Mike Zimmer has said he wants a physical football team that knows how to finish games.
After Sunday's game, he's halfway there. What started out as a potential blowout turned into a tie game that saw the Vikings with the ball, 1:30 left, and two timeouts. In short, they had a chance to flat out beat Denver, in Denver. I hate moral victories as much as the next person, but I have to say...this was an encouraging development in the maturity and competitiveness of this team. Don't get me wrong, I always want the Vikings to win, but deep down, when the schedule came out, I had this penciled in as a loss. But think about this:
The Minnesota Vikings were down 10 points, in the fourth quarter, on the road against a team a lot of people think will be the AFC representative in the Super Bowl, and Denver had the ball. Yet there the Vikings were, with a legitimate chance to win at the end. No, it's not the outcome any of us wanted, obviously. But the progress this team has made under Mike Zimmer is substantial, and I am very encouraged as we pass the quarter pole in the 2015 NFL season.
I guess you can call me a believer.
Then I saw her face, now I'm a believer
Not a trace, of doubt in my mind
I'm in love, and I'm a believer
I couldn't leave her if I tried
Your SMR of encouragement follows.
Blue Chip Stocks:
Stefon Diggs, WR: There were more than a couple of Vikings fans that were wondering why Diggs hadn't been activated in the first three games, and we'll talk abut that in a little bit. But due to injuries to Charles Johnson and Jarius Wright, Diggs was activated, and he made the absolute most of his opportunity. He was fully integrated into the game plan, being targeted 10 times. He caught six passes for 87 yards, leading the team, and every catch except a screen pass for a short loss was a huge play. It's only one game, and he fumbled twice, but his playmaking ability is apparent, and of all the positives to take away from this game, this was the biggest one.
Anthony Barr, LB: So here's the deal. Late second quarter, Vikings are down by 10, and the Broncos have the ball. The team looked like it was one big play from being knocked out. Robert Blanton had missed an easy pick, Blair Walsh had missed a field goal, and the offense was being slowly suffocated by Denver's defense. Then Barr picked off Peyton Manning at the Vikings 41 and returned it to the Broncos 27. Two plays and one Broncos penalty later, the Vikings had a touchdown, momentum, and only trailed by three heading into the locker room. It was the most dramatic reversal since Hannah Montana became the what the hell is THAT version of Miley Cyrus, only in a good and not disturbing way. As long as he keeps making plays like he is, he can shave half his head and swing naked on a wrecking ball for all I care.
Harrison Smith, S: If there is a better FS in the NFL, name him. I'll put Smith up against anyone, and I would bet by almost any measurable statistic, he wins, except in name recognition. That's starting to change, though, and Sunday Smith had a strong game. He hit Demariyus Thomas so hard he knocked him out of the game briefly, then had a huge interception midway through the fourth quarter, and the Vikings were able to turn that into the game tying field goal. Smith is playing at a first team All Pro level right now, and is only getting better.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB: The last time I saw a siege like Teddy Bridgewater was under, it was at Khe Sanh. it's tough to run an offense when Denver's defensive line beats the football into the backfield, but Bridgewater had, arguably, his best game as a pro. He missed some throws in the first half, but I think you could make the argument half of them were more throwaways than anything else, as Denver's coverage was pretty good. But late in the second quarter, and through most of the second half, Teddy did a hell of a job evading the rush, at least when he could, stepping up in the pocket, and hitting his receivers downfield. The fumble at the end of the game was a bummer, obviously, but there was a jailbreak coming from a Denver overload to the Vikings right side, and he never had a chance on that play. He was sacked a ridiculous seven times, rarely had a clean pocket to work with, got hit like a Pinata at a kids birthday party--but still went 27/41 for 269 yards and a TD.
Adam Thielen, WR: With Johnson inactive and Jarius Wright ineffective, Thielen made the most of his opportunity. He had six catches for 70 yards, and was consistently getting open in the middle of the field. He made a couple of really nice adjustments on balls thrown behind him, showed he has solid hands, and proved to be a reliable target.
Adrian Peterson, RB: Peterson proved once again why he's still the best running back in the NFL. After being stymied for over three quarters, he took a 4th and one at midfield, and went untouched for 48 yards and a touchdown. And gave Vikings fans everywhere a belief that the Vikings had a legitimate chance to beat the Broncos. It wasn't his best day on the ground, but it was enough to keep Denver honest, especially in the fourth quarter.
Mike Wallace, WR: The Vikings made a commitment to get Wallace involved in the offense early, and that commitment turned into Wallace having his best day as a Viking. He had six of his team leading eight receptions, and had his first receiving TD of the year in the first half.
Eric Kendricks, LB: The future of the Vikings linebacker corps is very promising, as Kendricks had a good game that was slightly overshadowed by Anthony Barr. Kendricks has speed and instinct, and had a sack that was almost a safety in the first half. Peyton Manning made a smart decision to just hit the deck, and had Manning been a younger and more athletic quarterback, he might have dropped back, trying to make a play. And Kendricks might have had a safety.
The offensive line, except Matt Kalil: My goodness, was that bad. I mean, really bad. I mean it was four versions of 2014 Matt Kalil bad. And Kalil, for the most part, wasn't. He held his own on the perimeter speed rush, and acquitted himself well. But the other four guys? Woof. Brandon Fusco, Joe Berger, Mike Harris, and T.J. Clemmings...oh, T.J. Clemmings...collectively, as a group, they were about as impressive and nuanced as kindergarten finger paint. They rallied a bit in the fourth quarter, giving Teddy somewhat of a clean pocket to throw, and opening up a grand canyon of a hole on AP's 48 yard TD run. But overall, they had more holes than Minneapolis roads, and were as teeth-jarringly annoying.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR: As mentioned, Johnson and Wright were out or hurt and ineffective,and it was a golden opportunity for Patterson to step up in a big way. And once again, Patterson was invisible. All the promise of 2013 has faded, and 'Flash' is about as close to being 'Flash In The Pan' as he ever has. It's disappointing, but I'm still going to hold out hope that Patterson will be able to contribute in some meaningful way this season. But I have my doubts.
Kyle Rudolph, TE: For a guy that got a nice contract extension last season, Rudolph has been either hurt (last year) or mostly invisible (this year). Tight end is a big part of the Norv Turner offense when, you know, the tight end participates. Two catches for 7 yards isn't really participating.
The black hole that is opposite Harrison Smith at safety: There are two things that are keeping this team from being a legitimate power and challenger to Green Bay in the NFC North--the offensive line, which I can give a wait and see attitude on based on the injuries, and a safety opposite Smith. Andrew Sendejo is late on assignments more often than your high school girlfriend's period, and the results are just as potentially terrifying. Blanton was just as bad, it seemed, he dropped a pick, but hey, at least he didn't go headhunting on his own players. Improvement, yay!
Buy: Getting the ball to Mike Wallace. It was nice to see Wallace involved in the offense early and often. Wallace and Teddy finally seemed to get on the same page, and one can only hope this continues coming out of the bye.
Sell: That stupid end around play to Wallace in the fourth quarter. I like Norv Turner, I really do. But sometimes he gets too cute, and tries a trick play that blows up in his face, and kills a potentially great drive. Case in point--4th quarter, Vikings have momentum after the Peterson TD and Smith interception. The Vikings move down to the 29 and have a 1st and 5 after a Denver offsides, Bridgewater is throwing seeds, the offensive line is starting to hold the relentless pass rush, and AP is finding room between the tackles. So what does Norv do? Does an end around with Wallace, who not only loses four yards, but has a face masking penalty added on. So instead of a 2nd and short, or even another first down inside the Denver 20, the Vikings are now 1st and 20 from the Denver 44. Teddy threw a bullet to Diggs on the next play for a first down, so the Vikings got bailed out. Still a bad play call there.
Buy: Blair Walsh did not lose this game. Blair Walsh's miss wasn't the reason the Vikings lost Sunday. Giving up a 72 yard touchdown run to the worst rush offense in the NFL, allowing seven sacks, and the defense allowing what turned out to be a game winning drive late in the fourth quarter was just as much a factor as Walsh's missed 38 yarder.
Sell: The kicking game is no longer a concern. Walsh's kicking is still an issue, though. Even though he made a 38 and 33 yarder, that kick was going left, and had it been much longer than 33 yards, he would have missed that wide left, too. Walsh has one of the worst field goal percentages in the NFL over the last couple seasons, and this game did nothing to make me think he has the yips under control.
Buy: Not activating Stefon Diggs the first couple games. From a roster perspective, I understood it. Coming out of camp, he was the 6th WR in an offense that uses only five, and although he had promise as a punt returner, Marcus Sherels is no slouch. It made sense, from a practical, objective standpoint.
Sell: Deactivating Stefon Diggs again this season, barring injury. And objectively, Diggs put on the best performance of any WR on this team in any game so far this season, with the exception of Wallace, also today. When the Vikings broke camp, the WR depth chart was Wallace/Johnson/Wright/Patterson/Thielen/Diggs. After today's performance, and the performance of everyone else up until today, you can make a strong argument that the depth chart could be Wallace/Wright/Diggs/Thielen/ Patterson or Johnson. Should it be that way? I don't know; I'm obviously not a coach. But I know what I saw on the field today, and I saw in Thielen and Diggs guys that got open, moved the chains, and made an up until today mediocre passing game effective and dangerous. For a team that was down two of their three supposed top wide receivers, the five and six guys behind made a serious case for more playing time today. And if Diggs is deactivated again, I'm going to go on a Twitter rampage.
Buy: Adrian Peterson's 48 yard TD run on 4th and 1. I love--LOVE--the 'play to win' mentality, as opposed the 'play not to lose' mentality. I am 99% certain that most coaches in the NFL don't go for it there, play it safe, and punt the ball. Zimmer goes for it, Peterson scores a touchdown, and the Vikings are right back in the game. It was also vintage Peterson--hit the hole, explode into the second level, and gone. I loved it. LOVED. IT.
Sell: Adrian Peterson, the woefully inadequate pass blocker. For all the great things about Peterson the running back, after a decade in the NFL how can he still suck so bad at pass protection? Seriously? You almost have to try to be that bad at something if you're so good at everything else. It's just weird--like that big ass mole on the cheek of an otherwise gorgeous girl. You'd like to ask her out, but THAT DAMN MOLE, man. It's got hair growing out of it, it attracts the eye like a magnet, just cut the damn thing off, or put a pound of foundation on that damn thing, man.
Don Glover Quote Of The Week:
"Well son, Drinkwater did okay for a guy that didn't have time to throw."
"But you said the whole game he didn't have it today."
"He didn't. Then he did."
So, the Vikings lose a tough one, but sit at 2-2 heading into the bye, and a decent schedule over the next month or so after the bye. I don't like this loss, but I like this team, and they're going to start winning these games, and I think that will happen very soon.