Opinion corner: Vikings keeping hope aliveCue the Bee Gees because Minnesota is “stayin’ alive” in the NFC playoff picture. Whether that joke is cheesy or not makes no difference because the message remains the same: Minnesota still has a shot at the playoffs. With all of the preseason doubt, the negativity around Christian Ponder’s poor play, and team’s overall inconsistency, this Vikings team, like Glad plastic wrap, is still somehow clinging to playoff hope.
By: Casey Johnson For The Sun, The Jamestown Sun
Cue the Bee Gees because Minnesota is “stayin’ alive” in the NFC playoff picture.
Whether that joke is cheesy or not makes no difference because the message remains the same: Minnesota still has a shot at the playoffs. With all of the preseason doubt, the negativity around Christian Ponder’s poor play, and team’s overall inconsistency, this Vikings team, like Glad plastic wrap, is still somehow clinging to playoff hope.
Minnesota’s 36-22 win on Sunday over St. Louis marks two straight games where the Vikings had to win, and did. They’ve awoken from their Rip Van Winkle-like slumber and have managed to revert back to their winning formula from the beginning of the season by playing solid defense, winning the turnover battle, minimizing mental errors, and playing a physically punishing brand of football on both sides of the ball.
Aside from some late, easy scores and passing yards that the Vikings gave up when they started to play a little prevent defense, Minnesota played as complete a game as they are probably capable of. They got exactly what they needed in terms of their quarterback play, rushing attack, defensive performance, and special teams.
Ponder, the new Trent Dilfer, did about the extent of what he is capable of and exactly what his coaches asked him to do. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, to his credit, found ways to put him in comfortable situations where there was limited risk and difficulty, and Ponder did his part by taking care of the football and by making accurate throws. And, for as much as I have criticized Ponder, I will admit that his performance, like a turkey sandwich, was quite satisfactory, and his overall play on the opening drive really set the tone right out of the gate.
The early score was big because Minnesota is a team built to play from ahead. The Vikings don’t really have the ability to play catch up because they don’t have a quarterback that can make big plays, but when they get a lead, it allows them to ride Adrian Peterson to the max. Sunday’s game was certainly no exception.
Just one play after the Rams had tied the score at 7-7, Peterson immediately yanked back the momentum for the Vikings by taking a delayed handoff 82 yards for a touchdown. Prior to that run, St. Louis had bottled up Adrian like a Budweiser, as he had a total of just 8 yards on his first eight carries. If that St. Louis beer bottling reference isn’t quite making sense, ask your parents. Anyway, that explosive run was just another display of Adrian’s awe-inspiring, home run hitting ability. For the game, he rushed for an eye-widening 212 yards on 24 carries. Right now, he simply cannot be held in check.
Not to beat a dead horse, but he is truly having one of the most remarkable seasons of any running back in NFL history. With two games to play, Peterson already has the 19th-highest single season rushing total in NFL history, and with his current superhuman play, he has the single season record squarely in his sights.
When asked after the game if he thinks that he’ll break the record, without hesitation, he responded that he believes he will. And it wasn’t that he was responding with arrogance or cockiness, like an egotistical jerk. He responded as if it was a mere fact that he is unstoppable right now and that he’ll get the 294 yards needed to break the record. And I’m sure that few would disagree with him, especially those that have just been subjected to his feats of strength and rushing ability.
As I continue to recount the reasons that the Vikings were able to chalk up another key win, I would have to be stupid if I didn’t mention the fact that their defense, in addition to getting significant pressure on the quarterback, made key plays to put points on the board for the second straight week. In the second quarter on Sunday, Minnesota turned two St. Louis turnovers into 10 points in a matter of roughly just 2 1/2 minutes, and it helped to blow the game open.
The first was merely good fortune, as Sam Bradford couldn’t handle a snap. Blair “The Mayor” Walsh then continued his amazing rookie season by nailing a 50-yard field goal, one of his five field goals on the day, to capitalize on the turnover. However, the other turnover was far more impressive.
On a third and nine and nine from the St. Louis 21-yard line, Sam Bradford took a shotgun snap and searched for an open receiver. With the intent of confusing the young quarterback, Minnesota brought a late blitz from Bradford’s blindside and had Everson Griffen drop back into coverage from his right defensive end position.
As Bradford was about to get leveled by Jared Allen, he decided to release a pass over the middle. But he never recognized that Griffen was right in his throwing lane. Like a tight end, Griffen snared the pass out of the air and sprinted with astounding speed for pay dirt. He held the ball in one hand like he was Deion Sanders returning a pick, and he stiff-armed a Rams’ receiver at the 10-yard line to clear his path to the end zone. It was an unreal athletic display not befit for a defensive lineman. Although, Vikings fans have probably become accustomed to Griffen’s unique physical abilities, as he’s also most likely the only defensive lineman in the NFL to also see occasional time as a gunner on the punt coverage team.
From there, the Vikings took their foot off of the gas and coasted to the win. Although, I will admit that, like a spatially inconsiderate superior with coffee breath, the game got uncomfortably close for a minute, given that Minnesota’s 33-7 lead was cut to just 11 points at one time in the fourth quarter.
Yet, despite these great storylines and another enjoyable win, Minnesota has two tall obstacles in front of them that they’ll have to scale in order to grab the final Wild Card spot. They play at Houston Sunday against the 12-2 Texans, and in the season finale the following week, the Vikings face the 10-4 Packers at home with the hope of securing a playoff berth.
Regardless of their opponents and the positions that they are in, the Vikings hold their fate in their own hands. They have two games left, and they need to win them both. It’s going to be harder than getting Leslie Frazier to raise his voice, but if the Vikings can somehow manage to pull off two wins, they will have truly earned a playoff spot.
And who knows, in the words of a former Minnesota sports icon, “Anything is possible!”
Casey Johnson is a frequent contributor to the Opinion Corner