Reading the sports page is much more fun after a Vikings win than after a loss. This season, the sting has been taken out of most Mondays because I can relive the Minnesota Vikings’ Sunday win, play-by-play while I drink my coffee. However, this Monday the play-by-play picked apart what went wrong during the Minnesota Vikings loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday night. And, what went wrong, was pretty much everything.
From offense, to defense, to special teams, the Vikings were not looking like a Super Bowl-bound team. They looked so bad that executives at NBC probably wondered why they decided to flex the game and show it on Sunday night to a national audience—no doubt, a poorly paid intern will be savagely beaten for this oversight.
There are multiple theories about why the Vikings played so poorly, but I’m leaning toward alien abduction. The pod people left in place of the Vikings players who are now having a close encounter with an alien proctologist did not have enough time to understand and execute the team’s game-plan for Sunday night. Think I’m wrong? Well, maybe I am, but how do you explain the dramatic failure and rampant mediocrity the Vikings (a team dominating Pro Bowl voting) displayed in every facet of the game? See, alien abduction is looking more plausible all the time.
Perhaps it is my natural Scandinavian pessimism, but when things look too good I begin to wonder what will go wrong. The Minnesota Vikings were looking good, like this was THE year when they would go to the Super Bowl and win. And a big part of the reason for that was the Favre Effect—as Brett Favre goes, so goes his team. He’s a difference maker.
Until Sunday’s game it was safe to say that the Vikings 40-year-old quarterback was playing as well as he has ever played. And, when Brett Favre is playing well he brings out the best in the players around him, but I remember back to the days when he was wearing the dreaded green and gold that if the Vikings defense could put enough pressure on him, get in his face often enough, that he would get rattled and throw incompletions and interceptions.
Well, that’s exactly what the Cardinals were able to do Sunday night. They exploited a dinged-up Vikings offensive line, got in Favre’s face, and, like the ghost of seasons past, he threw incompletions and interceptions. Forced to throw because the Cardinals completely denied the Vikings offense any chance to rev up the run game, the Cardinals defense prevented the Vikings offense from being able to complete passes, making the Vikings go three-and-out way too many times to win. But the Favre Effect continued when the Vikings defense took the field, partly because, with the offense going three-and-out, the defense was on the field a lot—getting tired, getting hurt. Kurt Warner, given good protection by his offensive line, picked the Vikings apart through the air without getting sacked even once. Not only that, but the Cardinals managed to sneak in some effective run plays as well. By the end of the game the Cardinals were looking like the NFC defending champs that they were and the Vikings were looking more like, well, dispirited pod people.
It seems the slow-starts and the missed tackles that marred the beginning of the Vikings season have returned to plague them just when they should be fine-tuning their play in preparation for their much-lauded post-season run. And now, not only do they have to return to the basics of protecting Favre, finding a way to run the ball, and making tackles, they have to do it missing key players.
The Vikings’ loss to the Cardinals may be a wake-up-call rather a death knell, pointing out weaknesses that they can correct before the play-offs and serving as a reminder to stay focused. Considering that the team is comprised of group of highly paid professionals who like winning, I think it is safe to assume that these lessons will be learned. And, I hope that Jared Allen’s predictions for the can of whoop-ass that they will open on the Cincinnati Bengals when Vikings seek to redeem themselves next Sunday is prophetic rather than testosterone-fueled bravado, wins go much better with coffee.