All too familiar endingAh, that’s more like it. Those are the Vikings that I know and, unfortunately, love. I let them get my hopes up after their exhilarating final two offensive sequences tied the game late, but then, they pulled the football right out from under me like Lucy to Charlie Brown.
By: Casey Johnson, For the Sun, The Jamestown Sun
Ah, that’s more like it. Those are the Vikings that I know and, unfortunately, love.
I let them get my hopes up after their exhilarating final two offensive sequences tied the game late, but then, they pulled the football right out from under me like Lucy to Charlie Brown. It’s exactly the kind of thing that I have come to expect from the Vikings, and it was exactly what I expected last week. Last week, however, the Vikings stunned everyone and were able to pull out the victory. This week, not so much.
Although Minnesota’s role was reversed this week, the ending was eerily similar to the end of their game last week. Minnesota, like Jacksonville a week ago, put together a quick and well-orchestrated drive when needing a touchdown on their final possession of regulation. Quarterback Christian Ponder looked sharp and made good decisions, and ultimately, he was able to find Kyle “I wear big white gloves that make me look like Mickey Mouse” Rudolph for the game-tying score.
But as is the requirement in American football, the Vikings were forced to kick the ball back to the Colts. And when on the Colts’ first play Andrew Luck found Donnie Avery for a 20-yard gain, my palms begin to perspire quite intensely. Luck then proceeded to hit Reggie Wayne for 20 yards and Avery for 7 more. In true Jacksonville form, the Vikings allowed the Colts to cover 45 yards in 19 seconds to get into position for a 50-plus yard field goal. However, in stark contrast to an unproven rookie in Blair Walsh kicking a 50-yard field goal to win the game, the Colts have Adam Vinatieri, one of the most clutch kickers of all time. So it was no surprise to anyone when he stepped up and nailed the kick, giving Andrew Luck his first NFL victory.
Despite the gut-wrenching events of the Colts final possession and game-winning field goal, the Vikings certainly didn’t lose the game on that one possession. Terrible, unacceptable miscues that brand teams as lousy were the problem for the Vikings throughout the day.
The Vikings set the mistake tone on their first drive by getting called for a holding penalty on an Adrian Peterson run that would’ve given them a first down at the Colts 21 yard-line. A Phil Loadholt illegal formation penalty then moved the Vikes back another five yards, and Minnesota wasn’t able to overcome those penalties. As a result, the Vikings had to settle for just a field goal on an otherwise strong opening drive.
In the second quarter, Ponder coughed up his only turnover of the game in the form of a fumble near mid-field, and that led to a Colts field goal. After the field goal, the Vikings offensive unit trotted back onto the field with 1:49 left in the half. Certainly, that is plenty of time to get into field goal range, and I do agree 100 percent with coach Leslie Frazier’s decision to be aggressive in that situation. However, Ponder badly missed Percy Harvin for a fairly easy first down near the sideline, and the Vikings were forced to punt back to Indy having used just 26 seconds of the game clock.
That proved costly as Luck delivered a touchdown drive in just over a minute. It was the second straight week where the Vikings found themselves in a position where they absolutely could not afford to let a receiver get behind their coverage. And yet, they did, as Reggie Wayne slipped behind Erin Henderson for a 30-yard TD reception. That really was a horrible, horrible touchdown to give up, and the Vikings clearly have to work on preventing big plays through the air when a situation dictates that that’s the one thing you can’t allow to happen.
In the second half, things did not get better. On the Colts opening possession of the second half, the Vikings committed two huge penalties that extended the Colts’ drive. The first was a roughing the punter, and the second was a late hit by Jared Allen out of bounds. The first was a good call. The second was more questionable, as Allen had already grabbed Luck before Luck stepped out of bounds. But in both instances, they were penalties that you just cannot commit.
The Vikings also committed a litany of other penalties that hurt them throughout the game. In all, the Vikings committed 11 penalties for 105 yards. Good teams don’t make those kinds of costly, momentum-sucking mistakes, and clearly, as we’ve seen so far in this short season, the Vikings have a long ways to go to become a good team.
The Vikings offense also found itself mired in stagnancy over several possessions for the second straight week. After Minnesota got field goals on their first two possessions, they had five straight crummy, scoreless drives. It is evident that the team’s offense has a couple of glaring issues. Among others, the Vikings offensive line got pushed around. They gave up 4 sacks for 13 yards, and on several other occasions, Ponder was under duress. And that’s an even bigger issue for the Vikings than for teams that have savvy, veteran quarterbacks because Ponder gets flustered extremely easily. When he feels even minor pressure, he feels the need to scramble outside of the pocket. He has to continue to develop his pocket presence and understand how he can make slight moves to avoid pressure in the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield on his targets.
But another important issue that needs to be addressed is how the Vikings are going to stretch the field. I know that Jerome Simpson is supposed to be that guy when he returns for Week 4, but the Vikings still need to figure out how to take some shots down the field without him. I almost get sick watching other NFL games where teams can routinely throw and pick up 15-20 yards a pass without it coming as a huge surprise. If the Vikings can find some opportunities to make plays down the field, they’ll have a nice complement for Adrian Peterson and their short passing game centered around Percy Harvin.
And real briefly, it needs to be mentioned that Harvin is one of the most fun players to watch in this league, regardless of position. He is as versatile a player as there is, and he is a fearless, electrifying monster when he gets the football in his hands. For his own sake, I hope that the Vikings can get some other receivers to step up and make plays. Otherwise, Harvin will likely end up missing several games this season due to the physical pounding that he takes on a weekly basis as a result of carrying the receiving corps.
Despite all of that negativity, it was exciting to see the Vikings come back to tie the game after being down by 14 points with less than 6 minutes left. Ponder was extremely effective on those last two scoring drives, and Stephen Burton’s touchdown catch off of a twice deflected fourth down pass was one of the craziest plays that I’ve ever seen.
Overall, though, an opportunity was definitely lost on Sunday, as the Vikings should be 2-0, instead of 1-1. Jacksonville and Indianapolis are two franchises trying to rebuild, and unfortunately, it is quite obvious that the Vikings are one of those teams too.
Casey Johnson is a 2007 graduate of Jamestown High School. He is a regular contributor to the Opinion Corner.