For once in our sports-watching lives, let’s skip the relentless nitpicking.
Forget for a moment that the Vikings’ first two touchdowns in Sunday’s 30-12 victory at Jacksonville were gifts after Jags fumbles, while Adrian Peterson sat out the first two series as punishment for being late to a Saturday meeting. And forget that Coach Brad Childress instructed punter Chris Kluwe to take an intentional safety with a 20-point lead and just over three minutes to play, an odd strategy that made sense only if Kluwe was seeing double after Gerald Sensabaugh flattened him earlier in the game.
At least the Vikings won, saving the Twin Cities from a Triple Crown weekend of wretched.
Friday night, the world-champion Boston Celtics with Kevin Garnett needed only one well-played quarter to topple the listless Timberwolves, 95-78. Sure, the Wolves bounced back to win at Detroit on Sunday. But their maddening refusal to guard people likely means a fourth consecutive lottery finish, another fired coach, and no reason to pay the local NBA entry any attention until its culture of ineptitude changes.
Iowa’s 55-0 humiliation of the Gophers on Saturday night shattered whatever credibility second-year Coach Tim Brewster might have had on the recruiting trail after his team’s 7-1 start. And that’s unfortunate. Forget about Brewster selling the program’s incremental progress going into the new stadium, because 55-0 is all anyone will want to talk about.
And what’s worse, getting Brewster-ed or getting Weis-ed? In the former, you look so overmatched that your fans bolt in the third quarter. In the latter, named for Notre Dame’s Charlie Weis, the pain is double-edged — you lose to a school that already fired its coach (Syracuse), on a touchdown pass thrown by the son of one of your most famous non-football athletes (Cameron Dantley, whose dad is NBA great Adrian Dantley).
So be grateful for the three hours of entertainment the Vikings gave you Sunday. The victory means we’ll have something to talk about until Christmas week. It’s up to the Vikings to determine the tone of that conversation.
Chicago’s 27-3 rout of St. Louis means the Vikings and Bears, both 6-5, share the NFC North Division lead going into their showdown Sunday night at the Metrodome. Green Bay can maintain the three-way tie by winning tonight at New Orleans. Since Saints players are involved in the league’s diet-pill/masking agent scandal, the NFL won’t announce possible suspensions for Kevin and Pat Williams until Tuesday, if it happens this week at all.
The three contenders are so evenly matched — and evenly flawed — that no matters who wins Sunday, don’t expect the race to be settled before the final weekend of the season. After Sunday, the Vikings go to winless Detroit and NFC West leader Arizona before finishing at the Metrodome against Atlanta and the NFC East-leading Giants. Even if the Giants wrap up the division or home field by then, their deep running game will pose problems even if Coach Tom Coughlin rests some regulars.
That’s the toughest schedule of the contenders. After Sunday, the Bears and Packers play one .500 team — each other, at Soldier Field on Dec. 22. Green Bay has a tough one this Sunday though, NFC South-leading Carolina at Lambeau Field. That final weekend, the Packers finish at home against the Lions, who might be 0-15, while the Bears are at Houston.
Now, the nitpickers will look at the schedules and say the Vikings can’t win, whether the Williamses are suspended or not. They’ll extrapolate the worst-case scenario: Last day of the season, win and they’re in, the Vikings lose on a phantom pass-interference call and a 55-yard field goal off the crossbar as time expires. Wilf rends his Lawrence Taylor jersey while 10,000 angry fans chase Childress down Chicago Avenue with pitchforks and torches.
But for once, let’s not go there. How about if, just once, we don’t presume the worst? Maybe the Vikings will surprise us. Maybe the left side of the line will keep blowing open holes for Peterson like it did Sunday. Maybe the defense and specials teams won’t play as horribly Sunday as they did in Chicago last month.
Look around. What else do you have to look forward to?