Sumo wrestling matches in the mud have looked more scenic. At one stage, the stadium proprietors should have seriously considered calling out the riot squad.
But then there was Adrian Peterson. And because there was, the Minnesota Vikings escaped looming ignominy in the National Football League and muscled their way back toward respectability Sunday by defeating the always-accommodating Detroit Lions 24-10 at the Metrodome.
Add the Minnesota Viking defensive line and its partners. When they start swinging world-class haymakers in a spreading brawl in the National Football League, it’s always comforting to have Kevin and Pat Williams in your neighborhood, augmented by Jared Allen and Ray Edwards. It came close to that in the second half Sunday before the only recognizable peace advocate on the field, referee Ed Hochuli looked ready to start ordering evictions.
By then, Adrian Peterson had restored some sanity to the Vikings’ season, which started with two losses. In the midst of the mounting depression, their fans had almost forgotten the seasons in which Peterson’s reckless, never-quit assaults on the NFL defenses and his breakaway touchdown sprints had established him as a running back without equal in pro football.
And it wasn’t only his two touchdowns and 160 yards in 23 carries Sunday. It was his manic dedication on every play and his total disregard for personal welfare, as though the raw fury of his energy could break him loose. Sometimes it did, and Sunday he was back. After Detroit had scored early on a pass from Shaun Hill to Tony Scheffler, the Vikings tied it on Favre’s touchdown pass to Percy Harvin. Peterson then gave the Vikings the lead for good by gouging the middle of a tough Lion defense from 6 yards out late in the first half and added an 80-yard run that featured a stiff arm of the Lions’ C.C Brown that belonged in the armory of martial arts. Defensive backs are supposed to have sprinter speed, but Brown chased Peterson down the sideline for 50 yards and was losing ground at the finish.
For the day, Peterson ran for 160 yards on 23 carries. And so the Vikings restored a serviceable heartbeat to their puzzled followers who were baffled by the stunted performance of the Viking offense through opening losses to New Orleans and Miami — possibly overlooking the fact that these were hardly meatball opponents and will be in the middle of the playoff scramble all season.
But while two opening losses in a 16-game season seemed catastrophic then, the future looks more negotiable now with a bye week coming up to prepare for the next and possibly pivotal game at the New York Jets Oct. 11, a Monday nighter.
They will find the Jets suddenly in the forefront of the Super Bowl picture, propelled there by big hits, big mouths, a fondness for us-against-the-world mayhem and a dramatic victory Sunday over the same Miami team that defeated the Vikings.
For Favre, in the aftermath of Sunday’s victory, the prospect of a two-week layover in the wake of this fresh charge of energy may not be the best timing for him or the Vikings. The old 2009 swagger for the moment has been replaced by what is now being called a new sense of urgency talked up by Coach Brad Childress, who is not renowned for injecting passion into his athletes but may have gotten the attention of his veteran leaders.
Although he took a physical walloping, Favre’s game wasn’t far off. It included the touchdown pass to Harvin to tie the game in the first half and 201 yards on 23 of 34 passes. But extending the pattern of his so far muddling 2010 season, he also had two interceptions to run his total for three games to seven — exactly his total for the full 2009 season.
But the physical battering he took continues to provide weekly evidence that Favre this year is not nearly as prepared for the rigors of National Football League football, sore ankle and all. Contrasting with last year, it’s a harsher penalty for his annual summertime waffling act before he turned serious about playing football again.
After the game, he offered a wry, home-from-the-wars analysis of the pummeling he took — the ancient warrior telling us how it feels to get hammered all afternoon.
“I felt like I got hit 20 times,” he said.” I’m probably the most fatigued I’ve been, maybe dehydrated, getting off the ground and struggling to make throws. … It wasn’t anything fantastic today. It was a win. The defense was great. “Detroit [which lost its 12th in a row at the Metrodome and its 22nd in a row on the road], “those guys play hard. We had maximum protection and they still got home.”
But Harvin continues to amaze him, the young man dealing with migraines and what seem to be chronic hip problems. “He only gets better. For him, the sky’s the limit. It’s a luxury to have a guy like that [whether lined up as a flanker or in the slot]. But one of these games, we’re going to have to take the position that no matter how many points we’re up, how well we’re playing the game, we can’t score enough points,” Favre said.” We have to have that mentality. Today was a good example.”
In other words, play every game as though it’s a shootout. The untitled theme of Favre’s continuing lament about his passing game is that the Vikings, missing the deep receiving threat of Sidney Rice, have had to play grab-bag trying to replace him, making it hard for the team and the quarterback to find cohesion in their passing game and a trust between quarterback and receiver.
As a result, a sort of culprit-of the-week syndrome has developed in the passing game. The first enlistee to replace Rice, Bernard Berrian, is in apparent limbo. The newly acquired Hank Baskett and the rarely used Greg Lewis are not the likely answer. Another, Greg Camarillo, is now running back punts. Right now this leaves Harvin, the tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, joined occasionally by Peterson, who is none-too-adept as a pass catcher, and the rookie fullback Toby Gerhart, who Favre believes has possibilities. But “each week,” he mourns, “it’s somebody knew.”
That it is. In the aftermath of the Vikings’ first win, the great old quarterback might be pardoned for forgetting that much of the strangeness between the quarterback and his shifting cast of receivers might have been avoided if he showed up in training camp with the rest of the team, that he now needs to re-discover.
Be consoled. It’s the beginning.
The normal tensions in the brutal, sometimes beautiful and money-loaded world of the NFL are going to get thicker. The near brawl Sunday ended quickly without any actual carnage. But it may also be symptomatic of a larger and mounting stress enveloping his richest and most popular sport in America. The basic contract between the National Football League and the players union expires after the season and a lockout the following season is possible, perhaps likely. As the clock winds down, the turmoil will deepen, and although the dispute is between the owners and players union, the intensity of it may work its way down to the field.
Strap on your helmet.