out would be indifferent and not confident enough to make any noise. As usual, the sports talk world was proved wrong. The Dome was LOUD until the stake-in-the-heart Westbrook TD, and I honestly think there were more Eagle fans at least year's regular season game I went to. It was a great game to be at...until, you know, that whole pesky loss deal.
- The aforementioned Eagles fans behaved themselves for the most part and thankfully didn't live up to their reputations. Sure, there were handfuls of drunken d-bags after the game that were handling their booze about as well as devout Mormons would, but they were pretty respectful and into the game for the most part. I will say this: until Westbrook ping-ponged through our exhausted defense in the fourth quarter, Eagles fans were NERVOUS. Like "Rock of Love girl awaiting the results of a genital warts test" nervous. Like...wait a second..."Minnesota Vikings fans" nervous! It was nice to see an equally tortured fan base never taking anything for granted until the game was over.
- Remember Mike Tyson's Punch Out on Nintendo? One of the greatest videogames of my lifetime, but beating it didn't exactly require you to be a Rhodes Scholar. For each fighter, you'd find their pattern, and as soon as you figured out what their little "tick" was (like King Hippo showing his belly), you could anticipate what was coming and have your Little Mac beat the hell out of them. What does any of this have to do with the Vikings? Tarvaris Jackson has a "tick" that's easier to beat than Glass Joe. He completely locked on and stared down each and every receiver he threw to yesterday! His head didn't turn away from his primary target; his eyes didn't try to lead anyone off the ball; he didn't even consider pump faking someone off a route. Before you wonder why none of the receivers could get open yesterday, realize that most of the time the guy was open--at first. But by the time the TV cameras got to the receiver, it looked like T-Jax was throwing into coverage every time. With corners like Asante Samuel that love to jump routes to begin with, the "tick" (or as some might call it, "crappy quarterbacking") was the perfect recipe for the pick-six that changed the game for good. "T.K.O."
- Like we've seen most of the season, the defense looked great for the most part--I can't fault them for allowing only one offensive touchdown late when they were tired. The defense did what they could with the mostly poor field position they were given. They gave the offense a solid handful of chances to take the lead with the score frozen at 16-14 in the second half. They got a couple big turnovers, tackled well, and shut down Westbrook except for the knockout punch. That said: a couple big third down stops EARLY in drives could have at least helped our inept offense with field position. Not saying that T-Jax and the Childress Braintrust would have done anything with it, but it would have helped the odds a bit.
- Oh, the special teams. Where do I start? Using the obvious "they're special like retarded" joke here is an insult to retarded people everywhere. Kluwe needs more air on those punts. He's got a hell of a leg, but our coverage team is obviously taking a little longer to get to the returner than they're anticipating. When the returner does get that ball with all that space, can they at least make sure the runner has to juke someone for a big return? I don't know how many returns I saw by the opposition this year where the guy avoided zero to two defenders then simply ran STRAIGHT FORWARD for huge yardage. Sprinters running the 200 meter dash had to change directions more than DeSean Jackson had to on his big punt return yesterday. Speaking of straight forward, I'm pretty sure someone needs to show Hicks what one of those "jukes" is. Make him play a game of Madden or something. "See what happens when you move the right thumbstick Maurice? You can do that in real life! Really, I'm not kidding!" Not once the entire season did it feel like the Vikings were a threat to break a big return. Our pedestrian performance on both sides of the return game made a BIG difference this year.
- Regarding AP/AD/Purple Jesus/The Main Reason the Vikings were There in the First Place: you did what you could. You didn't fumble, even though every analyst on the planet was certain you had turned football into a game of hot potato. You made the only big play of the game on offense. You were responsible for all of the scoring. You dealt with unimaginative play calling and more stacked boxes than that scene from the latest Indiana Jones movie. Just one future note that will help you become one of the best running backs ever instead of just the best running back right now: watch how Chester Taylor always makes one cut and then barrels forward. I will always drink the Purple Jesus Juice because of what you have already brought to my favorite team, but you still dance a bit too much at the line of scrimmage.
- After the Fox locker room incident, I never thought I'd say this: I really wanted to see more of Visanthe Shiancoe! He became our second biggest weapon down the stretch, and he had one catch for seven yards?! Inexcusable, especially against a blitz-heavy defense where the TE should have been our main target for quick passes.
- Hopefully this game made our front office realize what I've been saying all year, regardless of QB performance and regardless of game outcome: the Vikings won the NFC North with two very serviceable backup QBs. If they don't address this issue in the offseason, 10-6 and one-and-done is the Vikings' ceiling. End of story. I won't go into who the Vikings should get here, but there are A LOT of options available that are better than both Gus and T-Jax.
- Childress isn't going to be fired. Would I love Mike Shanahan or Bill Cowher combing the sidelines instead of Mr. Noodle? Of course! But Zygi isn't going to get rid of him after a division championship. If he does, I'd never be happier about being wrong in my life, but I'm not holding my breath. Besides, what would 90% of Vikings fans complain about if we had someone we all liked? Childress keeps countless fan websites in business! And with our team basically a quarterback and a couple other pieces away from being a legit championship contender, consistency might be OK, even if our "consistency" calls plays more predictable than the plot of "Bride Wars". **DISCLAIMER**: I have not and will not actually see that movie for fear that I would have to turn in my penis upon viewing it, but you can obviously tell exactly how that movie is going after seeing the commercial once. Speaking of consistency...
- "Mom, can we keep him? Pleeeeeeease can we keep our defensive coordinator?! Please please pleeeeeease?! I'll take care of him, promise! I don't WANT another defensive coordinator! I love Leslie Frazier! You already made me get rid of Mike Tomlin and Tony Dungy! I'll even give away my offensive and special teams coordinators if I can keep him!" So, yeah, hopefully that illustrates that I'd really like to see the Vikings try their best to retain Frazier. One of those South Park Family Guy manatees could arrange a better offense than Bevell, but Frazier did a great job this year.
- Matt Birk and Darren Sharper are still good players, but they aren't worth what they'll cost next year. I love both of these guys, but it's time to move on. Birk has been the league's biggest voice for retired players and is an overall great guy by all accounts, even if he fired the last meaningful snap of the season into Tarvaris' ankles. Sharper will make a great talking head some day, and it was great to see him do so well after the Packers got rid of him. Thanks for everything guys, and I wish you nothing but the best, unless of course you land on another NFC North team.
- The Berrian acquisition worked pretty much as planned--he added a deep threat and he made some YUGE plays throughout the season. Now we need a true possession WR that can make AT LEAST 60+ catches and pile up some yards. A 100% healthy Sidney Rice may be that guy, but I'm starting to think that the Vikings should probably stay away from South Carolina WRs in the future. They haven't exactly panned out thus far.
- Jared Allen worked big time. Nobody worked harder this year, except maybe his barber. With a healthy EJ Henderson back, a solid secondary, and a hopefully-still-not-suspended Williams Wall, our defense looks scary in 2009.
- Ten wins and seven losses isn't anything to be ashamed of. Only 1/4 of the teams in the NFL (the 8 teams left in the playoffs) can claim they had a better season than we did-better than Bears or Packers fans can say. And since I'm already ripping off Bill Simmons: to quote the immortal Herm Edwards, WE CAN BUILD ON THIS!
If you actually read all this, thanks for letting me vent. I feel slightly better. Now I'll head to my local batting cage and take 90-mph fastballs to the head Happy Gilmore style to prepare for the inevitable torture that awaits us in the 2009 season. "Only 364 more days until the Vikings break our hearts in a new creative way! Uggh, that one hurt a little bit, but I'm OK!"