It seemed appropriate that Sunday while watching the game, I had a hell of a lunch. You know what I'm talking about. You order something that sounds good; sure it sounds like it might be a tad much, but it won't be too bad. And then it arrives and holy freakin' lord do you feel suddenly like some Roman Emperor about to embark on some binge-and-purge feast. And then you end up eating it- ALL of it- because, I mean, it's halftime and there's not a lot of point in getting a box just yet, and you keep picking at it well after you actually filled up and "stopped", and by the end you hate yourself and need to go take a massive... ah, bowel evacuation and a long nap.
Why was that appropriate? Because that was basically what the Vikings did in St. Louis. They ordered up a massive can of Adrian Peterson whoop-ass, and sure they knew it would be enough, but it came with two sides, and the Everson Griffin pick-six and the bowlful of Blair Walsh FGs sounded like pretty good compliments. And by the end, maybe they didn't hate themselves like I did, but they were pretty damn full and they probably all wanted a nap (I dunno about the bowel evacuation however).
My G-d did the Vikings show up Sunday. I wasn't sure at one point if I was watching an NFL game or a History Channel reenactment of an actual Viking pillage of some ancient village. But it didn't really matter because my word was it a great and beautiful thing to behold. Last week after our very impressive win against Chicago (who is, ahem, third in the NFC North now) I wrote a ton of compliment sandwiches. Part of it was probably excitement, part of it was probably repression because it felt like forever since I'd gotten to write one, and prior to it I wasn't entirely sure I'd get to write another one again anyways. This time however I feel like it's going to take some work, because that might have been the prettiest win we've had since the 49ers game, and I might struggle a bit to come up with some negativity. But fear not, Mr. Sunshine can never truly be happy, and there is plenty enough to fill in some compliment sandwiches. So crack a beer, grab a handful, and enjoy. And again, since they've been sitting out for a bit, you might want to have the pepto on hand.
Compliment: I'm going to start off here with Christian Ponder. The poor guy has taken a lot of abuse over the past few weeks/ months, and some of it came from me. So when you deserve compliments after that, you deserve your compliments even more so. A major hat-tip to some impressive, Joe Webb-ish scrambling on his part on our first drive, when Adrian Peterson was still warming up. Twice it looked like the drive would stall; once on a 4th-and-1 (which I love that they went for) and then on 3rd-and-goal, when had we not scored then basic logic would have demanded a FG. Again, the cybernetic creation wasn't, for whatever reason, fully firing on all cylinders just yet, but Ponder showed off his "white boy got legz" skills and did the dirty work for him. Most impressive was the actual TD, when Ponder shook off what looked for sure to be a tackle and dove in regardless of the contact. You don't always want your QB becoming a hero in running situations, but when you do want it, it's when its 3rd and goal and he's right there for the score. And Ponder flipped the hero switch and won the day.
But: I'll go easy here because again, he's had enough recently. But these are compliment sandwiches, and they do typically involve some meaty ‘insult' filler. As well as Ponder played I still did notice a slight tendency to not pull the trigger when he should, and pulling it when he shouldn't. Honestly, the fact that he had an INT-free day was as much good decisions on his part as it was luck. Which is OK in its own way, because all quarterbacks get lucky from time to time. That said, some of his decision making was still overall questionable.
That said: Seriously, ‘that said' his decision making was a lot better, as were his passes, than of late. He certainly didn't have a game that warranted him having all of his previous concerns suddenly disappear, but unlike against the Bears, he did more than just ‘not lose us the game'. His heroic runs already mentioned aside, many of his 3rd down passes were great throws and decisions, and the way he spread the ball around is to be commended. Hell, he even got John Carlson involved. In case you forgot who that was, he's the guy otherwise known as "the black stain on Rick Spielman's GM record". Overall he had an even better game Sunday than he did against the Bears the week prior, and he just plain deserves his due credit for it.
Compliment: Our D-line came to play Sunday. I don't just mean football. They were playing games with Sam Bradford that mimicked a cat playing with a mouse. The best part? Everson Griffin slipping back as a LB, snatching an INT, and then rumbling 29 yards for a glorious "FAT MAN TD!" score. And we all love those. Particularly when we feel like we weigh as much as him after our lunch.
But: Instead of a ‘but' focusing on the actual players or the unit's play, I'm going to focus on a bit of a worry on my part: Brian Robison's injury. It didn't really matter so much Sunday because Griffin stepped up, and Jared Allen went to town, and even Christian Ballard got in on the fun. But make no bones about it, between his pressures, tackling, and the swatting of the passes, Robison has been a major force on our D-line this year. If he misses any time moving forward this could cause some issues for us. Remember, even though it didn't impact us as badly Sunday, injuries mid-game don't always have their full impact until later games when the player is scratched pre-snap.
That said: I genuinely see the possibility of Everson Griffin becoming Jared Allen's replacement down the road, and that fills my heart with hope. When you have a solid vet on your team like Allen, you worry when his time begins to draw near (not that it's necessarily anytime soon or anything) about how you will replace his presence. But when you have the heir apparent already on your team years before you even really have to worry about it, man that's a great feeling. His early ‘misadventures with the police' aside, Griffin has been a hell of a late-round pick for us.
Compliment: Adrian. Peterson.
But: He did start slow. For 8 carries.
That said: And then he got a 9th carry. And on that carry, he tied his career long TD run (which he had set just a few weeks prior), and increased his yards-per-carry average from 1 yard per carry to... 10 yards per carry. I was worried at first that the Rams defense had somehow figured out what every single one of our opponents this year had failed to do: stop AP. I even tweeted about my sinking feeling that we were watching his 2K season- and all the possibilities that went with it- go right out the window. But really, when you consider that slow start and then all that happened afterwards, well... 2K, the record, comeback player of the year, MVP... it all seems so very, very possible.
Compliment: Our defense did a pretty solid job overall. There were miscues and mishaps but for the most part, we bottled up Steven Jackson about as well as he can be bottled up, and we made Bradford's day miserable. It's just beautiful to see a secondary that has taken such a total turn around... it's not exactly a true ‘shutdown secondary' just yet but the pieces are in place. I know I've spoken before of how happy our retooled backfield defense has made me, but I just gotta say it again.
But: Josh Robinson really is coming along nicely, but we have got to work on his end zone coverage skills. The fact that he basically will never succeed in preventing a jump ball tossed over his head could become a huge liability. I respect the abilities he shows in the open field, but a solid, true starting caliber CB shouldn't have such a weakness when it comes to preventing the actual TD.
That said: He is a rookie, and rookies often show weaknesses. Like Harrison Smith's questionable tackling technique, this is likely something that can be ironed out over the offseason. While it's biting him- and us by extension- in the butt right now I have faith in the secondary's coaching staff, along with the mentorship available through solid veteran leaders like Antoine Winfield, to have this largely solved once 2013 kicks off. And remember- we weren't even supposed to be competing this year, it's been all about 2013 and beyond from the start.
Compliment: If you look up ‘unsung hero' in the dictionary, there's a picture of Jerome Felton next to it. Even Adrian Peterson jumped on twitter to urge fans to vote him for the Pro Bowl (which I hope you did, as it's too late now), and that's the guy who previously claimed he worked better without a FB. On several of Peterson's big runs this season, including the 82-yard "screw you you are NOT stopping me!" TD run, you can find Felton ahead of him delivery a key- and massive- block to spring the cyborg into the open field.
But: Correct me if I'm wrong but I believe Felton's on a one-year contract, and that has yet to be addressed. I don't know why that is; Felton's been solid pretty much all season long, and he really has been the key ‘side kick' to Peterson's heroics. Spielman better not let this guy slip through our fingers, because the second he hits the market I guarantee several teams will be looking to pick up his services. Much better to secure his services for the long run now rather than face the options of either losing him or entering a bidding war to keep him around.
That said: The Carlson and Jerome Simpson signings aside, and Percy Harvin's unresolved contract issues also notwithstanding, I do have faith that the FO will address this issue before it comes to a head. It simply strikes me as far, FAR too boneheaded not to have an extension in place before the end of the 2012 season. Felton may not be the true pass-catching FB some teams seem to favor, but when you rely on your run game the way we do, it makes no sense to not have him around.
Compliment: Now in second place in the NFC North (a position we cannot rise any further from thanks to Green Bay's victory of Chicago), the Vikings are truly in the thick of the playoff race. We may not truly control our own destiny as Chris pointed out, but all things considered I think a lot of us are surprised that we're still in it as much as we are, considering the fact that we had turned apocalyptic on our chances just a few weeks prior.
But: I had hoped that the Texans would be set to rest their starters earlier on in the season; that's not the case. They may have their playoff berth and division lead, but they are still battling the Patriots and the Broncos for the coveted first-round bye (as well as home field advantage throughout). Further complicating issues is the fact that the Packers themselves may also be playing for a first-round bye come Week 17. It looks like we won't have any freebies on our intrepid path forward- and just as importantly, I'm not sold on us being any better than a one-and-done should we make it. We are guaranteed to be away no matter how far we make it in the playoffs, and Detroit and St. Louis aside we're still not a fantastic away team- particularly in places like, oh, let's just say Seattle
That said: I'm firmly in Ted's camp that it doesn't even really matter at this point. Having turned around a historically poor season, having swept a division foe and defeating at least Chicago once, never slipping below .500 at any point in the season, and being in the thick of the playoff hunt in Week 16- it's huge. We will have our questions and concerns going forward: the quarterback position, Harvin's contract, what are we going to do about Musgrave, etc. But if we can keep this outright meteoric rise going (I know, meteors go down but that's the saying anyways), then we are looking at becoming true contenders in 2013 and beyond. It's been a helluva lot better than the last two outings, where we sat in the NFC North basement and wondered if we would ever reclaim our former glory. Add in Adrian Peterson's performance and the possibility we are watching him truly make history, and it's been a great ride regardless of the end results.
So there you have it. I've done my best to temper our enthusiasm and all make us want to spike a football into an elderly usher's face, but we should still all have reasons to smile and hold our heads high. Once more the Minnesota Vikings have become a team to watch out for, a team to contend with even the greatest the NFL has to offer. You can bet the farm that no talking head will pick Minnesota to just win 3 or 4 games come next season. (OK, ESPN might.) Enjoy the sandwiches, even if they are a bit stale, and as always- clean up after yourselves you slovenly Norsemen/women. I'm a host, not a maid.