In Sunday afternoon's unexpected Vikings' romp over the San Diego Chargers, Vikings' rookie running back Adrian Peterson rushed for an NFL record 296 yards en route to ensuring the Vikings a victory and himself the rookie of the year award.
More substantial, however, than the Vikings' in-game accomplishments are the possible long-term repercussions of the solid victory. For, with the win, the Vikings likely saved head coach Brad Childress' job not only for next year, but for several years to come. Because, although Childress did little other than ride his best player, he at least showed the common sense finally to do that much on offense. And it might be all that the Vikings need in a terrifyingly awful NFC.
Things could still return to pre-Sunday form, however, if Childress does not take at least three significant lessons from Sunday's game. The first and most apparent being that Peterson needs to get the ball early and often. Far surpassing his highest carry total to date on Sunday, Peterson showed the ability to carry the load with little more than a sweat.
Is there concern that Childress will again pull back his ace offensive player in favor of a more even rotation system with backup Chester Taylor? Given that, despite running rough shod over the Chargers throughout much of the game, Peterson stood on the sidelines in favor of Taylor on what was then a critical redzone sequence certainly raises that possibility. But surely even Childress is aware that his career now rests squarely on acknowledging Peterson's value in the game versus on the sidelines.
The second lesson from Sunday's game is one for Childress as head of the coaching staff, but probably more properly directed at defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. That lesson is that pressure makes loose coverage seem quite a bit tighter. Despite allowing several Chargers' receivers to get free, second-year cornerback was beaten not once (at least not once that counted) on Sunday as Chargers' quarterback Philip Rivers received a healthy dose of pressure from all angles.
Not content to simply rely on his defensive ends to apply pressure on Rivers, Frazier more than once sent middle linebacker E.J. Henderson into the backfield, with one such episode leading to one of the better Vikings' defensive efforts since the Purple People Eaters roamed the field, with Henderson leaping over LaDainian Tomlinson into a stunned Rivers. That play was a microcosm of what the Vikings did well on defense on Sunday and what they will have to continue to do well against more experienced quarterbacks this year if they hope to get back into the race for a playoff spot.
The final lesson from Sunday's game, and the one lesson that seems most lost in the excitement over Peterson's outstanding performance, is that in the modern NFL the ability to complete a deep pass is a pre-requisite to an effective offense. For the Vikings, that lesson leads to the conclusion that that the team's starter for the remainder of the season must be Brooks Bollinger.
In the first half of Sunday's game, prior to Tarvaris Jackson's game-ending injury, Peterson rushed for sixty yards and one touchdown. Those are respectable numbers for many running backs in the NFL, but well below what Peterson has proven he is capable of producing if given an opportunity and even a modicum of breathing space.
In the second half of the game, with Bollinger at quarterback, Peterson ran for 236 yards and two touchdowns.
In the first half, the Vikings had seven possessions, averaged just under five plays per possession, going three and out twice and four and out twice en route to seven first-half points.
In the second half, the Vikings had six possessions (excluding their final possession during which they ran out the game clock), averaged just five plays per possession, never once going three and out, en route to four touchdowns.
After punting five times in the first half, the Vikings did not punt once in the second half, ending four drives with touchdowns and two others with fumbles.
The difference between the first and second half was the dominance of Peterson. But that dominance was made possible by the Vikings' ability to force the Chargers to respect the deep pass. The Vikings accomplished this very necessary task by showing pass on the first drive of the second half and proving it indelibly on the second drive of the second half when Bollinger hit little-used, rookie wide receiver Sidney Rice for a 40-yard touchdown. That play, along with the completed passes during the first drive of the second half, forced the Chargers to play honest defense. And that opened holes in the line for Peterson.
Childress has proven stubborn in the past, relenting only this week to calls to use Peterson more extensively. We shall soon know if he remains as stubborn about foisting upon the team a rookie quarterback who's not nearly as ready to start in the NFL as is the team's purported third-stringer, Bollinger. If Bollinger gets the nod in Green Bay next week, the Vikings just might turn a season that only last week appeared destined for one filled with ignominy into a possible playoff berth. If not...
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