Opinion Corner: Playoffs?: A perfect presentHo ho ho-ly Christmas miracle! Is it possible that the Minnesota Vikings have sailed away from the Island of Misfit Teams and positioned themselves as playoff contenders?
By: Casey Johnson For The Sun, The Jamestown Sun
Ho ho ho-ly Christmas miracle! Is it possible that the Minnesota Vikings have sailed away from the Island of Misfit Teams and positioned themselves as playoff contenders?
Just three weeks ago, that thought would’ve been more ludicrous than an orphaned human turned adopted elf saving Christmas and more improbable than a top hat bringing a snowman to life (if you couldn’t already tell, you should prepare yourselves for an onslaught of Christmas movie analogies).
Minnesota had lost five of seven games, they had a quarterback with a phobia of playing quarterback, they had faded from a surprise playoff hopeful to the team that many had expected they’d be all along, and they were playing uglier than Buzz’s girlfriend. The chances of them rising into playoff contention seemed slimmer than the chances of hitting a bad guy in the head with a brick from the top of a four-story house.
Yet, with their surprising 23-6 win over AFC-leading Houston on Sunday, the Vikings find themselves on a three-game win streak and just one win away from the playoffs.
The credit, first and foremost, must be given to the Vikings defense. Houston came into the game averaging 28.1 points per game, which was good for third best in the NFL. But on Sunday, the Vikings defense was stingier than Ebenezer Scrooge, and they left the Texans offense muttering unrecognizable curse words under their breath. It was the latest in a string of impressive defensive performances by the Vikings, and the defense’s stellar play has allowed the offense to stick to their run-first, ball-control style.
It was truly a complete and dominating defensive effort by the Vikings. Time after time, including on a key third and goal from the 1-yard line in the third quarter, Minnesota got tremendous interior pressure and caused havoc for Matt Schaub and the Texans running backs. You need look no farther than the fact that Arian Foster, the AFC’s rushing leader, totaled a measly 15 yards on 10 carries, and as a team, Houston rushed for just 34 yards on 16 carries.
Similarly, the Vikings secondary also played fantastic. It seemed that the return of starting cornerback Chris Cook provided a big lift, and safety Harrison Smith also made his presence felt throughout the game. Smith recorded a sack, a forced fumble, a huge tackle on a Texans’ third down conversion attempt, and a massive and legal wallop on Matt Schaub (incorrectly called illegal).
And as it turned out, Minnesota put up enough points on their first drive to win the game. After the Texans managed a field goal on their first possession, Minnesota marched 78 yards and took the lead for good on a touchdown pass from Christian Ponder to Kyle Rudolph “the red-nosed reindeer…..” Eh, forget it. That one is way too easy.
From that opening drive touchdown on, Minnesota was in control of the game. Adrian Peterson managed just a pedestrian performance of 86 yards on 25 carries, but fortunately, Ponder played well enough to pick up some of the Peterson slack.
I refuse to allow myself to be fooled enough by Ponder’s performance to believe that he is, for certain, the team’s long-term answer at quarterback, though. The offensive playbook is still far too dumbed down and simplified to have consistent success, and he still throws far too many “what the heck are you doing?” passes when under pressure that should be intercepted.
Nonetheless, I will admit that his ability, over the last few weeks, to play mostly intelligent football and to manage games is enough for the Vikings to be successful right now because of their improved defense and Peterson. Ponder has also displayed an exciting ability to make plays with his feet, which he showed again on Sunday, and he has been fairly accurate on the easy passes that Bill Musgrave has dialed up. And as such, it seems that my heart has grown three sizes for Christian Ponder in the last few weeks. Hopefully, he doesn’t force me to retreat to Mount Crumpit and relapse into disdain.
In this season of good cheer, I would like to also extend my appreciation for the improved work of Bill Musgrave. The Vikings offensive coordinator has done a tremendous job over the last couple of weeks in calling plays that are simple enough for Ponder to execute and, simultaneously, clever enough to be scoring sufficient points to win games. It seems that he has restored Christian’s confidence, and he has, obviously, done a good job of putting Peterson in a position to excel, as well.
Indeed football fans, that’s not the sound of sleigh bells ringing that you’re hearing. It’s the sound of the Vikings’ Gjallarhorn blowing. And it’s announcing that the Vikings are just a game away from getting what they want for Christmas: a Red Ryder carbine-action, two hundred shot Range Model air rifle. Oh wait, scratch that. Twenty-four hours of A Christmas Story can scramble a brain like a brick to the cranium. What I meant to say is that the Vikings are just a game away from getting a playoff berth.
And next week, we will all be granted the good fortune of watching the Vikings play the Packers to get that playoff spot. A Vikings-Packers matchup with playoff implications is truly the gift that keeps on giving. What more could you ask for, realistically, from a team that was 3-13 last season and ostensibly out of the playoff picture just three weeks ago?
A chance at the playoffs should give Vikings fans a happier holidays than a subscription to the jelly of the month club.
Casey Johnson is a frequent contributor to the Opinion Corner