I can't help thinking that it's better to start this post off with music. Purplegrey, this is for you.
Just when I think I have seen everything that the 2010 Vikings season has to offer, there's a new twist, something that will make you wonder if there's a limitless amount of weirdness for this Minnesota Vikings' season to tap into. I say that because Monday night, as I sat propped up in a recliner in my sleeping bag (my one-year-old niece shared her cold with me and I felt like death warmed over*), the Vikings not only played their first outdoor home game in 29 years, but they also got blown out and cemented the Chicago Bears claim as the NFC North Champions. Oh, and they managed this fete with several of the Vikings' 50 greatest players of all time looking on.
Oddly, I'm kind of glad that I was already ill when I watched Monday night's game because it helped to take the edge off of what was a disappointing, if not unexpected, loss to a divisional rival in a season plagued by disappointing losses.
And I knew that I had well and truly given up on the season because instead of looking at the game the way I would normally look at a regular season game, I looked at it like a preseason game where the primary goal is to evaluate talent. I think this change in how I felt about the game can be traced to the moment when Brett Favre was lying concussed on the field. Until then, it was Favre's sort of game, when there's no reason the team should win, but he works his razzle dazzle anyway. And, who knows, it might have been exactly that, but Favre was knocked out and rookie Joe Webb went in.
I've been slow to give the Chicago Bears credit for the season they have had and that wasn't fair of me. When they won the first week of the season against the Detroit Lions because the officials robbed** Calvin Johnson of his game-winning touchdown, I may have, in a fit of pique, written the Bears off as posers. That was wrong of me because the Bears team that mauled the Vikings on Monday night was most definitely the real deal-dominating every aspect of the game. So, like I said, with the Bears providing such a thorough butt-whooping to the Vikings, the only way to even remotely "enjoy" the game was to view it as a try-out for next year's roster.
Join me after the jump for a look at my incredibly premature roster scouting.
There are so many unknowns regarding next season that the roster is just the tip of the iceberg. It will be affected by whoever the coach is, the team's bid to get a new stadium, and by whether or not there is even an NFL season with the looming potential for a lockout. But, whatever happens, there will be significant roster churn. The Vikings will have to go into full rebuilding mode after this disappointing season and, with as many veterans as they have going into free-agency, it's going to be interesting to see who is resigned to the team (or retained by the new coach) and who isn't. So, in the spirit of Christmas, here are a few (nope, not an exhaustive list) players who are on my 2011 wish list based on the few bright spots in an otherwise lousy Monday night game.
- Lorenzo Booker. Booker has been with the Vikings for a mere two games, but in that short time he's made some noise returning kicks and would have returned one for a touchdown if it hadn't been called back because of a Vikings penalty. I just like the way Booker plays, there doesn't seem to be any quit in him as he scrambles through coverage teams trying to get better field position. And, with all the uncertainty surrounding Percy Harvin because of his migraines, having another dynamic kick/punt return threat is nice.
- Chris Degeare. Yes, he's a rookie who has managed to screw up some, but he also has shown some good hustle and good instincts. With as much trouble as the Vikings have had with their offensive line they are going to have to upgrade it significantly during the off-season. If they could develop a player they already have to help shore up the offensive line, so much the better. If the Vikings are going to invest or develop a quarterback for the future, then they absolutely must invest in protecting him. The Detroit Lions picked a good quarterback in Matthew Stafford, but because their line hasn't been able to protect him the team hasn't really had the benefit of him yet.
- Chad Greenway. To see the way Greenway is playing, you would not know the Vikings 2010 season is lost. The guy plays like his team still had a chance at the Super Bowl and, since they don't, that strikes me as pretty impressive. Greenway plays with his motor running high and has shown the ability to be a premiere linebacker, a fact that will not go unnoticed by other teams when he goes onto the free-agency market.
- E.J. Henderson. I realize that Henderson's game on Monday night was not mistake free, but you have to love the way that he comes right back on the next play to stop a runner behind the line of scrimmage or pressure the quarterback. It's as if he refuses to live in the past and each play is a new chance to win the game, no matter how far down the Vikings are. And that's typical of a guy who has willed himself back, two years in a row, from gruesome, season-ending injuries. If this team is going to rebuild next season, I have to believe that's the kind of spirit that will help it to happen-coming back after a lousy season is nothing compared with coming back from a broken femur that could have ended Henderson's career.
- Sidney Rice. When it comes to Rice, I have a difficult time being objective because I really, really like him. So, let's just say that I want to see him on the roster next season because I really, really like him. Oh, you want a better reason? Okay, he's a good receiver who, during his time with the Vikings, has progressed into a serious deep threat who can stretch the field preventing opposing defenses from solely defending the run. He isn't afraid to fight with defenders for possession and he isn't afraid to block. On the open market, he would probably be considered a poor team's Larry Fitzgerald, Jr. which will make him pricey, but worth it.
- Joe Webb. Sure Webb screwed up plenty on Monday night and threw to the Bears way too much***. News flash, he's a rookie who was converted to quarterback from receiver, he's also had only limited reps with the first team offense-he's going to make mistakes learning the position. He doesn't have polish and isn't there yet, but he does have great athleticism (he's got a cannon for an arm and he's able to run) and he has tried to learn as much as he can from Brett Farve, constantly picking the guy's brain. More than anything else, that willingness to learn as much as he can from Favre shows that he's not missing the significance of this opportunity with the Vikings. And, if that wasn't enough, he has poise and good instincts. Develop this kid or someone else will. Don't let the fact that Webb was drafted 199th overall in the 6th round fool you, Tom Brady was drafted 199th too-sometimes the draft doesn't get it right.
And there you have my (very) short list of stocking stuffers. The Vikings might be down and out right now, but, to borrow a line from Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind, "Fiddle-di-di. Tomorrow is another day."
*Even without the aid of a White Russian, I had hit that Jeffrey "the Dude" Lebowski place of abiding, complete with my bathrobe and jammies. Babies are cute, little plague carriers...
**Still not changing my mind about that play. It was a bad call by the officials.
***So did Brett Favre.