Opinion Corner: Vikings for real? Time will tellCan somebody please pinch me? I need to be sure that the Vikings’ victory over the 49ers wasn’t just a figment of my imagination.
By: Casey Johnson, For The Sun, The Jamestown Sun
Can somebody please pinch me? I need to be sure that the Vikings’ victory over the 49ers wasn’t just a figment of my imagination.
OK, I know that it was real, but nonetheless, I am almost dumbfounded by the practically complete, near dominant performance the Vikings just put on against the team that many, including myself, considered to be the best in the NFL.
Sure, the final three and a half minutes of the game turned into an absolute Barnum and Bailey circus act, with the replacement officials portraying the role of the clowns and further fueling the argument that the replacement refs, in all of their ineptitude, must be immediately replaced. The catalyst to the craziness being when the officials granted the 49ers an extra timeout to challenge Toby Gerhart’s first fumble with 3:29 left in the game.
The 49ers used their final timeout to stop the clock, and then, they proceeded to also challenge the play, which should not have been allowed as they were out of timeouts. Furthermore, the play should have been a dead ball as Gerhart only fumbled while the 49ers were trying to rip him in half like a Stretch Armstrong doll well after his forward progress had been stopped. That then sparked a series of events where there was one interception, three fumbles, and two lost fumbles in the span of less than a minute. It was definitely one of the craziest, most bizarre sequences that I’ve ever seen watching a football game.
And I’m also extremely vexed by the fact that Leslie Frazier left Toby Gerhart in the game after his second fumble in the closing minutes. You can’t take a victory for granted in the NFL. You have to secure victories, and Adrian Peterson should have been getting the carries at the end of the game. Continuing to give Toby the ball and putting him in a position to fumble for a third time in just minutes was flat-out poor coaching by Frazier.
But that is the extent of the negativity that I’ll spew because there are far too many positives to focus on after this glorious win.
The Vikings controlled the game from start to finish. They set the tone on their opening drive by having their way with one of the NFL’s best defenses. The Vikings marched down the field on a 16-play, 80-yard drive that was capped by a beautiful Christian Ponder touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph on 4th and goal from the 1-yard line. It was a gutsy and message-sending decision by Coach Frazier to go for it on 4th down, as the momentum totally would’ve shifted in the 49ers favor had they been able to hold the Vikings scoreless after such an extended drive. But Frazier showed the trust that he has in his offense, and he gave them a chance right away to show that they were willing to stand toe-to-toe against the 49ers’ powerhouse defense.
After the Vikings defense was able to hold San Francisco to just three points on their first two possessions, the Vikings offense got rolling again. A mixture of Ponder scrambles and completions, as well as some Peterson runs, got the Vikings down to the San Francisco 34-yard line where they faced a 3rd- down and 11. But just as on the Vikings’ opening drive, Ponder was able to connect on an 11-yard completion to convert a long third down. It was impressive that Ponder was able to accomplish that feat, not once, but twice, against the vaunted 49ers’ defense to extend drives early on. And Ponder wasn’t done there. On the next play, while looking for tight end John Carlson on a wheel route up the right sideline, Ponder noticed that the 49ers’ linebackers had vacated the middle of the field to cover the pass. He then did his best Michael Vick impersonation and ran it in on his own from 23 yards out.
It was a phenomenal play by Ponder and a great display of his somewhat surprising athletic ability. It was his third scramble of the possession, and like the other two, it was an appropriate situation for him to run. He wasn’t giving up on a play because he sensed a little pressure in the pocket. He gave up on the play because it was well-defended, and the best option was for him to run. In the first two games, it seemed that Ponder was giving up on plays a little too quickly and flushing from the pocket too easily. This week, however, it seemed that his scrambles were well-advised, and he did a tremendous job of keeping plays alive with his feet and keeping his head downfield and finding open receivers when he did break the pocket.
Although Minnesota came out flat in the third quarter and gave up 10 points on San Francisco’s first two possessions of the second half, the Vikings actually showed some grit and resolve to keep things from getting worse. After San Francisco scored their only touchdown of the game trimming the Vikings lead to 17-13, the Vikings went on an impressive, controlled, and well-balanced drive that culminated in Christian Ponder throwing his second touchdown pass of the day to Kyle Rudolph.
The remainder of the 4th quarter was marked by the Vikings continued strong defensive play. The Vikings forced and recovered two fumbles, intercepted an Alex Smith pass, and forced two punts over the 49ers’ final five possessions. Led by linebacker Chad Greenway’s 13 tackles and 2 sacks, Minnesota limited San Francisco to just 280 yards of total offense, which was 83 yards below their average coming into the game.
The Vikings looked every bit the smart, physical, ball-control football team that the 49ers have turned into their own calling card. The Vikings won the time of possession battle 33:28 to 26:32, which can be largely credited to their commitment to their running game.
Despite the fact that the Vikings only averaged 3.6 yards per carry, they continued to pound the football and finished the game with 146 yards on the ground. The Vikings also won the turnover battle at 3 forced to 2 given away.
In almost every facet of the game (except some shoddy kick coverage), the Vikings dominated one of the NFL’s best teams, and they did it by beating the 49ers at their own game. The 49ers proved last season that by doing the little things and playing smart, physical football a team can quickly turn around its fortunes and become a championship-contender.
Now, I’m not suggesting that the Vikings are Super Bowl bound or that they’re even going to win their division. But if the Vikings can continue to emulate the 49ers’ formula, they will certainly be in a position to win football games and to potentially make the playoffs.
What will remain to be seen is if this was just a flash in the pan or if the Vikings can truly remake their identity. What remains to be seen is if the Vikings merely played one good game or if they can become a team that does all of the little things right to be competitive for a full season. Will the Vikings be the team that lost to the rebuilding Colts or the team that knocked off the championship-caliber 49ers? That remains to be seen.
Casey Johnson is a 2007 graduate of Jamestown High School. He is a contributor to the Opinion Corner