It was the kind of day that needed something genuinely outlandish to define the Minnesota Vikings’ relentless pursuit of futility.
Here was the Vikings’ Randy Moss, unhappily retreaded as a Viking in midseason, having caught one pass for eight yards during the game. Do you want bizarre? This was Randy standing at the post-game podium after his team’s 28-18 loss to the New England Patriots, indirectly blaming his coach, Brad Childress, for not ordering a field goal near the goal line but saluting his recent New England teammates as soul brothers. He sounded homesick for Boston and anointed the Patriots’ Bill Belichick as the greatest football coach of all centuries.
He could be right, although Moss looked like a man privately wondering when he’s going to be re-introduced to the Viking offense. His uninvited post-game soliloquy might have explained why. He volunteered to speak, evidently to exorcize his demons of the last few weeks, which included his $25,000 fine last week for refusing to be interviewed by the media swarm. Moss said he would speak out this once and then conduct what sounded like a ventriloquist’s filibuster. “I really don’t care,” he said. “If it’s going to be an interview, I’ll ask myself the questions and then give you all the answers.”
Mercifully, he didn’t exercise this format Sunday. He did seem upset that the insider tips he offered the Vikings on how to attack New England’s offense were ignored. “I tried to talk to the players and coaches about how this game was going to be played,” he said,” but nobody paid much attention” — until the game was over and they congratulated him on being right.
The Vikings could have won Sunday without Randy Moss, obviously. They could even have withstood the gloomy scene of Brett Favre being carted off the field, woozy with a battered chin that needed eight stitches after he was drilled by the Patriots’ Myron Pryor.
The Viking problem was that Favre was not the only living legend playing quarterback Sunday afternoon. Granted that Tom Brady wasn’t especially legendary, or even very visible, earlier in the game when the Vikings were clearly dominant everywhere but on the scoreboard. This was hardly the quarterback matchup of the ages, no matter their future destinations in the Hall of Fame. Playing despite his foot fractures and forced to abandon the free-lancing adventures that had been part of his identity for 20 years, Favre kept the Vikings in the game by handing the ball to Adrian Peterson — and his 92 yards — and locating Percy Harvin downfield often enough to put the Vikings in front deep into the third quarter.
But Brady ultimately rescued the Patriots and lifted them to an NFL best record of 6 wins in 7 games, by beating the Viking pass rush and then freelancing for a 65-yard scoring pass to Brandon Tate and a 14-10 New England lead. It swelled to 21-10 after Brady and a New England ground game recovered from its chronic anemia of the last two years and sent BenJarvus Green-Ellis into the end zone for a 21-10 lead.
Tarvaris Jackson in the game
Favre and Peterson brought them back in the fourth quarter and here the ironies deepened. With Favre being wheeled into the dressing room for medical treatment, the invisible man of the Viking offense, Tarvaris Jackson, entered without serious warmup and the Vikings a yard from the end zone. This is the same Tarvaris who figured remotely in the mid-week-game follies starring Favre and Childress over who was going to make the decision on the starting quarterback in view of Favre’s ailing ankle.
That dance was pretty much a fraud from the beginning. If Favre wanted to play, he was going to play. But now in the fourth quarter he was gone, and Tarvaris entered gladly. His first move was a one-yard touchdown pass to Naufahu Tahi. His second was a two-point conversion pass to Harvin to pull the Vikings within three points at 21-18.
Here the buck passed to the Viking defense, whose Madieu Williams and Asher Allen in the secondary and the wheezing heavyweights on the defensive line were reeling about now. And Brady had been there too many times before to be denied with the game on the line. He threw when he had to and sent his young runners, Danny Woodhead and Green-Ellis, against the tiring Viking defensive front. It was over when Green-Ellis went in for his second touchdown.
And out of the debris there was an ominous postscript: still no sacks from Jared Allen, who practically led the world last year. So with a record of five losses in seven games, and with locker room divisions brewing in the wake of the Childress-Favre animosities, are the Vikings finished as a playoff contender?
Green Bay now leads the NFC North with a 5-and-2 record, three games better than the Vikings. But with all of their casualties and milquetoast running game, the Packers are not especially terrifying. The question for the Vikings is whether Childress’ credibility as a leader has been seriously undermined by his boomeranging decisions of the past few weeks and by Favre’s relentless ego and casual in-house sniping? And can the Vikings pump into their weaker schedule of the next two months for some life-support energy?
If it’s going to happen it will have to start Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals at the Metrodome. And with Favre playing on one good leg but still prone to gamble, worse things could happen than some extended playing time for Jackson. With Favre gone Sunday Jackson put the Vikings into the end zone when it still mattered and moved their offense smartly in the final minutes, although the verdict was in by then. What Jackson can do is to give the Vikings a running threat at quarterback, which is now a trendy component in many NFL offenses.
Childress guessed wrong
For Childress, the season has reawakened all of the ugliness of three and four years ago, when his coaching style, allegedly cautious and programmed, became a shooting gallery for armies of bloggers and the groaning thousands in the galleries. He guessed wrong last week by going public with critique of the officials and his impatience with Favre, and he guessed wrong a couple of times again Sunday — punting when a first down seemed at hand near midfield and going for a touchdown near the goal line when a field goal might have been the percentage call.
The stakes are heavy all around. The Vikings’ opening strategy in their campaign for a new stadium was critically linked with another successful season and playoff run. That would convince both fans and politicians that there was a genuine rainbow in the sky for Viking football. And it would make a new football stadium a perfect blend with the new playgrounds now in place for the Twins and University of Minnesota.
Getting shut out from the NFL playoffs is not a scenic backdrop for a public relations blitz involving hundreds of millions in taxpayer money. There’s still time for the Viking season to avoid that calamity.
Probably a week.