Vikings fans are not used to seeing their football team not show up on game day. Apparently the Vikings forget to show up on nationally televised Sunday Night Football games. The first time around the Vikings get outplayed in every facet of the game by the Arizona Cardinals. The Vikings played well in almost no aspect of the game. They allowed the average Cardinals defense to somehow stop their potent offense. Adrian Peterson had the second worst rushing performance of his NFL career. The defense played mediocre but got burned by the big time Wide Receivers the Cardinals feature. Not to mention the Vikings lose the leader of their defense, leading tackler E.J. Henderson for the season. What an absolute nightmare.
Fast forward to a week later, the juggernaut Vikings squad shows up again and dominates the Cincinnati Bengals. A Bengals squad that is set for the playoffs and a team that many consider to be one of the most complete teams in the NFL. The Vikings got their ground attack working again and Favre managed the game very well. Cincinnati even has a top ranked defense and the Vikings still. put up 30 points on them. The most important part of the game was the outstanding play from the defensive unit. Week 14 marked the return of Antoine Winfield. Not a second too soon after losing Henderson for the season. In his return Winfield dominated by leading the team in tackles with 9 and also forcing a fumble. What a performance he put on, hands down star of the game.
Moving up to last Sunday the team that didn't show up Week 13 was present again for the nationally televised Sunday Night Football game against the Panthers. I can honestly say I was not really concerned even after the third quarter when the score was still 7-6 Vikings. We were playing bad but I thought with just one more score the Vikings could put that game in the bag. Then the defense that played so well against the powerful Bengals offense lets unproven Matt Moore lead the Panthers offense to score 20 unanswered fourth quarter points.
I know Steve Smith killed and did a lot of the damage, but even when he wasn't catching the football the offense was still moving efficiently. The biggest damage caused by the Panthers was the menacing influence of Julius Peppers. He dominated both Guards on the Vikings line, and was in the backfield too much. Surprising stat about the game, Peppers only notched one sack and one tackle in the game. That's it. Even with Peppers dominating the line of scrimmage it was horrendous to see the Vikings top tier offense not mounting anything against the Panthers very, VERY average defense.
Now the discussion of the most important things from the past 3 weeks.
#1 Where oh where has Adrian Peterson gone? Against the Cardinals he was out rushed by Percy Harvin, a Wide Receiver! His rushing totals from the past 3 weeks are unnerving. Even his 96 yards against the Bengals came on 26 carries. In the other two Sunday night games AP rushed for a total of 53 yards on 15 carries. He has gotten fewer carriers in his two poor performances, but actually I would have pulled the plug on the running game even before Childress did.
I know, we have a dynamite back who can break it at any time. But not lately. When is the last time we have seen AP break loose like years past? It just isn't happening. Did you know this season Adrian has only 3 rushing touchdowns more than 7 yards? Those 3 touchdowns came agaisnt the Lions and Browns. Where is that home run? When something isn't working like the Vikings running game lately, especially while losing, you have to try something else. I hate becoming one dimensional, but I would rather see the Vikings try and get vertical and throw down field then continue to fail with AP.
Granted I know it is not all his fault because the offensive line has played like a middle school powder puff team over the past few weeks. But isn't this one of the league's elite backs? Shouldn't he be able to create some damage on his own? He definitely isn't the best anymore because that title goes to Chris Johnson. All Adrian seems to be good for is punching in the football from the goal line. He better step it up in the coming weeks or the Vikings playoff lives will be short and bitter.
#2 The offensive line gets its own portion of this discussion even though I already mentioned them above. What a joke this unit has become over the past weeks. Sure, they played well against Cincinnati and three other garbage teams (Seattle, Chicago, Detroit), but against the better squads the Vikings line cannot seem to get the running game going. There doesn't seem to be any push from them as a unit. Fans have been getting so used to Favre leading the team down the field and then Adrian falling into the end zone. Don't offensive lineman love to run the football because they get to hit and push forward instead of falling back into pass protection? And now against Carolina they can't even protect Favre? What does this line do right anymore? They, like Adrian, better pull their heads out of the sand, the postseason is looming.
#3 Oh my I hate penalties!! The Vikings have been playing crisp football for most of the season. Now in the past few weeks we have been racking up the penalties. The past three weeks the Vikings have gotten 20 penalties for 164 yards. That is an average of 8.2 yards per penalty. The penalties are coming at crucial points in the game which is the most alarming.
#4 How will our defense play in the next two games? We play an easier Chicago opponent away and then host the ascending Giants to close out the season. Both games in my opinion need to be won by our struggling football team. If we beat the Bears and lose to the Giants it begs the question: Can the Vikings really beat good teams?
#5 Can the Vikings really win on the road? All three losses this year have come away from Mall of America Field. In the Steelers game the Vikings played good enough to win, but that was weeks ago. Our two most recent tests on the road seemed like the dominant Vikings squad stayed on the airplane instead of showing up to the field. The Bears may not be a great team, but this will be a big test for Minnesota. The game is away from the comforts of home in a cold weather situation while struggling mightily on offense and somewhat on defense. The Vikings have lost two of their last three, how will they respond?
#6 Favre has looked more human than Superman the past 3 weeks. I can't honestly say I blame him with the offensive line playing like a joke and Adrian Peterson with a weak pulse. What can Favre do by himself? And now the media is talking about Favre demanding to stay in the game, blah, blah, blah. Of course the media just wants to blow up drama to have something to talk about between Sundays (how about the actual game of football?). The real question isn't whether Favre is a drama queen (we already know he is), it is: how the Vikings offense will rebound after two horrid performances? Will the troops rally around their fearless leader? Or will Favre fade into the sunset?
#7 These next two weeks will be defining ones in the Minnesota Vikings season.
IMPORTANT THINGS FROM WEEK 15:
#1 Cleveland Browns fans finally have something to cheer about. Talk about a great football game to watch. Joshua Cribbs returns not one, but two kickoffs for touchdowns. With those returns Cribbs notched his seventh and eighth career return touchdowns with number seven making him the NFL's all time leader. He has already broken the record, but he has the potential to shatter it. Cribbs is only 26 years old, so he still has some juice in the tank. Strangely the dominant kick returners don't stay on top very long. Where has Devin Hester been? (Daunte Hall's reign was short too) Cribbs has to be one of the best undrafted free agent pickups of all time.
Playing second fiddle in the game was the work of little known Jerome Harrison. He rushed for 286 yards and 3 touchdowns breaking Jim Brown's Cleveland rushing yards record. Harrison was only 10 yards off Adrian Peterson's NFL record 296 against the Chargers. To start the game Harrison only had 301 yards on the season, but almost doubled his output with one game.
#2 The Colts won a tight one against a tough Jaguars squad. The Colts while playing bad at times have showed the are the most resilient team in the NFL. It's hard to count out #18 in a close game, and that is all the Colts seem to play. They Colts have a great opportunity to run the table and finish 16-0. This week they play an up and down Jets squad and then finish out with the weak Buffalo Bills.
#3 The Saints finally lost a game. Rightfully so since they have been putting out small fires with gasoline at the end of games and still somehow end up winning (come on Redskins!). They finally faced off against a quality football team and got punched in the mouth, hard. The Cowboys also showed the Saints' glaring weakness of stopping the run, especially up the middle. Mix that with some pressure on Drew Brees and the Saints are a beatable football team. This week should prove to be an easy rebound for the Saints as the face the lowly Buccaneers. Don't count your chickens though Saints fans, the Falcons two weeks ago should prove a team needs to be on their game at all times to win football games in the NFL. Even without Michael Turner and Matt Ryan the Falcons gave the Saints almost more than they could handle.
#4 The Chargers even before their win on Christmas night look like the second best team in the NFL. Phillip Rivers has never looked better or more precise as an NFL Quarterback and the rest of the team is following his leadership. Watch out Colts, and the rest of the league. Don't be surprised if San Diego is playing in February.