In the 2012 NFL season no team in the NFL made as big a leap into the NFL playoff picture from as far away - based upon their win total from 2011 - as the Minnesota Vikings. Yet, Minnesota's presence in the playoffs flew a bit under the radar, despite the remarkable Adrian Peterson posting one of the greatest individual seasons in league history.
As discussions have emerged of likely Super Bowl contenders for the upcoming 2013 season, the Vikings do not enter such discussions. What has been overlooked is the talent that has been amassed on Minnesota's roster in recent years. There is a reason the Vikings won 10 games while navigating through one of the toughest schedules in the league last season.
The Vikings have been built to win.
Despite the second-year quarterback Christian Ponder's struggles during the middle part of last season, and despite playing without the dynamic talents of Percy Harvin for the final six games, the Vikings were still able to make the playoffs because of the heroics of the league MVP, Peterson, and because of a very solid crop of talented young players.
In January's Pro Bowl, seven Vikings played in that game. Only two teams sent more players, the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers, both of whom sent nine. (The Vikings defeated both of those two teams last year). Three of the seven Viking Pro Bowlers were recent draft picks, including the game's MVP, second-year tight-end Kyle Rudolph. Two Vikings rookies also made the Pro Bowl, tackle Matt Kalil and placekicker Blair Walsh.
Given Ponder's strong play down the stretch last season, he seems to have settled in as a quarterback the franchise can rely upon after all. With the promising play of last season's rookie safety Harrison Smith and third-year cornerback Chris Cook, the recent drafts have already begun to pay off in very significant dividends. Throw in last year's rookie speedster Jarius Wright who caught a touchdown pass early and later a huge 65-yard bomb in the critical regular-season finale against the Green Bay Packers, and the future is extremely bright for the young talent populating the Vikings' roster.
With last week's draft, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman may have even pulled off his best draft yet! With three first-rounders, the Vikings have seemingly filled three immediate needs.
The 23rd pick, defensive tackle Shariff Floyd - a steal where the Vikings got him - would project to be the heir-apparent for long-time mainstay Kevin Williams who's career appears to be winding down. The 25th pick, cornerback Xavier Rhodes, would project to take over for the long-time mainstay and recently departed Antione Winfield. The 29th pick, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, would project to replace the multi-talented and recently departed Harvin, but hopefully with a lot less headache. (Yes pun intended).
While the later round picks may produce some players who will in fact become productive members on the team, especially at linebacker, if the three first-rounders pan out like expected, any production the Vikings get after that will really be gravy.
The Vikings' 10-6 season last year was not a fluke, and with even more quality young talent being added onto an already talent-rich squad, perhaps by Halloween the Vikings will no longer be flying under the radar. Perhaps, when discussions of the Super Bowl contenders come up at that time, the Minnesota Vikings will be front and center.
Saturday, February 2, 2013, will go down as one of the significant days in the history of the Minnesota Vikings franchise. That is the day the NFL Hall of Famefinally did right by the franchise's greatest wide receiver Cris Carter. That is the day that - thank goodness - journalists did right by the franchise's greatest running back Adrian Peterson.
Cris Carter was named to the NFL Hall of Fame in his sixth year of eligibility. He should have been named in his first. When Carter retired, only the great Jerry Rice had more receptions and more touchdown receptions than Carter. Only Rice, Tim Brown and James Lofton had more receiving yards. However, no player who has ever played had a better set of hands, or skilled sideline footwork than Carter.
Cris Carter was not only the greatest Vikings receiver of all time, he was arguably one of the top two or three greatest wide receivers of all time period. Sure, in this age of fantasy football, video game passing statistics, Carter's numbers will fade in time. Hopefully the images of his countless circus and acrobatic catches will not. The Hall of Fame was negligent in passing over this legendary Viking year after year. In July, he will at long last take his rightful place in Canton, Ohio.
On that same Saturday evening, Adrian Peterson was named the Associated Press NFL Offensive Player of the Year as well as the Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player. Both were the right calls. Peterson's 2012 season was one of the greatest individual seasons in the history of the NFL. He shouldered the load of powering a three-win team from the year before into this year's playoffs. Peterson was instrumental in helping his team win out, when the Vikings needed to win their final four games of the regular season in order to qualify for the post-season.
Even ignoring the fact that the man blew out his knee in the next-to-last-game of the 2011 season and remarkably bounced back with a career year in 2012, even had there not been any prior injury, what Peterson did this season was ridiculous. His 2,097 yards rushing was of course only bested by Eric Dickerson's 2,105 in 1984, although Peterson's 6.0 yards-per-carry average exceeded Dickerson's 5.6 yards-per-carry average. Of the seven runners in NFL history to rush for over 2,000 yards in a season, only Barry Sanders' 1997 yards-per-carry average of 6.1 was slightly better than Peterson's.
If Peterson did not win the MVP award with a season like this, as there were plenty who felt Peyton Manning should claim the award for what would have been the quarterback's fifth time, there really would be no point in having anyone but quarterbacks be in line to receive the honor anymore. No veteran quarterback in 2012 had a historically great season on a scale even remotely rivaling Peterson's.
Oh yeah, last week Peterson had surgery to repair a sports hernia. It seems "All Day" (Peterson) played with the injury since the 10th game of the season. In the eight games (including the playoffs) he played injured, he rushed for 1,239 yards on 6.1 yards per carry with six touchdowns. Those eight games - equivalent to half a season - would prorate to 2,478 yards rushing in a full season. That total would obliterate Dickerson's record. Peterson has predicted rushing for 2,500 yards in 2013. Still think that prediction is far-fetched?
Carter and Peterson brought the richly decorated organization two more much-deserved honors. The previous MVP awarded to a Viking was to Fran Tarkenton in 1975, he too of course also a member of the NFL Hall of Fame. While the final Saturday of the NFL season proved to be a bright one for the Vikings, the same week began with the Vikings' rookie tight end Kyle Rudolph receiving the Most Valuable Player Award for his five-catch, one-touchdown performance in the 2013 Pro Bowl. That Pro Bowl honor, has also been previously claimed by Peterson and Tarkenton.
A banner week for the Vikings brought a very satisfying conclusion to what proved to be a very positive and encouraging 2012 campaign.
In baseball vernacular, when a team in the field commits an error with two outs, thus allowing an inning to continue when it otherwise should have ended, the team on defense is said to have given its opponent an "extra at-bat". There have been many famous instances - far too many to go into here - where an extended inning has had catastrophic consequences for a fielding team botching a routine play.
In Saturday night's playoff defeat at the hands of their arch-rival Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings committed two "errors" that helped turn what could have been another Vikings/Packers classic into a fairly lopsided 24-10 affair.
The general perception is that the fully-healthy Packers dominated the undermanned, underdog Vikings by finally bottling up the presumed league MVP, Adrian Peterson.
Obviously with the recently rejuvenated Christian Ponder being a game-day scratch, the Vikings were thrust into a precarious situation having to turn to Joe Webb who this year had not thrown a single regular season pass. Webb's rustiness and first-ever playoff game jitters showed. Ironically Webb's performance was very reminiscent of Ponder's earlier performance in Green Bay that triggered an outcry for Webb to replace Ponder as the team's starter at that point in the season. By the time Webb settled down and started to gain some semblance of a rhythm Saturday night, it was too little, too late.
Despite the obvious quarterback disparity, Rodgers versus Webb was not the key to the Packers avenging the only other playoff meeting between these two NFC North Division foes. With the first playoff battle having gone the Vikings' way 31-17, the postseason scorecard is now tied one victory to one victory, and 41 combined points to 41 combined points. The key to this Packers' victory was not having their full complement of players finally healthy and able to play, their vaunted passing attack, or even their tackling. The subtle key to victory was the fact that the Packers played opportunistic, mistake-free football, and the Vikings simply did not.
Upon closer examination, going in, the Vikings actually did accomplish most of the things they would have wanted to. Minnesota forced the Packers into eight punts, holding them to a miserable three-out-of-14 on third down conversions, while completely shutting down the Packers' running game. The Packers only rushed for 71 yards on 2.5 yards-per-carry. The reigning league MVP, Rodgers, led all quarterbacks this year with a passer rating of 108. Saturday night the Vikings limited him to about his average total of 274 yards (season average of 268 yards-per-game) with a passer rating of 105. When a quarterback is "contained" with those numbers it shows just how awesome he is.
Conversely, the Vikings rushed for 167 yards on 5.2 yards-per-carry. When a running back is "contained" by gaining 99 yards on 4.5 yards per carry, that shows just how awesome Adrian Peterson is. The problem for the Vikings is that he only carried the ball 22 times, and in that limited number of carries Peterson did not rip off any of his signature breakaways. With the quarterback situation what it was, the Vikings needed Peterson to carry an even larger load than usual, more along the lines of 30 to 35 rushes.
The Vikings are at home for the rest of the postseason in large part, because they gave the Packers "extra at-bats" and the Packers took full advantage. After the Vikings marched it right down the Packers' throats on the ground in the opening drive of the game, a grind-it-out, smash-mouth defensive struggle seemed to be taking form. Such a game would play into the Vikings' favor. Leading 3-0 and after forcing the Packers into an apparent second-straight three-and-out to start the game, five-time first-team All-Pro Kevin Williams was flagged for lining up in the neutral zone. A seemingly simple - but extremely careless - penalty at the time, turned into a pandora's box. Instead of receiving the ball right back and getting more carries into the hands of Peterson, the Vikings "extended the inning" for the Packers. Seventy-five or so yards later the Packers would lead 7-3.
Not only did the Packers take the lead, a lead they would never relinquish, they changed the momentum of the game.
Fast-forward to the opening drive of the second half. After the Vikings held on a third down and forced the Packers to go for a field goal, Jasper Brinkley was the 12th Vikings' defender on the field. Unfortunately the rules only allow for 11. Giving Green Bay a new set of downs, the Vikings again "extended the inning". With the "extra at-bat", the Packers scored their third and final touchdown of the night.
With two Vikings' "errors" providing the Packers with two "extra at-bats", Green Bay scored two of their three touchdowns. If the Vikings had been clean and mistake-free, assuming the Packers were going to make the field goal, and given that Mason Crosby missed one out of three of his field goal attempts this year, a pretty broad assumption indeed, the Vikings would have avoided yielding 11 "unearned" points. That would have meant the Packers scoring 13 points on the night, not 24. Without giving the Packers charity, a tighter game would have meant more carries for Peterson, more carries for Peterson would have meant the greater likelihood for one of his 50+ yard dashes at some point during the night, and perhaps even a different outcome altogether.
The Vikings played a much better game in a variety of areas than most observers realized Saturday night, but their own sloppiness derailed their chances for the upset as much as anything their opposition did. A great player of Williams' magnitude simply has to know where the ball is being hiked, and for the second-straight Vikings' playoff game the team was penalized for not knowing which 11 players were supposed to be on the field. The previous playoff game's blunder probably cost the team a trip to the Super Bowl, Saturday night's blunder was not nearly as egregious, but frustrating still.
The Packers deserved to win the contest. They committed only two penalties - at least that is all they were whistled for anyway - and committed no turnovers. Green Bay did not allow the Vikings any free opportunities and made them "hit their own way on base". The Vikings not only extended innings for their opposition, they committed three turnovers. It is not that the Packers were really so successful at tackling the man who embarrassed them for 409 yards in two games over the previous several weeks, the Vikings - out of their own doing - did not make Green Bay have to tackle him often enough.
Unfortunately this exciting season for the Vikings wound up ending with a thud on the famous "frozen tundra" of Lambeau Field. It would have been most intriguing to see how the game would have played out had the Packers only gotten their one"earned" touchdown.
This time as Adrian Peterson battered the Green Bay Packers with 199 yards rushing and two touchdowns - one rushing and one receiving - his herculean performance was not in vain. This time, for the second time in a month, the Vikings punched their arch-rival Green Bay Packers in the mouth, but this time unlike the first time, the Vikings came out on the long end of the score, 37-34. With Sunday's rousing victory in the Metrodome, their near-miss in Green Bay a month ago was avenged, and the Vikings are back in the playoffs for the third time in the past five seasons!
In what will go down as yet another classic confrontation between these two fierce rivals, the Packers and Vikings added one more thriller to their collection of great games. Theirs, a rivalry full of so many dramatic last-second outcomes, it is doubtful whether any other in the NFL matches it for heart-stopping finishes.
With this season's rubber match scheduled for Saturday night in Lambeau Field, it will be only the second post-season match-up in the history of this great series. The other was played at the end of the 2004 season and also took place in Green Bay. The Vikings were victorious on that day, and indeed that playoff meeting was proceeded by a pair of last-minute game-winning field goals in regular season, both games having been won by the Packers.
With Peterson trampling all over the Packers in this year's first meeting to the tune of 210 yards on 21 carries, the Vikings were ahead in the second half and blew an opportunity to expand their 14-10 lead when Christian Ponder threw a horrible interception into the Packers end zone. Then after falling behind, the Vikings still had a chance to reclaim the lead when Ponder followed up the first pick with another ghastly red-zone interception. A hard-fought Viking performance went for-not on that day.
So what is the real reason Sunday's performance turned out with the opposite result from the first contest?
Was it because the Vikings' defense sacked Aaron Rodgers five times? Nope.
Maybe it was because rookie place-kicker Blair Walsh, perhaps the NFL's best, drilled yet another 50+ yard field goal to add to his NFL record for most successful kicks from that distance in a season, and then calmly clinched the game with his last-second kick? Naw, try again.
Ok, how about rookie speedster Jarius Wright's 90-yards, three-catch, one-touchdown performance that demonstrated that the Vikings can go down-field afterall? Uh uh.
Well maybe it was because Peterson, exactly one year removed from knee surgery, capped off - all things considered - arguably the greatest season ever for a running back with his incredible 34-carry (career high) display of dominance? Good try, but not really.
While all of those factors contributed to the biggest Vikings victory in three years, they were not the real reason the Vikings were able to fend off a very pesky Packers team fighting to gain a second seed and first-round bye in the playoffs. The real reason?
The icy-clutch, big-time performance from their second-year quarterback.
While Peterson clearly established himself as this year's obvious choice for MVP - obvious that is for anyone who does not worship at the altar of Peyton Manning - the key to this particular victory was actually Ponder's coming up with the greatest game of his career, in the biggest game of his career. Ponder matched his career-high with three touchdowns on 16 for 28 passing and while his 238 yards total was rather pedestrian for most NFL starting quarterbacks, that total was significant for him. Most importantly what Ponder gave the Vikings though, was balance.
On a day in which the Packers frankly played better than they did in the first meeting in Wisconsin, a great Vikings ground attack merely accompanied by mistake-free quarterback play would not have been quite enough to stave off Green Bay. In their first meeting, yes. This second meeting, no. Playing against most teams, even some playoff teams, Peterson's running being complemented by mistake-free efficient quarterbacking will win. However, when a serious Super Bowl contending team like the Packers "brings it", and their quarterback Aaron Rodgers gets hot, only a powerful balanced attack from the Vikings can overcome them.
On Sunday, Ponder gave Minnesota that balance. Whether it was to convert a crucial third down, whether it was to burn the Packers deep in their secondary, or whether it was to keep a play alive with his feet enabling him to throw a touchdown pass, Ponder threw strike, after strike, after strike. Ever since his terrible game in Green Bay, Ponder has bounced back to be an effective game-managing quarterback.
In those four games since, the Vikings have gone undefeated, and as it turns out, they had to in order to qualify for post-season. Ponder has been in the last quarter of the season, what he was in the first quarter of the season; the promising franchise quarterback that the team thought it had when they drafted him last year. In those eight games, (the first four and the last four) the Vikings have gone 7-1. Unfortunately in the middle eight games of the season, Ponder struggled mightily, but it was Peterson's brilliant consistency that kept the team afloat until quality quarterback play has returned.
Sunday's game was very reminiscent of last year's playoff thriller between the San Francisco 49ers and the New Orleans Saints. Alex Smith of the Niners was the game-manager, Drew Brees of the Saints, the gunslinger. When that game evolved into a late-game shootout, Smith answered the challenge, and out-dueled the future Hall-of-Famer, Brees. On Sunday, ditto for Ponder vanquishing Rodgers.
Now the Vikings move from being a rebuilding project ahead of schedule, to a surging team who is crashing this year's Super Bowl tournament. The Vikings have every right to consider themselves playoff-ready because in point-of-fact, the Vikings have played the last few weeks with their season on the line and have answered the bell every time. The Vikings are already in playoff mode.
The four playoff teams that have first-round byes have to defeat two playoff teams to advance to the Super Bowl. The past two weeks the Vikings defeated the AFC South Champion, Houston Texans on the road, and then of course on Sunday the NFC North Champion, Packers. Both division champions lost to the Vikings attempting to gain a first-round bye with a win. Those two wins by the Vikings were the equivalent of what could have been a team's path to the Super Bowl right there. Given that the Vikings also defeated the 10-win Chicago Bears three weeks ago, there is no other team in the post-season field more tournament-ready.
Yet, the Vikings are still surprisingly lightly regarded. Despite the season Peterson has had - the second greatest single-season rushing total of all-time, only 8 yards shy of Eric Dickerson's record of 2,105 in spiteof 31 fewer carries than Dickerson - and the gauntlet the team has faced down the stretch, the overall sense seems to be that the Vikings are a nice story, but should be a fairly easy out now that the second season is set to begin. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Prior to Sunday's game, it was pointed out by Rodgers how even with Peterson's 210-yard performance the Vikings still lost that first meeting. How many will point out that even with Rodgers' gem of a performance, what with his 28-40, 365-yard, four-touchdown, no interception, 131 passer rating, the Packers still lost the rematch?
With the phenom known as Adrian Peterson in the backfield, and an improving Ponder rising to the occasion each week, there is not a team in this post-season field that the Vikings are not at least capable of beating. Just ask their ole' nemesis, the Green Bay Packers.
Through grit, determination, and yes heart, the Minnesota Vikings have played themselves into control of their own playoff destiny. At last, their playoff fate now rests within their own hands. The Vikings' 23-6 win over the Houston Texans Sunday was not just an "on any given day" upset, the Vikings absolutely manhandled one of the league's premier teams in that team's own house. For other game in which the Vikings absolutely manhandled one of the league's premier teams, see also San Francisco 49ers.
This past Sunday, the Vikings were the more physical and determined football team, and even without getting a huge day from Adrian Peterson, the Texans were simply no match. The Vikings defense on the day? Dominant. The kicking game? Flawless. The running game? Solid. The passing game? Solid. Coaching? Impressive.
These are the ingredients to winning football. Winning playoff football.
All season long, the Vikings had struggled mightily on the road. In order to make the playoffs, Minnesota's margin for error had decreased to nil. In very impressive fashion, the Vikings rose to the occasion. In Saint Louis and in Houston, the Vikings' defense overwhelmed their opponents. The pass rush got consistent pressure on the opposing quarterbacks and registered eight sacks. The suddenly very stout run defense was stifling, only allowing a combined 121 yards rushing.
While Peterson ran crazy against the Rams, the Texans did an excellent job of keeping him under reasonable control. Nonetheless, the Vikings' coaching staff stayed with the run, grinding out tough yards all game long, eventually wearing down Houston's defense by game's end. As far as the passing game, Leslie Frazier's decision to stick with the inconsistent Christian Ponder at quarterback has paid off for now, as Ponder was the efficient game manager on the road - as well as the recent home game against Chicago - that he needs to be. Rolling Ponder out of the pocket and giving him safe passes to throw seems to have allowed him to regain his confidence and the quarterback has returned to the form he displayed in the first part of the season. Accurate passing, good decision-making and timely running have returned to Ponder's repertoire, and the offense has benefited greatly from it. In these last two road games, Ponder did not throw an interception, while passing for a touchdown and rushing for a touchdown. Ponder's one turnover, a lost fumble, was cleaned up by the defense with a three-and-out.
The poise the Vikings displayed on the road, was a refreshing departure from what they had shown previously. With their backs against the wall, the Vikings finally played with the intensity and purpose that they have normally only played with at home this season. Poise and composure were not exclusive to the veterans however.
In this year of the rookie - 2012 may go down as producing the greatest rookie class ever - the Vikings have perhaps the greatest rookie place kicker in history. Blair Walsh easily nailed a 56-yarder against the Texans giving him the all-time single-season place-kicking record for making nine field goals of 50 yards or more. Even more impressive is the fact that Walsh is a perfect nine-for-nine from fifty yards or longer! Also remarkable, is Walsh's ability to drive his kickoffs to the back of, or out of the end zone with great regularity. When returners have ventured out of end zones this year, the Viking kick coverage unit has been outstanding. The coaching staff has done a fine job of transforming this team from an embarrassment last year into a team that will finish this season with a winning record.
What a far cry from a year ago. This time a year ago, the Vikings also completed a road win in their last road trip of the regular season. Last Christmas Eve, the defeat of the Washington Redskins garnered just the Vikings' third win of the season, and the face of the franchise was going to miss the home finale, facing the prospects of very major knee surgery.
Now, a year later, the road win over the Texans garnered the team's ninth win of the season, and the face of the franchise is not only going to play in the home finale, he faces the likelihood of topping the 2,000 yards rushing mark, and even the possibility of topping the NFL record 2,105 yards rushing mark. Oh, and by the way if the Vikings do defeat their most bitter rival, the sixth seed in the NFC playoff field will be the reward for downing the dreaded Green Bay Packers.
From the early 1990's until a couple of season's ago, the Vikings/Packers rivalry was as hot as any in the NFL. Their Monday Night Football Broadcast in 2009 drew 21.8 million viewers and was the most watched cable television broadcast in history. That October 5, 2009, game also marked the last home win by the Vikings in the series. While that viewership record has since been replaced by the 2011 BCS Title Game as the most watched cable television broadcast in history, there is no better way to revive this great rivalry than by having the stakes be so high on the final day of the regular season.
When the opening kickoff in the Metrodome takes place, the Chicago Bears will have already played in Detroit and the Giants will have already hosted the Philadelphia Eagles. If either the Bears or Giants win, the Vikings will only make the playoffs by defeating the Packers. If the Bears, Giants and Dallas Cowboys - who visit the Redskins later that night - all lose, the Vikings would still squeeze in with a loss to Green Bay but that would be an awful lot to count on.
The Packers could move up to a second seed with a victory over the Vikings, and avoid a first round playoff rematch with the Vikings altogether. Therefore there is ample incentive for both teams to win in this Sunday evening's contest. The Vikings need to muster up all of the grit, determination and heart that they have shown on their current three-game winning streak, because it will almost certainly require a four-game winning streak in order for them to gain the post-season. Having to defeat the Texans who - going into their game - had the best record in the NFL one week, and then the very next week having to defeat the Packers who have won nine out of their last ten, the Vikings have been placed under enormous pressure.
If the NFL season were to end today, the Minnesota Vikings would visit the Green Bay Packers in the Wild Card Round of the Playoffs. The primary reason why, as well as the primary reason why the Vikings beat the Saint Louis Rams 36-22 Sunday, is because of the dominance of one of the greatest running backs of all time. Known since childhood as All Day (AD), the running back also known as Adrian Peterson has lifted his team and carried them into playoff contention with the best season of his career.
In the most recent excerpt from his brilliant career, Peterson ripped through the Rams for 212 yards on 24 carries. His 82-yard touchdown run propelled the Vikings to break open what had been a tied contest and forge their way to an eventual 30-7 halftime lead. The Vikings' total yardage for the day? Try 322 yards. Now, any questions about Peterson's impact?
For a moment forget about the fact that 51 weeks ago Peterson tore his ACL and MCL in a game at Washington. For a moment forget about the fact that some careers have been severly altered and indeed ended, with that level of destruction to the knee. The NFL has never seen a recovery from this severe an injury so fast and so complete.
If one focuses upon the insanity of Peterson's ability to produce a career season - even for him - coming off of major knee surgery, then the focus on the actual impact he is having on a team fighting to make the playoffs, will likely be lost. This loss of focus will lead to the temptation of merely passing Peterson off as a good "comeback player of the year candidate" while giving the Most Valuable Player Award to this year's quarterback of choice, whomever that may wind up being.
In point of fact, given that Peterson only actually missed the final game of the season last year, a fair question really becomes, is he even a "comeback" player?
In contrast, Denver's Peyton Manning missed all of last year and is having a great comeback year returning after multiple neck surgeries. What he is accomplishing is also nothing short of remarkable. Given that, should Manning not win the Comeback Player of the Year Award and/or the MVP Award? The Broncos are currently in first place and have a chance of becoming the number one seed in the AFC playoffs.
Perhaps comeback player of the year, yes - particularly if Peterson is not really considered having been away - but MVP no. The Broncos were a playoff team last year who also advanced a round. Even if Manning did not arrive in the Mile High City, so far the Broncos have not accomplished anything that should not have been expected of them anyway, even with Tim Tebow still their quarterback.
Peterson on the otherhand, has had to shoulder the load on a team that produced just three wins last year, and then during the ninth game of the season, lost the most versatile playmaker in all of football, Percy Harvin. Through eight games this season, Harvin's 60 catches led the league. His combined yards from returns, receiving and rushing also led the NFL. For the first half of the season, there was arguably not a better choice for MVP at that time than Harvin. In Seattle, Harvin injured his ankle and was lost for the rest of the season along with him, so to Christain Ponder's passing production.
Enter Adrian Peterson.
When Harvin was on the field, AD was having an incredible season. In those nine games Peterson rushed for 957 yards and six touchdowns, on a whopping 5.6 yards-per-carry average. His 106 yards-per-game average was putting him on pace for a season total 1,696 yards. Once-upon-a-time that amount of yardage along with a double-digit touchdown total would always put a running back in contention for an MVP Award. An intriguing issue at the season's midpoint was, who was a better choice for league MVP, the league-leading Peterson, or the league-leading Harvin? Without question, with the two of them on the field, it was a lethal combination, but now the Vikings have been reduced to one "homerun hitter".
Since Harvin has been out of the lineup, Peterson has now raised his game from incredible, to a level that is beyond anything the NFL has ever seen at his position. Peterson, in the five games since Harvin's injury, with every defense now stacking the box against him, has rushed for 855 yards on a ridiculous seven yards-per-carry average! His 171 yards-per-game average during this stretch, would prorate over a full 16-game season to an astonishing 2,736 yards!
While Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson's single-seaon rushing record of 2,105 yards has stood since 1984, Peterson's torrid stretch - if sustained for a full year - would absolutely dwarf that yardage total. As it stands - Peterson, needing another 294 yards over the final two weeks, might be able to break Dickerson's 28 year-old record, a record that has rarely been seriously challenged, but the MVP Award should not be based upon Peterson becoming the new record holder. A running back should not be required to have the greatest single-season on record in order to gain recognition as the league's MVP.
Given the very uphill battle the Vikings face in order to make the playoffs, in spite of being the current sixth seed, making the playoffs should also not be a requirement for Peterson gaining recognition as the league's MVP. In order for AD's team to qualify for post-season, an upset in Houston against arguably the best team in the NFL, and a home victory over the NFC North Division Champion Packers, would almost certainly be required and still may not even be good enough.
No, what Peterson has done during this five-game stretch should have separated him from all others when it comes to the discussion for this year's MVP Award. In the five games since Harvin has been out, Ponder has passed for 721 yards (144 yards-per-game), that is 134 yards fewer than Peterson has rushed for. AD has rushed for five touchdowns in that span of time, Ponder has passed for four. The magnitude of what Peterson has done to keep the Vikings at 3-2 in Harvin's absence can be easily under-appreciated if viewed only from the standpoint of the anomaly of his robot-like recovery.
In this age when a quarterback is given the Associated Press MVP Award almost automatically, this practice needs to stop. From the years 2001 to 2011, ten quarterbacks and two running backs have won the award (both Peyton Manning and the late Steve McNair were co-MVPs in 2003). In 2012, no player is carrying a team in post-season contention like Peterson is carrying his, and while a handful of other players are having standout seasons - some of whom do happen to be quarterbacks - no other player in the NFL is having the phenomenal season that AD is having.
At the end of the season Peterson may hold the record for most yards rushing in a single game (which he does already at 296), and the most yards rushing in a season. Even if AD does not claim both records at season's end, he should not have to in order to recieve the proper honor and recognition that he is due. Afterall, is it the Most Valuable Player Award or is it the Most Valuable Quarterback Award? If it is the former, then this year the award should go to the man known as All Day.
When the Minnesota Vikings kept their
playoff hopes alive by defeating the Chicago Bears 21-14 this past Sunday, that
represented the Vikings' sixth home win this year in seven tries. If the Vikings
could have played all of their games in the Metrodome this year, a playoff berth
would have been in the bag by now.
Unfortunately, there is this quirky thing about the way the NFL handles its
scheduling, every team must play half of its games on the road.
Here in lies the
problem for the Vikings, they have won exactly one game away from home all year,
and the next two games are being played on football fields not found within the Metrodome. Even assuming a Vikings' home
win over the Green Bay Packers in the season finale - a win not being at all unlikely
for the Vikings if a playoff slot is still at stake - Minnesota will still need to win at least once over the
next two weeks in order to keep playing into January.
Winning two out of the three remaining games would produce a nine-win
season for the Vikings, and while there is some chance of that being good enough
to qualify for post-season play, that chance is growing increasingly slim. Considering that the Vikings currently trail the Seattle Seahawks and Bears by a game, and are currently tied
with the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys for a playoff wild card spot, the combination of winning and getting help will be necessary in order for the Vikings to get in.
Fortunately for the Vikings, the Redskins and Cowboys end
the season facing one another, therefore one of them is guaranteed at least one more loss or a tie.
The struggling Bears, losers of four out of their last five games, host the
Packers this Sunday and could certainly get another loss tacked on as well.
Minnesota, having lost in Seattle earlier this year, will need to catch and overtake the Seahawks in order to beat them out. That, however will not be a likely wildcard slot for the Vikings given the fact that the Seahawks only face one more team with a winning record. That would be in the form of the San Francisco 49ers as Seattle hosts them in a couple of weeks. The more likely playoff path for the Vikings will be to beat out the Bears, Redskins and Cowboys.
Should Minnesota pull off the very tough task of winning out,
ten wins would give them a good chance of punching a ticket
to the playoffs. First things first however, and that is beating the Rams on the
For whatever reason, the Vikings' victory in Detroit represents one of only two solid performances on the road this season. The other was the loss in Indianapolis where the Colts beat the Vikings on a last second field goal. Other than those two early-season games, the Vikings have usually looked very lackluster whenever away from home. The Rams at 6-6-1, have actually played their way into playoff contention now, and therefore will be fighting to keep their faint playoff hopes alive as well. While this appeared to be a fairly easy game on paper for the Vikings a month ago, it will now be a battle of two fairly desperate football teams.
The Vikings, who again produced a solid effort at home this past Sunday, cannot afford any more of their customarily flat efforts on the road. By whatever means necessary, the Vikings need this win on Sunday. While the incredible Adrian Peterson always gives them a fighting chance, solid play from Christian Ponder and the defense gives the Vikings a much better chance. The much-maligned Ponder perhaps has a chance to redeem himself with Vikings fans if he can string together a couple of victorious performances on the road.
Sadly, the Vikings cannot play all of their games at home, therefore winning on the road will ultimately determine if they can be a team playing in the post-season or not. In the end, the very legitimate question finally becomes, does a team that is only capable of playing well at home even deserve to make the playoffs anyway?
On Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings got another absolutely stunning performance from their all-universe running back Adrian Peterson. He ran through, over, around, and past helpless Green Bay Packer defenders all afternoon long. The only problem for the Vikings? Being on the wrong end of the 23-14 final score.
In a very crucial divisional match-up, the Vikings appeared - having weathered an early Packer storm - to take control of the game at halftime by rallying from a 10-0 deficit to lead 14-10.
What was the reason the Vikings squandered 210 rushing yards on 21 carries from Peterson and lost a game they easily should have won?
Was it the repeated offsides penalties committed by the Vikings' front four that kept each of the Packers first-half scoring drives alive? Nope.
Maybe it was because for the second game in a row, the normally reliable rookie kicker Blair Walsh missed a routine field goal? (Last week's attempt was blocked in Chicago) Naw, try again.
Ok, how about missing Percy Harvin, and therefore not having the explosiveness at receiver that the team needed? Uh uh.
Well, maybe it was because of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense chewing up the clock and the Vikings' inability to get them off the field? Good try, but not really.
While all of those problems were contributing factors in Minnesota's unnecessary loss, they were not the real reason for the team falling back to .500 at 6-6. The real reason?
The now glaring weakness at the quarterback position.
On a day in which very ordinary quarterback play would have produced a rare Minnesota win at Lambeau Field, Christian Ponder was awful. Again. On a day in which the Packers were reeling from Peterson's onslaught, Ponder's terrible second-half interceptions, one in the Packers' end zone, and the other at the Packers' 10-yard line simply killed the Vikings. Never mind the countless open receivers missed, just avoiding those two costly mistakes would have given the Vikings the very big win.
In short, had the two starting quarterbacks switched teams for Sunday's game, the Vikings would have won with one of those hugely embarrassing Bill Belichick-styled routs. But the Vikings did not need a Rodgers-type of performance from Ponder on Sunday, they just needed an efficient game-manager.
Unfortunately, the "game-manager" tag has now become an insulting term when used to describe a quarterback. It shouldn't. Game manager quarterbacks have gone to, and won Super Bowls. All the Vikings needed on Sunday was for the quarterback to make smart decisions with the football, and to hit open receivers. Just taking care of the those two tasks would have gotten the Vikings tied with the Packers for second place in the NFC North Division and just one game behind the Chicago Bears whom the Vikings host this upcoming Sunday.
Now however, so differently the season's outlook appears. Stuck two games behind their front-running division rivals with four games to play, the Vikings find themselves in a logjam of teams right at, or about at the .500 mark.
While Ponder has certainly had his moments this season, and there was certainly cause for optimism for his being the long-term solution at quarterback, his downturn for the second year in a row brings much cause for doubt now. While several rookie and second-year quarterbacks are currently flourishing in the league, Ponder is clearly floundering.
While undoubtedly the Vikings' passing game is compromised by Harvin's absence, the cupboard is not totally bare without him. The other two veteran wide receivers Michael Jenkins and Jerome Simpson have combined for more receptions and receiving yards in their careers, than Ponder has completions and passing yards in his. A competent quarterback could have gotten the ball to them at least occasionally throughout the contest.
Until well into the fourth quarter on Sunday, Ponder was so horrific, he had only completed five passes on the entire afternoon, and all of those were during a single possession. Not coincidentally, that possession resulted in Ponder's one highlight for the day, his second-quarter touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph. Heading into the fourth-quarter however, Ponder had not completed a single pass to a wide receiver, and was on pace for his third game this year with a sub-100-yard passing total. When the Packers gained a two-possession scoring lead and softened their coverages by deploying a late-game prevent defense, only then did Ponder find his wideouts and eclipse the 100-yard mark with a meager 119 passing yards total. Such an anemic passing game will not win in the NFL, even with the dominant running presence of an Adrian Peterson.
Further perplexing, is the now stubborn refusal to turn to backup Joe Webb, even if for just pinch-hit relief. It is not as though Webb is an unknown entity to the Vikings in game conditions. In 2010, when Brett Favre was the starter, the offense was at its best with Webb behind center. Last year when Donovan McNabb was the starter - eventually replaced by Ponder - the offense was again at its best with Webb behind center. Webb just a third-year quarterback himself, has shown great promise, yet Head Coach Leslie Frazier continues to insist Ponder's excruciating play gives the team its best chance to win.
The worse Ponder plays - and his excellent September seems like such a distant memory now - the more foolish Frazier sounds. It is hard to know if the coach is merely following front-office orders to stick with Ponder under all circumstances - barring injury of course - or if Frazier, a career NFL player and coach, could actually believe what he says is true.
The Minnesota Vikings have come to the moment in time where the priority either needs to be winning football games, or trying to justify a first-round draft pick at quarterback. Peterson, certainly one of the greatest to ever play at his position, is in the prime of his career. Just decent quarterback play would have him in excellent shape to return to the post-season this year. He and his teammates who are required to perform well or sit, deserve better than having their season flushed down the toilet due to one position on the field not requiring any standard for performance whatsoever.
The Soldier Field scoreboard read Chicago Bears 28, Minnesota Vikings 10, at game's end on Sunday. Another Vikings/Bears clash in Chicago, another Vikings loss.
That has been a broken record for all too often over the past decade plus. More disturbing, that road-loss part of the equation has been tagged on the Vikings far too often and for far too long.
On Sunday, the Vikings proceeded to largely go through the motions during the first half and then - with the game pretty much out of reach by halftime - put up a respectable effort in the second half. Whether it would have been the other way around does not matter, what the Vikings have done so rarely in recent seasons, is put up a respectable effort in both halves of a road football game.
Certainly Minnesota has been guilty of sleepwalking on the road during Head Coach Leslie Frazier's tenure, but this condition pre-existed his arrival. Under previous head coaches Mike Tice and Brad Childress, the Vikings never finished a season over .500 on the road, while Tice managed one 4-4 season and Childress two 4-4 seasons. The year Frazier took over head coaching duties, Childress was 1-4 on the road during his portion of 2010.
Frazier won two road victories when he was interim head coach in 2010, two road victories last year and only one road victory out of five so far this year. If the Vikings are going to make the playoffs this year, Frazier is going to need at least his annual mark of two road wins.
Certainly while it is no secret that home football teams win more often than road teams, be it college or the NFL, there is absolutely no excuse for professional football players playing with a lack of effort and intensity regardless of which stadium they are playing in. On Sunday, the Vikings' very first snap resulted in unblocked Bears' pass rushers dumping Christian Ponder for a major loss. That only signalled the beginning of a half that featured a drive-ending dropped pass, a fumbled football, a wildly off-target pass that was intercepted, and a lifeless pass rush from a Vikings' front four going up against a patch-work offensive line that had not been able to protect its quarterback against anyone over the past month.
If the Vikings were to put forth an honest effort on the road, they would be capable of beating at least one of the two remaining premier teams that they will face. Winning at Green Bay or Houston would go a long way towards gaining a playoff spot. Of course if the Vikings should lose at Saint Louis, even a road upset win would be negated.
As for playing at home, the Vikings have usually displayed the proper sense of purpose and intensity this season, and their five wins in six games are a testament to that fact. To make the playoffs, the same will be paramount when they host the Bears and Packers next month, because the Vikings must come away with victories on their home turf.
With the Packers next up this Sunday, the Vikings visit Lambeau Field where they won the most important meeting ever played between the two fierce rivals. The 2004 season featured the only post-season contest this storied rivalry has ever produced. The result was a sound 31-17 beating by a very sharp and inspired Vikings team that day.
Yes, there was a time when the Vikings were capable of crisp and composed play on the road, you know, the type of effort a professional team is supposed to be capable of. It has been a long time since the Vikings have played that way as a visitor. It sure would be nice to see again; starting this Sunday.
Coming off of an embarrassing 3-13 season last year, the Minnesota Vikings have done a good job of properly turning that season into an aberration. Now with six games remaining in the regular season, the question begs...can the Vikings take a rebuilding year to the next level, by making the playoffs?
At the beginning of the year the majority of football fans - most Minnesota fans included - would not have given the Vikings much chance of controlling their own destiny in winning the NFC North Division come Thanksgiving Day. Yet, that is indeed the reality.
With four games remaining against division foes Green Bay and Chicago, both of whom currently own a share of first place and are one game ahead of the Vikings, splitting the four games would put the Vikings in good shape. Having already swept division rival Detroit, a split would leave the Vikings with a 4-2 division mark and with at least eight victories overall.
Ten victories will almost ensure a playoff berth because - while it does occur on occasion - seldom do 10-6 teams fail to qualify for postseason. Even nine wins would give the Vikings a decent shot at making the playoffs. The aforementioned split combined with a win at Saint Louis against the 3-6-1 Rams would give the Vikings a ninth win.
That formula combined with an upset victory in Chicago, Green Bay or Houston would give the Vikings a 10th win, and an almost certain playoff appearance. Given that the Vikings are 5-1 at home this year and only 1-3 on the road, winning the two remaining games in the Metrodome becomes imperative. The Vikings soundly beat the San Francisco 49ers at home already, and while the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers are certainly legitimate playoff contenders, neither of them were much of a match for the 49ers in their respective meetings.
If the Vikings play up to their potential, they frankly should win their two remaining home games against the Bears and Packers, and should also defeat the Rams on the road. Doing so would make this a very successful season in context to what they suffered through in 2011, but the Vikingsshouldbe thinking post-season this year nonetheless.
Going into Chicago this Sunday, the Vikings are actually catching the Bears at a very opportune time. The Monsters of the Midway, have now seemed to have lost their way.
After a very dismal showing in a home loss against the Texans followed up by a simply dreadful performance in the Bay Area against the 49ers Monday night, the Bears just might be ready for the taking. With backup quarterback Jason Campbell getting little or no time to throw Monday night, whether he or regular Bears starter Jay Cutler is back behind center on Sunday, Chicago's offense has some major issues.
The Bears' combined 13 points scored over their past two games, should give the Vikings plenty of confidence that they can steal a road win in a place where they have had so much difficulty for the first part of this century. Since the 1900s, the Vikings only have wins at Soldier Field in 2000 and 2007. Should Minnesota win on Sunday, the upset would give the Vikings "house money" to play with in terms of the wins they need down the stretch, and should the Packers stumble Sunday night in New York against the Giants, a three-way tie for first place would be the result.
With parity having become a true reality in the NFL nowadays, every game, every week, can come right down to the wire regardless of the matchup. Often it is simply a key play here, or a key play there that separates victory from defeat in today's NFL. While the Vikings have only one game remaining with a sub .500 team, it would be a mistake to assume that the difficulty of their remaining schedule makes a playoff appearance a long shot.
This season Minnesota has clearly shown the ability to lose to anyone, and to also defeat anyone. If they can simply take care of home field and win one out of four on the road, the Vikings could definitely be one of the 12 teams playing football in January while the other 20 teams are watching.