At the end of the 2006 NFL season, Minnesota Vikings' head coach Brad Childress benched struggling quarterback Brad Johnson in favor of raw rookie Tarvaris Jackson. The results were predictable, with the Vikings struggling down the stretch, largely as the result of poor quarterback play.
"Be patient," Childress replied to agitated Vikings' fans, "the fruits of the change will be evident soon enough." So confident was Childress in his assessment of the progression of his rookie quarterback that he entered the 2007 season with Jackson as his starter ahead of two backups with limited and mostly uneventful playing careers in the NFL.
When Jackson went down with an injury against the Detroit Lions in overtime this season, Childress summoned backup number one, the guy who purportedly knew "the system" and was prepared to run it, Brooks Bollinger.
After an inauspicious showing in limited playing time against the Lions, including a sack and a fumble, Childress had seen enough. "Calm down," he again told the Vikings' fan base, "the guy who really knows how to run the system will be ready to go next week."
For the next two weeks, Vikings' fans got a glimpse of journeyman Kelly Holcomb, who, for those delusional enough to believe otherwise, quickly demonstrated why he has been nothing more than a backup for most of his overly long NFL career.
"What now, coach?" The fans implored.
"Look, we've got our guy ready to go," Childress replied. "Tarvaris will be ready to go after the bye week. He's the guy we need in there. He's the guy that gives us the best chance to win."
The bye week came and went and, as promised, Jackson returned to the helm as quarterback of the local squad. With his head coach holding his breath from the sideline, Jackson led the Vikings' down the field for an 11-play, 69-yard, touchdown, featuring 27 yards rushing from Adrian Peterson, 21 yards rushing from Chester Taylor, 6 yards rushing from Jackson, and 15 yards passing from Jackson. Childress wiped his brow. He should have waited.
For the remainder of the game, the Vikings totaled 127 yards of offense, with 50 yards of passing offense on 4 of 16 passing. The results proved one of two things. Either Jackson is not capable of running Childress' system and should not be in the game or Jackson is not capable of running Childress' system but is less incapable than are either Bollinger or Holcomb.
Either conclusion is sobering, if anyone needed any sobering of their expectations about the Vikings, but neither is very satisfying. If the problem is the quarterback, the Vikings have wasted a season of good defense to push a quarterback not ready to play in the NFL. If the problem is the system, the Vikings have wasted two seasons, and possibly more, on a coach seemingly unwilling to or incapable of making the necessary changes.
Up Next: The Price of Performance. Plus, behind the numbers.