The laws of chance are basically silent on the odds of another football team matching the mind-bending performance of the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome Sunday.
Here was a team coming out of the gates with all of its battle horns sounding, with Adrian Peterson and his accessory, Toby Gerhart, on a first half rampage and Jared Allen menacing everything that moved in the Tampa Bay backfield. By halftime the scored stood 17-0 for the Vikings. And the statisticians blinked to look at the unearthly numbers reflecting almost total dominance.
The Vikings had rolled up 17 first downs in the first 30 minutes to three for Tampa Bay, a statistic outlandish enough to look like a typographical error. The Metrodome multitudes were all cranked up for a celebration. It looked like old times. They were on the fifth verse of “Skol, Vikings, Skol” in the nosebleed seats with Peterson pounding and slashing en route to 120 yards and two touchdowns that set a Viking record of 54 career touchdowns. It looked even more jolly with Toby Gerhart making it a twosome with some violent banging of his own; add Donovan McNabb finding his form after his horrendous beginning last week in San Diego; add Jared Allen running around jacking up the defense and inciting the crowd, and Chad Greenway in full stride messing up the Bucs running game.
They were back!
And then they weren’t, repeating their second half fade of a week ago in San Diego. When it was over, and Tampa Bay had won it with 31 seconds left, 24-20, nobody had a credible explanation for the Viking collapse, their second loss in two games and one that suddenly left the team on the edge of irrelevance the NFC North. This is life in the National Football League jungle. Two weeks in and the Vikings already are two games behind Green Bay and Detroit and in a16-game schedule, and the desperation days have formally arrived.
Mathematicians will tell you the team’s chances of making the playoffs are wobbling. But nobody around the NFL League who has watched Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman’s fourth-quarter theatrics could have been all that surprised. The Vikings weren’t exactly unprepared for it. The hitch was that they didn’t have an answer on critical plays in the second half when Freeman and the running back bruiser, LeGarrette Blount, took control of the game.
It didn’t help when Allen and the defensive end, Brian Robinson, were penalized at critical moments in Tampa Bay’s revival, penalties that Viking coach Leslie Frazier admitted were damaging to a Viking defense suddenly under siege, the more so with Kevin Williams, the All-Pro tackle sitting out the second and final week of his suspension for substance abuse last year.
“We’ve got to make more plays,” Frazier said afterwards “but sometimes you can try to do too much,” meaning self-destructing dumb penalties.
It’s a familiar chant when a team blows a game that seemed ready for the bank. When Frazier talks that way he sounds like a disappointed school teacher telling us there’s no easy way to learn math. Frazier’s style as a coach reflects his character and his attitudes. He’s never going to rail, clam up, sound impatient or sound inspiring. Not surprisingly, this inherent dignity and refusal to scream can eventually get him into trouble with bloggers, fans, fantasy footballers and talk show oracles.
He’s already hearing the first whispers. Delete whispers. Make that howls. Love vows between last year’s heroes and the blogosphere usually doesn’t last through time when you’re heading toward October without a win. And right now, a Viking recovery from the calamities of a year ago, with a new emphasis on Peterson’s breakaway, ball-control running may be looking less a strategy than a mirage. Peterson can’t run better or harder than he did Sunday. Ultimately the team needs more aggressive defense and a deep passing threat not yet evident.
The makeup of the NFC North doesn’t offer a whole lot of comfort. The Detroit Lions will come into the Metrodome Sunday with two wins and serious ambitions to challenge for the playoffs. Already it may be a game the Vikings can’t afford to lose.
Plenty of talent
But they’re not truly out of it after two weeks. The Vikings certainly have the talent and an adequate offensive line to move the ball with Peterson and Gerhart. McNabb threw for 228 yards and after 13 years in the NFL was hardly creaking when he scrambled out of a jam early in the game.
The running game, especially when it installs Percy Harvin as an added threat with Peterson and Gerhart, is one of the best in football. Peterson, who ran for 120 yards Sunday terrifies every defense in the league all day long, is a once-in-a-generation runner. The Viking pass defense, without the penetrating rush led by Allen two years ago, is not as terrifying. But it was certainly enough to thrust the Vikings’ into convincing 17-0 halftime lead behind Peterson’s two touchdowns and Ryan Longwell’s 22-yard field goal.
The Bucs responded with Blount’s power running and Freeman’s arm, but with Ryan Longwell and Conor Barth trading field goals, it was still 20-10 for the Vikings with nine minutes left. With the game trending as it was, the Vikings still appeared in reasonable shape. But Freeman brought Tampa back with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Arrelious Benn to cut the Viking lead to 20-17. The Vikings couldn’t put it away and Freeman led the Bucs once more on their climactic drive. With 31 seconds left, LeGarrette Blount barged into the Viking end zone for the winning touchdown.
The Vikings’ last gasp with time running out was an around-the-horn lateral to keep the ball in play, Peterson to Harvin to Peterson, ending near midfield.
Actually, it almost worked. But for the Vikings, the story books will have to come later.
One thing looks certain in the NFL after two weeks. They better keep the ambulances handy. The Atlanta Falcons beat the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday night in a game filled with the kind of naked brutality that might force the next league player contract to include a living will. It was Michael Vick’s return as a redeemed felon now starring for the Philadelphia Eagles. Before the mutual hammering ended with Atlanta winning in the final minutes, Vick was out of the game, coughing up blood, Atlanta’s Dunta Robinson had gored Philadelphia’s Jeremy Maclin with a leaping and deliberate helmet-to-helmet blow to the head, and the doctors and trainers were beginning to outnumber the players.
It’s only September. Wiser heads might prevail, if there are any left.