The Minnesota Vikings entered Lambeau Field on Monday night a 2.5-point underdog. Nearly three and one-half hours later, they left the field five point losers, having fallen to the Green Bay Packers 24-19.
The Vikings' loss left current Vikings' head coach Brad Childress 0-5 against the Packers. Among those five losses have been three at Lambeau. In those three games, the Vikings have scored two offensive touchdowns--both this year.
That the Vikings' offense showed some life should not be surprising. After all, in the last two seasons, alone, the Vikings have added Adrian Peterson, Sidney Rice, and Bernard Berrian. On Monday night, each of these additions made good on some of their paycheck. Unfortunately, mistakes on the field and on the sidelines kept them from contributing more.
The mistakes began early for the Vikings with left tackle Artis Hicks getting flagged on the Vikings' opening drive, continued through poor coverage by Charles Gordon, and Ryan Cook's abysmal night, and finished with Tavaris Jackson serving up a gift to Green Bay safety, Atari Bigby.
The Vikings nearly survived their mistakes of commission thanks, in large part, to numerous Green Bay penalties, and some strong defensive play in short-field situations. The mistakes of omission were too much to overcome, however.
The most glaring mistake of omission was one that has become a constant of Childress' tenure in Minnesota, the failure to seize an opportunity when presented one on a golden platter.
The Packers did all that they could to make clear to Childress that they had no ability to stop Adrian Peterson in the flat or out of the backfield. Despite the Packers' kind gesture, Childress was adamant. Peterson would run up the gut and into a wall or not play.
And so Peterson obliged, running into eight, nine, even ten Packer defenders right behind the reverse-impenetrable Hicks, the nearly invisible Matt Birk, and the ever obstructive Cook. It was a recipe for limited yardage. And limited yardage, at least between the tackles where Peterson was asked to spend the bulk of his night running, is what Peterson amassed.
Outside the tackles and beyond the line of scrimmage, in the rarefied air into which few Vikings' plays go, the area of the plus-three-yard-pass, Peterson shone. There, Peterson made the Packers look silly and feeble, knocking Packer corner Al Harris five yards back on a tackle attempt in the first quarter.
But when the Vikings most needed Peterson, when everything about the game said that Peterson should be the focal point of any attempt to come from behind and steal victory, Peterson was on the sidelines, with his helmet off. Ron Jaworski attempted to paper over Peterson's absence, arguing that NFL players were not ready for a full game in week one given that few played any minutes in the final week of preseason. That, fortunately, was not Peterson's issue.
Instead, what ailed Peterson in the waning moments of Monday night's loss was his coach's inexplicable determination not to incorporate him into the passing game.
The argument has long been that Peterson is too young and too inexperienced to be incorporated into a passing game that requires him to block. There are, of course, two immediate queries to such a nonsensical contention. The first is whether Peterson, a second-year player, should be entrusted with running plays that first-year players Matt Forte and Felix Jones ran in week one for their respective teams? The second is why Peterson needs to be a skilled blocker when he's the object of the pass?
Not having Peterson in the game at a critical juncture is an obvious error of omission. Not using him in the passing game is another. Equally disconcerting an error of omission was Childress' continuing design of running the ball up the gut, calling plays short of the sticks, and using the pass only as a last resort.
How bad was it on Monday night? Late in the fourth quarter, with the Vikings down by two scores, Jaworski commented that he liked the fact that "Jackson was opening up his game with the deeper pass." Jackson had just attempted a seven-yard pass. That he missed the target horrifically was secondary to the stark reality that the Vikings' offense remains what it has been the first two seasons under Childress, mostly gutless and boring beyond description.
As a result, the outcome of the game never seemed in doubt. Though the Vikings forced the Packers to punt in the final minute of the game, Jackson's interception was a most appropriate ending, highlighting the lack of emphasis that the Vikings place on the passing game, with or without Peterson.
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