Vikings win and there’s a new bigfoot in town

REUTERS/Eric Miller
Blair Walsh kicking the 55-yard field goal with no time remaining to tie the score at the end of the fourth quarter.

The second coming of Adrian was the stuff of old-time morality plays. The mid-game rehabilitation of Christian Ponder was a bonus. And the new super-leg kicker, Blair Walsh, defied his draft day critics with four field goals, including a gargantuan 55-yarder that that lifted the Minnesota Vikings into a fourth-quarter tie with Jacksonville and then won it with a  28-yard kick in overtime.

Until then, it was basically an embarrassment.

But it can’t escape your notice that on this day in September of 2012, the Minnesota Vikings, of all people, are tied for first place in the National Football League North after their 26-23 overtime victory Sunday at the Mall of America field.

You have to appreciate the enormity of that. A year ago the Vikings franchise was widely predicted to be a candidate for deportation to Los Angeles.

We don’t want to be rash about all this. The Vikings have company today in Detroit and Chicago where the Lions and Bears both won. On the other hand, that group from the Lake Michigan outpost of Green Bay is in last place.

This will change. For all the drama Sunday, the Vikings were few inches away from losing a game that would basically have been a disaster — a home loss on opening day against a team almost unanimously dismissed as one of  the worst in football. But Walsh saved it with his 55-yard field goal that sent the game into overtime.

Sixth-round pick

Which lifts us back to the player draft last spring when Walsh was chosen on the sixth round out of Georgia, the 175th player taken in the draft. What puzzled the country’s drafniks was that in his senior year, Walsh had missed 14 out of 35 field-goal attempts,  a wretched number for some high school kickers. Nobody had adequately explained that strange deviation from his earlier successes at Georgia. But Rick Spielman, the Viking general manager and mastermind of the draft, was enamored of Walsh’s previous success and his powerful kickoffs that Spielman was sure would clear the end zone most of the time. He dismissed Walsh’s field-goal miseries in his senior year as an aberration and insisted he would make fans forget the departed Ryan Longwell.

So on Sunday Walsh kicked one of 20 yards to open the fourth quarter, another of 42 yards, then his 55-yard monster in the closing moments of  regulation time  to send the game into overtime, and finally his fourth from 38 yards to win the game.

Maybe they should have given the game ball to Spielman.

Or to Adrian Peterson or to Percy Harvin, for his slashing runs after catch and his predictable grit.

But the truth was that the Vikings were all but dead in the closing minutes of regulation after the Jaguars scored on a touchdown pass from Blaine Gabbert to Cecil Shorts.  But here Ponder gathered the offense and with bullseye passes, including a critical one of 26 yards to the often overlooked Devin Aromashodu that got the Vikings close enough to bring on Walsh, who hammered his 55-yarder on the final play of regulation. From there, his winning kick of 38 yards in overtime was practically a gimme.

Not that it wasn’t filled with drama. The Vikings won the overtime toss and now Ponder played it with confidence. It helped to have a guy named Peterson running the ball, which he did for 20 yards on one play and 10 on another. Toss in a 17 yard pass to Aromashodu, and one more time they summoned the guy from Georgia. His 38-yard field goal made it 26-23 for the Vikings.

But the new league rule provided one more crack at the ball for Jacksonville because the Vikings hadn’t scored a touchdown on their first attempt. But on fourth down the Viking defense forced Gabbert to rush his throw, and it was over.

So how much else changed for the Vikings from the morass of the 2011 season?

Ponder, in his second season, looked more comfortable as the game wore on, sometimes took his sweet time when he might have fired earlier, but in the end completed 20 out of 27 passes for 270 yards. None went for touchdowns and he essentially played Gabbert even, which might not have been enough to win. But he managed the game competently and threw crisply. And when there was trouble there were always Peterson and Harvin, who added nearly 200 yards himself running and catching.

Peterson thunders

But one thing that is never going to change is the other-worldly ferocity with which Adrian Peterson plays football. The crowd thundered when it realized that the cat and mouse game surrounding his availability was over Sunday and the Vikings were going to waste no time handing him the ball. Eight months after he suffered a fracture of his left knee, Peterson was the same warhorse, slashing and pounding, running for 87 yards in 17 carries and scoring two touchdowns. In the process he became the all-time Viking leader in rushing yardage, surpassing Robert Smith.

The euphoria among the Viking clans, however, probably should be sprinkled with strong doses of reality. If there were many teams as inept as the Vikings in 2011, Jacksonville was one of them. Their quarterback, Gabbert, was popularly described as the worst in the National Football League, branded by some critics as “timid in the pocket.”

But he didn’t play that way Sunday. Or it may be that the Vikings and the Jaguars were evenly matched, which, if true, might be scary. It  might be a little scarier that Jacksonville, widely regarded as one of the NFL”s worst teams going into the season, had a 10-minute advantage in time of possession, partly attributable to gutty  running of Maurice Jones-Drew, whose 77 yards nearly matched Peterson’s, just days after he joined the team at the end of a long holdout. It may also be that the new Jaguar coach, Mike Mularkey, once a Viking player, has invested the team with a new and respected leadership.

All that aside, the Vikings had no business losing the game at home, and they did manage the closing crisis more professionally in Leslie Frazier’s second season. And now with a dose of confidence to play the Indianapolis Colts, who without Peyton Manning managed to win one game in 16 a year ago. Their No. 1 draft choice, quarterback Andrew Luck, couldn’t take them past the Chicago Bears Sunday (41-21). But Luck is going to be a star — and  Jared Allen is looking for his first sack.

The Vikings? Their own No. 1 draft choice, Matt Kalil, blocked an extra point and handled himself well on offense in his pro debut. So there is hope. There is also Peterson and Percy, which is even better.

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Jerry Lefkowitz on 09/10/2012 - 10:54 am.

    Nobody edits Jim Klobuchar?

    just a couple nit-picky notes:

    In p3 “the Minnesota Vikings, of all people,” (surely a collection of people, but really, “of all teams” would be better)

    Then, in p5 “On the other hand, that group from the Lake Superior outpost of Green Bay is in last place.”
    Surely, JK must know that Green Bay the body of water on which Green Bay the city/town is planted, is part of Lake Michigan, not Lake Superior.

    not sure if it matters, just struck me…
    JL

    • Submitted by Jackson Cage on 09/10/2012 - 03:18 pm.

      No, no one does….

      I was critical last week. Now I’ve found 2 more problems. The same field goal is called 28 yeards (incorrect) and 38 yards (correct). And the injury to Adrian was NOT a bone fracture, but torn ligaments. That’s an important difference when you’re trying to stress his miraculous comeback.

  2. Submitted by Jack Nance on 09/10/2012 - 11:31 am.

    The Glass is Half Empty at Jim’s House

    I think it was very encouraging to see the defense make some stops after last season’s ugliness, MJD is no push-over. I think some credit is due for the new D-coordinator, especially with the lack of depth in the secondary. You also didn’t mention the fact that when Simpson returns in week four, the offense is going to have a whole new dynamic. Ponder looked better than Gabbert, who was erratic most of the game; Cook should have been able to cover on that big late TD, but he did some more of that choking he is famous for. Ponder calmed down and looked very poised after playing poorly most of the first half (I’d like to hear from all those espn analysts from draft day who tore the vikings apart for choosing Ponder so high and praised Gabbert as “the qb” of the draft).

    While I personally think it’s a little premature to crown Luck, I do agree he’s going to be good. He has an awful line in front of him though, and that’s going to lead to another Vikings win in week two. Overall, not a big fan of the overall negative tone of this article after a win. Sure we have more building to do, but you have to get at least a little excited after seeing the improvements and progress the team has made, no? Cheer up old man, we were 3-13 last year, things can only get better. 😉

  3. Submitted by Don Effenberger on 09/10/2012 - 12:46 pm.

    Great Lakes reference

    Thanks, Jerry. We’ve fixed the errant Great Lakes reference.

  4. Submitted by todd swenson on 09/11/2012 - 01:29 am.

    A Win is a Win …. But

    The Vikings win was worth the price of a ticket. Talk about a nail biter of a game! But Viking fans shouldn’t get too excited, its only 0ne win but a win. Having AP back was a plus and getting harven involved in the game really helped. The Vikings tackling and secondary tackled well, there are some improvements. But I still have a bitter taste in my mouth from last year, I”m not willing to jump on the Vikings barn wagon just yet.

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