Win provides faint hopeThere’s no place like the Dome. Oh wait, Mall of America Field. My apologies. Regardless of the name of the building, home-field advantage was just the right medicine for the stumbling Vikings. Sunday’s 21-14 win against Chicago pushed the Vikings’ home record to a robust 6-1 on the season, and if even for just one more week, it kept the Vikings’ very slim playoff hopes alive.
By: Casey Johnson For The Sun, The Jamestown Sun
There’s no place like the Dome. Oh wait, Mall of America Field. My apologies.
Regardless of the name of the building, home-field advantage was just the right medicine for the stumbling Vikings. Sunday’s 21-14 win against Chicago pushed the Vikings’ home record to a robust 6-1 on the season, and if even for just one more week, it kept the Vikings’ very slim playoff hopes alive.
Adrian Peterson certainly did his part. He got the Vikings out to a fast start on Sunday with yet another cartoon double-take inspiring run. On Minnesota’s first play from scrimmage, Peterson surged through Chicago’s nine-man front, bounced to the outside, and stiff-armed his way to 51 yards. Just a few plays after that scamper, Peterson was able to punch in a 1-yard touchdown run. On the drive, Peterson rushed for 69 of the Vikings’ 80 yards. So, sorry Christian Ponder advocates, but the Vikings made it clear early that this was going to be Adrian’s game.
Adrian the Alpha Male set the tone early, and despite everyone in the universe knowing that he would touch the ball as much as possible, he still managed 154 yards and two touchdowns. In doing so, he kept his average yards per game over the last seven games at an otherworldly clip of 157 yards, and he now has 1,600 yards with three games to go. It is certainly a tall order, but for the sake of letting our imaginations run wild, let’s consider the possibility of Adrian maintaining that pace over the next three games.
If he could do that, which is, obviously, a big if, he would become just the seventh running back in NFL history to eclipse 2,000 yards in one season, and he would have the second-highest single-season rushing total in NFL history. The record is 2,105 yards by Eric Dickerson, but as you rub your eyes and pinch yourself, as good as Adrian Peterson is, don’t write off that record just yet.
Indeed, again on Sunday, the Vikings’ offense relied almost completely on Peterson, and Ponder was given about as long of a leash as a quick-to-bolt child on a monkey backpack-leash at Disneyland. He was, virtually, only trusted with short, low-margin-of-error passes that the Vikings’ coaching staff thought he could not possibly screw up. I can only recall two passes that he threw deep down the field, and to his credit, one of those was a pretty good throw that Devin Aromashodu couldn’t make a play on. The other, to his discredit, was a horrible decision just before halftime, as he lobbed a pass deep downfield with three defenders on Jarius Wright. It was easily intercepted.
For the game, Ponder finished 11 of 17 passing for 91 yards. Now is the appropriate time to let out your exasperated sighs.
But on the plus side, it’s just the third time in 13 games that he has failed to surpass the 100-yards passing mark. Oh shoot, that’s right. This isn’t 1960, so that’s not a favorable stat.
However, for the first time since possibly week 7 against Arizona, the real storyline of the game was the relatively stout and opportunistic play of Minnesota’s defense. Sure, they gave up 320 passing yards to the NFL’s second-worst passing team (right in front of Minnesota in that category), and yes, they gave up 118 yards on the ground. But as a result of their, mostly, bend but don’t break performance, Minnesota managed to hold the Bears to just 14 points.
Furthermore, the Vikings’ defense was able to come up with two game-defining turnovers. Rookies Josh Robinson and Harrison Smith were the beneficiaries of two errant Jay Cutler passes, and both did a tremendous job of capitalizing on their interceptions. In both instances, the Vikings’ defenders did their best Chicago Bears impersonation by returning the interceptions into or near the end zone.
Robinson’s interception and the subsequent Peterson touchdown gave Minnesota an incredible start to the game. Coming off of two straight losses, both to divisional opponents, Minnesota needed to have some things go their way in order to regain a sense of belief that they could actually beat a good divisional foe.
In addition to that confidence boost and shot of life right out of the gate, it afforded Minnesota the ability to stick with their ground game. Because they established that lead and didn’t get behind early, they didn’t have to rely on Ponder to try to make plays through the passing game, which we all know is like asking a penguin to fly.
Then, in the third quarter, Harrison Smith snagged an overshot Cutler pass and returned it 56 yards for a touchdown. It was Smith’s third interception and second pick six in what is amounting to a very impressive rookie campaign.
Additionally, it came at a time when the Vikings’ offense hadn’t moved the ball past Chicago’s 48-yard line in their last six possessions. Minnesota’s offense was struggling, and it was starting to feel like just a matter of time before the Bears would tie the game and then take the lead.
The Vikings and their fans seem to know what they can expect from Ponder: very little. As a result, Peterson and the Vikings’ defense have to play phenomenally if they want to win games and stay in the playoff hunt over the next three weeks.
They got that type of play this week, which almost bites because now we have to go at least one more week thinking, “Well, they’re not totally out of it yet…”
Well, for all Vikings fans, including myself, that can’t seem to shed that last bit of hope that there might be some holiday miracle that allows the Vikings to sneak into the playoffs, I’m here to say that I think I know what we’re all going to be getting in our Christmas stockings: a big lump of disappointment.
Johnson is a frequent contributor to the Opinion Corner