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Reason to Believe: The Vikings Beat the Redskins Instead of Themselves

Just to keep things interesting and keep everyone guessing, on Sunday the Minnesota Vikings beat the Washington Redskins 17 to 13 at FedEx Field. In what’s becoming the theme of the 2010 season, expect the unexpected from this team. The Vikings have lost games they were expected to win and now they’ve won a game they were expected to lose. And that’s a big, hairy deal.

Let’s forget for a moment that just about every analyst out there agrees that the Redskins are a “mediocre at best” team and appreciate what a rare and wonderful thing it is to see the Vikings to truly play as a team this season. It wasn’t pretty or perfect, but in a wonderfully unspectacular fashion the Vikings learned from and limited their mistakes, capitalized on the Redskins’ mistakes (How great was E.J. Henderson’s interception off a tipped Donovan McNabb pass?), and won. I don’t care how much analysts might downplay this Viking victory, a win is a win. You don’t get extra points for style.

It was reported last week that interim head coach Leslie Frazier, in order to set the tone for the rest of the season played some mood music during practice. So, let’s enjoy Coach Frazier’s musical selection and a look at why things are looking up. You know, besides the fact that the Vikings won.

Last week, with the firing of Brad Childress as the Vikings head coach and naming Leslie Frazier as the interim head coach, I thought it would be wise to cultivate low expectations for Sunday’s game in Washington. After all, the Vikings hadn’t won on the road in more than a year, they would be playing outside, and they had a new coach.

Despite all the reasons why Sunday’s game could have been yet another disappointing loss in a season full of disappointing losses, the Vikings won. And, their win was as much about the things they weren’t doing as it was about the things they were doing. Unlike recent Vikings’ performances, during Sunday’s game the Vikings didn’t sabotage their success with the things that have plagued them all season.

  • Turnovers. The most notable difference between Sunday’s game and other games this season was that the Vikings’ offense did not turn the ball over—no fumbles, no interceptions, nada. It was nice to see the Vikings make the Redskins work to get the ball back. While the coverage teams have performed poorly, it still seems like a better option than simply handing possession over with turnovers and interceptions. And that goes back to the ball security that Frazier emphasized to players leading up to Sunday’s game. I read that Frazier told players to protect the ball as if it was an injured child. That’s the kind of image that will stick with a person, and maybe that’s why instead of forcing throws, Brett Favre was willing to take a couple sacks.
  • Penalties. On Sunday the Vikings were flagged three times for penalties for 15 yards while the Redskins were flagged six times for 35 yards. Honestly, the Vikings having only three penalties almost surprises me more than the Vikings not turning the ball over in Sunday’s game. Sloppy play has resulted in costly penalties all season, putting the Vikings at a yardage disadvantage and negating good plays. It was a nice change to see that the brilliant play on a punt return that was negated by a penalty was against the Redskins and not the Vikings.
  • Playing to strengths. Prior to Sunday’s game I read that Frazier was going to listen to Favre’s advice. Novel idea that, listening to the guy who has played for two decades and is older than some of the coaching staff. And, during the week Favre said that one of the problems is that offensive strategy gets too complicated. His point was that if a team executes plays well, then it doesn’t matter if a defense knows it’s coming or not, that defense still has to stop it. Well, Sunday’s game was a good example of exactly that. The offensive play-calling wasn’t electric, but it played to Favre’s strength with plenty of bootleg plays called that had him rolling out of the pocket. And, even though after the first Minnesota possession of the game the Redskins had to know the Vikings were going to run the ball a whole lot, they still weren’t able to prevent the Vikings from rushing for 137 yards.
  • Resilience. There were mistakes and misfortunes during Sunday’s game. The Redskins marched 83 yards for a touchdown on their first possession and they converted on third downs. Ray Edwards and Adrian Peterson both came out of the game with ankle injuries. But despite the rocky defensive start and the injuries, the Vikings found a way to regroup and battle through to win. After Washington’s first drive the Vikings allowed only three more third down conversions the entire game and Toby Gerhart and Brian Robison both stepped up with solid performances when Peterson and Edwards were injured. With as much as this team as gone through this season, it wouldn’t be surprising if they had used up all their resilience, but it looks like they found a previously untapped supply.

Clearly, the Vikings will have to work very hard and have some very good luck if they are going to have even the hope of winning a Wild Card for the playoffs. But, strange stuff happens every week in the NFL so until the Vikings are absolutely eliminated from playoff contention, I’m going to hold onto hope that a talented team with a new coach and the resolve not to quit has a shot.

*This entry is also posted at http://www.dailynorseman.com/ under the name Skol Girl. She’s my alter ego and she is really, really into the Minnesota Vikings.

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Posted by on December 2, 2010 in Brett Favre, Football, Lifestyle

 

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Optimism Going, Going, Gone

I keep looking for the silver lining in the 2010 Minnesota Vikings season, but that’s a tough sell. After nine games the Vikings have a 3-6 record meaning they’ve lost two thirds of the games they have played this season.

To say that my optimism is wearing thin would be an understatement.

If this were a rebuilding year that would be one thing, but this is a veteran team with so many Pro Bowl players you can’t swing a cat without hitting one. Experienced players, who are some of the best in the NFL at their respective positions, playing this poorly is hard to fathom. No matter how we break down Sunday’s loss to the Bears in Chicago it simply amounts to more of the same stuff that’s plagued the Vikings all season.

Despite a hopeful, if not electric, start, Sunday’s game quickly devolved. Considering the dramatic way the Vikings won against the Arizona Cardinals, suddenly playing the way they did last season, I held onto hope as long as I could on Sunday. Somewhere in the fourth quarter I quit taking notes on the game and started hopping around the room because if the Vikings were going to wage a comeback, they needed to do it right then. Well, on Sunday there was no comeback.

Regardless of Chicago’s record, they aren’t really that good*. However, they didn’t have to be that good, they just needed to be a little better than the Vikings and the Vikings have been making that far too easy for opposing teams. The secret to Chicago’s success on Sunday isn’t surprising or complicated, they converted on third downs, they had good returns from kick-offs and punts, they had receivers, and they scored in the red zone. Oh, and because it was their home field, they knew what cleats to wear to keep from slipping all over the field like Larry, Curly, or Moe at an ice rink.

I could look at the rest of the stuff that went wrong on Sunday, but I just don’t have the energy or the discipline for that kind of systematic misery. If the Vikings are going to make any kind of attempt to salvage this season, they have to win every remaining game, meaning the best they can do for the season is a 10-6 record. If they were playing every upcoming game in the Metrodome, that might be possible, but they won’t. They would have to win on the road to end the season at 10-6 and they haven’t managed to win on the road since November 2009.

The way this season is going, it seems a safe bet that Brad Childress won’t be the Vikings’ coach next season. A new coach generally means that at least a third of the current roster will be gone next season, but it could be more considering all the veterans the Vikings have. And, as if that wouldn’t bring enough uncertainty to next season, there is also the storm brewing between the NFL and the Players Association because of the collective bargaining agreement. Whatever happens next season, the Vikings will look very different.

But before any of that happens there are still seven more games this season. If this Vikings team is going to continue to try to turn things around, they don’t have much time. If they are just going to phone it in and wait for next season, it’s a mediocre eternity.

If the Vikings continue to play the way they are playing now and winning only at home, then they would win four more games and end the season 7-9. But, if they somehow manage to win all of the next seven games (not a strong possibility, I know), the Vikings might be in the running for a Wild Card spot in the play-offs. I don’t like seasons when the Vikings have to rely on getting a Wild Card, too many other things have to go their way for that to happen. Luck has been hard for the Vikings to come by and I wouldn’t expect luck to suddenly make a convenient appearance at this late hour. And, honestly, the Vikings need to start making their own luck. With all of their talent, you’d think they would have an advantage in that department.

No amount of uninspired play calling should excuse the lackluster play, the missed tackles, the failed third-down conversions, or the lack of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Even if Vikings players have changed their mindset from trying to win games to clock watching until the end of the season, the way they finish 2010 will tell teams considering signing Vikings players a lot about what they can expect from these players. Even if they aren’t interested in helping this team win anymore, players can’t honestly think that sub-par play will help them in free-agency.

Between self-interest and pride, one would hope that the Vikings could find a way to pull together and play the way they are capable of playing. If they can’t, then the next seven games will be pointless.

*I still maintain that the Lions should have won when they played the Bears on Week 1 of the season. The officials in that game robbed Calvin Johnson of his game-winning touchdown and I refuse to acknowledge it as a Chicago victory.

This piece is also posted at http://www.dailynorseman.com/ under my alter ego Skol Girl.

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2010 in Football, Lifestyle

 

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My Futile Resistance

With as much as he’s done to improve the Minnesota Vikings over his tenure as head coach, you’d think I’d be a big fan of Coach Brad Childress. I try to be. The Vikings record has steadily improved each year he’s been head coach and they’ve been the NFC North champions for the last two years. And yet, I still can’t quite give myself over to becoming a Brad Childress super fan.

The problem, for me, is that I’m beginning to suspect he’s a member of the Borg.

Looks a little like Coach Childress, don't you think? Well, maybe he needs a mustache and a clipboard.

In Star Trek the Borg run around sporting mechanical implants and spouting, “You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.” This comparison comes to mind because that is how I feel when Childress talks about Tavaris Jackson.

Whenever asked about the quarterback situation and the depth chart at that position Childress firmly tells us that he’s seen “an evolution” in Tavaris Jackson during training camp. I keep waiting for this much touted evolution to make itself visible on the field during a game. So Jackson looks basically the way he’s always looked to me—good arm, good athleticism, sketchy leadership, nervous under pressure. I’m not quite sure where the evolution is.

But despite the fact that I have yet to see the promised evolution, Childress says it so much, that I am beginning to feel that resistance really is futile. No matter what I see in his performance, Tavaris Jackson is still going to be the apple of Childress’ eye—I will eventually be assimilated. Maybe I’m just one game away from saying, “We are 3 of 4. Tavaris Jackson has evolved as a starting quarterback. He’s taking steps within the system. You will be assimilated.”

I’m just not there yet.

So far this preseason, Sage Rosenfels performance at quarterback has yielded better results than Jackson’s. After some rough and disorganized play from the Vikings offense during the St. Louis game, Rosenfels rallied his troops and led them down the field for not one, not two, but three touchdowns. Three.

Granted, that comparison is slanted because, as the presumed starter for the 2010 season Tavaris Jackson played very little. He also played relatively little in the games against the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks. While neither Jackson nor Rosenfels scored a touchdown in the game against San Francisco, Rosenfels did connect with Javon Walker for a touchdown in the Seattle game.

While the comparisons are slanted toward Rosenfels because Rosenfels took more snaps and thus had more opportunities to make plays, he still looked better at quarterback to me than Jackson. But, as Childress pointed out to me via the reporters for the Pioneer Press, I’m using the wrong criteria to evaluate the quarterbacks.

That’s right, I had things all ass-backwards. How a quarterback plays in an actual game (even a preseason one) isn’t how Childress and his staff are evaluating the quarterbacks for the depth chart. In the article “Odd Man Out?” by Jeremy Fowler of the Pioneer Press Childress said,

“You can say, ‘Well, it’s about the games,’” Childress said. “We give them opportunities based on what we see in practice.”

While I can see awarding opportunities based on how a player performs in practice, what a player actually does with those opportunities during a game seems, to me, like it ought to be the clincher. But that’s just me thinking winning games is more important than being brilliant on the practice field.

However, no matter how freaking fantastic Tavaris Jackson might have been in training camp, it still wasn’t good enough to prevent Childress from sending Ryan Longwell, Steve Hutchinson, and Jared Allen off to Mississippi to lean on (and, I suspect trank) Brett Favre, load him into the private jet, and get him to return to the Vikings for another season. Apparently, even Borg assimilation has it’s limits.

Viva la resistance!
*This piece is also posted at http://www.dailynorseman.com/ and http://vikingsmix.com/ under my alter ego Skol Girl.

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2010 in Football, Lifestyle

 

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Surly Summer: Favre Watch Takes a Toll on Sports Writers

Maybe we should blame it on the hot sticky weather in Minnesota, but some of the sports writers covering the Minnesota Vikings training camp in Mankato are beginning to sound surly. Normally I don’t read the Star Tribune. There isn’t a good reason for it, I just don’t feel like I have time to read both the Minneapolis and St. Paul papers. So imagine my surprise yesterday upon reading it to find just how wrathful the Star Tribune writers were becoming about Favre-a-palooza 2010.

Reading the remarkably cranky coverage in Minneapolis’ Star Tribune it sounded as if their collective undies were in a serious bunch. Honestly, I haven’t heard that much angry rhetoric outside of politics or a throw down between Team Edward and Team Jacob. To quote Jack Sparrow, after reading Chip Scoggins, Judd Zulgad, and Jim Souhan, I felt “sullied and unusual.”

I guess I just don’t understand why the late summer dance Favre does with retirement should provoke so much anger in the Trib’s writers. Shoot, if anyone should be irritable it is the Vikings players and organization, and they seem to be managing Indecision 2010 just fine.

More to the point, all the Favre drama with the annual “will-he-won’t-he play” stuff drums up reader interest. It makes for a much more interesting story than Albert Haynesworth not passing his conditioning test, or Adrian Peterson wanting to start talking new contracts already, or how Terrell Owens is fitting in with the Bengals.

Characterizing Brett Favre’s indecision as selfish, drama-queen behavior seems overly simplistic and petty. Football is not a sport that favors age, making Favre’s string of consecutive starts nothing short of epic. You’d have to wonder at his intelligence if he wasn’t weighing his desire to play against his body’s ability to handle another punishing season of football.

And it isn’t as if we don’t know what happens if he doesn’t return to play for the Vikings this season, Tavaris Jackson will start at quarterback. Coach Brad Childress keeps telling us that Tavaris Jackson is continuing to take steps in learning the system and running the offense. Seriously, Childress repeats it like a mantra. While T-Jack has displayed good athleticism, he has yet to show that he has the mental toughness to be a premiere NFL quarterback. Maybe that is simply inexperience, or maybe he was never as good as Childress thought when they drafted him. At any rate, it is likely that Jackson will be the starter this season if Favre doesn’t return.

With Favre taking the snaps on a Vikings team that is largely unchanged since last season, the Vikings are a major threat. With Jackson taking the snaps the Vikings will not have as good a chance to win the NFC north or anything else. Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler both are better than Jackson, and I might even be tempted to add Matt Stafford to that group too—the rookie got pummeled last season and rather than looking panicked when he’d take a hit, he looked annoyed. That’s the kind of crazy an NFL quarterback needs to have.

Whatever Favre should decide, I beseech the embittered writers at the Star Tribune to remember, it’s not personal, it’s business. And as long as people want to know what Brett Favre is doing, business is good.

This post as well as all my other Vikings posts are also available at http://vikingsmix.com/ under the name Skol Girl.

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2010 in Brett Favre, Football

 

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My Vikings Training Camp Wish List

It’s been six long months since the Minnesota Vikings lost to the New Orleans Saints on January 24, 2010. It might take the edge off of my football withdrawal if I could get into baseball, but when I’m craving smash mouth football complete with calf-roping antics, baseball doesn’t quite do it for me.

But now it’s late July and soon, tantalizingly soon, Minnesota Vikings training camp will start up again and we’ll get to see what kind of a shot at redemption the veteran-heavy team has for the coming season. For a football-deprived fan like myself, it feels like Christmas in July. Truly. I’m filled with as much joy and anticipation for the start of training camp as I was when I was seven and hoping for a Cabbage Patch Kid.

So, in the spirit of Christmas, I’m making out my wish list for the coming season. How weird and wonderful would it be if a sleigh pulled by eight tiny linebackers landed on my rooftop and a jolly giant like, say, Pat Williams hopped down the chimney to deliver everything on my list? Well, a girl can dream.

Wish #1

Doubtless, this is at the top of many people’s lists, but it would be so very nice if Brett Favre came back to the Vikings for another season. Kind of a no-brainer wish. However, the chances of Brett Favre making a return in time for or during training camp isn’t likely given his well-documented disdain for training camp. Still, this is a wish list, not a likely list—might as well aim high.

Wish #2

Adrian Peterson is a dynamic, hard-working running back. Every time he gets the ball he pours his heart and soul into trying to make something happen. Here’s a thought:  How about you hang onto the ball. While not as flashy as a break-away run into the end zone, reducing fumbles and turnovers probably would have won that NFC championship game against the Saints.

Wish #3

He’s big and he, occasionally, shows flashes of ability that validate the Vikings decision to keep him around, but I would dearly love to see Bryant McKinnie play up to his potential every game, not one in five. If Favre does return, then, for the love of Zeus, protect the guy! Last year Julius Peppers pushed 6’8” 330lb Bryant McKinnie around like McKinnie was on castors. I don’t know if that means Peppers is jus that good or if McKinnie is just that lazy. During the off-season Peppers signed with the Chicago Bears meaning the Vikings will have to face him at least twice next season.

Wish #4

Please, oh please, don’t let Brad Childress’s decision to bring in Rhys Lloyd mess up Ryan Longwell’s head or kicking consistency. While bringing in Lloyd to pin opposing offenses against their end zones is great, Longwell says kick-offs give him a chance to get a feel for field conditions before he kicks for points. Longwell is money in the bank, don’t throw him off his game.

Wish #5

I love linebackers. Leber, Greenway, Farwell, they make me smile. But, and I don’t say this lightly, I really, really love E.J. Henderson. Most of his highlights show him flying Super Man style to make a tackle. Who doesn’t love seeing that? And with a healthy Henderson at middle, I like the Vikings chances of forcing three-and-outs much better. So, here’s hoping that E.J. Henderson is back to his pre-injury form and that his season isn’t cut short with an injury the way it has been for the past two years.

Wish #6

Maybe it’s because I added his jersey to my collection, or maybe it’s because I like seeing an under-dog come out on top, but I would dearly love to see Sidney Rice build on the amazing season he had last year. A participant at Larry Fitzgerald’s summer training camp, last season Rice debunked the theory that he was a draft bust. Let’s hope that this season, regardless of who is ultimately playing quarterback for the Vikings, he proves that last season’s performance is just the start of many good things.

Well, a football fan could keep wishing all day, but I think six is a good place to stop. Something tells me that as the Vikings training camp heats up there will be plenty of new things to wish for.

*This piece is also posted at http://www.vikingsmix.com under my other alias, Skol Girl.

http://vikingsmix.com/2010/07/training-camp-wish-list.html

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2010 in Brett Favre, Football

 

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Deja Favre

In this changing world it should be reassuring that some things never change. However, when one of those non-changing things is the “will-he-play-or-not” dance between the Minnesota Vikings and Brett Favre, it’s debatable just how reassuring sameness really is.

Reading the paper this week I was having a serious case of déjà vu. Once again Brad Childress was in Mississippi chatting with Brett Favre and trying to find out if he wants to come back for another season in the NFL. Once again every sports reporter worth his jockstrap* is asking every Vikings player and coach he can find if they think Favre is going to play for the Vikings. Once again, no one will probably know anything until after training camp.

Last year Brett Favre proved that he could miss training camp and play football just fine. Better than fine. With the Vikings Brett Favre posted one of his best years ever. That strikes me as an incredible fete considering that even if his mechanics were great he still didn’t know his teammates and what their tendencies and abilities were.

Maybe it’s because I’m drawing on last year’s experience where I got all worked up about the possibility of Favre coming to Minnesota, despaired when he refused, and then rejoiced when Childress picked him up at the airport, but I’m promising myself that this year will be different. This year I will not succumb to apoplexy with every little update on what the MVP quarterback thinks or feels. Nope, I’m practicing being cool as a cucumber, taking deep cleansing breaths, and just waiting this one out. Valium may also be employed to keep me in a Zen-like mindset. And I think there is some justification for that approach.

With the exception of the loss of Chester Taylor and Artis Hicks and the addition of Toby Gerhart, the offense is essentially the same as it was last year. So unlike this time last year, Favre knows his teammates and their capabilities. Seems to me that would be a very important factor in Favre’s decision-making process. He can weigh what he knows of those players against their chances of winning a championship.

He also knows that, with the possible exception of Tavaris Jackson, his teammates appreciated him and want him back—no training camp, no problem. By all accounts, the Vikings players embraced Brett Favre like a legend, a coach, and a friend all rolled into a grubby hat and hooded sweatshirt. Loyalty and admiration seem to have been part of the intangible “it” factor that helped the Vikings to win the NFC north last season for the second year in a row. For as much as football players are professionals who are paid to perform, and for as much as they are also competitors who want to win because they like it, after a loss Vikings players routinely expressed sadness that they hadn’t won for Favre. Are you kidding me? There’s a dome full of fans, there’s an even larger audience watching on television, there are disgruntled owners and coaches, but the players said they wanted to win for Brett Favre.

To a guy who felt, justified or not, as if the Green Bay Packers gave him the professional equivalent of “It’s not us, it’s you” and “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out”, knowing that nearly everyone (again, T-Jack might not be so keen on it) in the organization appreciates his contribution and wants him to return has to be like ambrosia. More than any assurances Childress and Rick Spielman make, I would imagine that all that goodwill and appreciation could be the deciding factor.

So, that is why I’m going to keep practicing my yoga breathing and make an effort not to get too worried every time Coach Childress mutters into is mustache something inconclusive about the Favre situation.

*Yes, I know there are some women who report on football, but, by and large, the area is dominated by men.

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2010 in Brett Favre, Football

 

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Brooking No Opposition

Was it Abraham Lincoln who said, “Better to be silent and thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt”? Too bad Dallas Cowboys linebacker Keith Brooking didn’t embrace that saying. Instead, following the Minnesota Vikings fourth touchdown pass, this time to Visanthe Shiancoe,  Brooking said the Vikings showed a lack of class, running up the score when Minnesota’s victory was secure. Apparently, despite talking trash about the Vikings for executing a winning game-plan and failing to help his team neutralize the scoring threat of Brett Favre and company, Keith Brooking is a really classy guy. Yes, he’s the kind of Boy Scout who followed Brett Favre to the sideline after that touchdown, making threats to Favre’s back the whole way.

Brookings was hardly the sole person to show the Vikings a decided lack of respect heading into Sunday’s game, just the last and loudest one to voice it. Absent from the cameras during their bye week while the media gushed about the Cowboys’ decisive victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card round, it seemed everyone assumed the Cowboys would stomp the Vikings and face the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship game. And, even the normally deadpan Brad Childress stated how sick they were getting about hearing how the Cowboys were going to ride in from Texas on their wave of momentum and just roll over the Vikings.

But, rather than counter all the pro-Cowboy sentiment flying around with words, Childress focused his team in what appeared to be the spirit of another former president, Teddy Roosevelt. The Vikings may have talked softly during the last week, but on Sunday they carried a very big stick. And, they used it to beat the Cowboys silly.

To say that the Vikings beat the Cowboys on every game front doesn’t quite do justice to the total ass-kicking that they dealt the Cowboys in Sunday’s showdown. The Vikings absolutely dominated every aspect of the game, offense, defense, special teams.

It wasn’t as if the Cowboys weren’t putting in the effort on Sunday, they just didn’t seem to have enough effort to win. They had some success completing short passes to Jason Witten, kicking the ball deep so the Vikings couldn’t return it, and sacking Favre three times. However good that was, their effort was no match for the Vikings, who prevented the Cowboys from scoring even one touchdown, or getting decent field position on a kick return, or keeping Favre in the pocket.

On Monday as I watched Sunday’s game highlights, the thing that struck me was that, while there were clearly a few Vikings that had an uber spectacular game (Sidney Rice, Ray Edwards, Ben Leber spring to mind), overall, the entire team played great, no goats to be found. In light of the entire team’s brilliant performance, that final touchdown to Shiancoe was simply the product of a tremendous, sustained, four-quarter effort from the Vikings. And it seems like that should be a measure of respect and class in the NFL—preparing for an equal opponent all week and playing them all four quarters as if they could rally at any time—not playing down to save a whiny linebacker’s feelings.

*This piece is also posted at vikingsmix.com under my alter ego Skol Girl, where you can find Vikings-related news stories and blogs.

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2010 in Brett Favre, Football

 

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