After a 1-3 start to the 2008 NFL season, the Minnesota Vikings looked rudderless, armed with only two constants, a strong defense and an impotent offense. Worse yet, the team seemed to be mirroring, in play and in results, the performance of previous Brad Childress-coached Vikings' teams, holding on defense, genuflecting on offense, and losing in streaks.
With victories in 4 of their last five games, however, the Vikings have moved to 5-4, tied atop the NFC North with the Chicago Bears. Pessimists will look at the current winning streak and point to a similar streak last season after a similarly woeful start. The difference between this year and last year, however, is the difference between night and day.
In 2007, after beginning the season1-3 then 3-6, the Vikings temporary righted their record, winning five successive games to forge ahead to an 8-6 record. The 2007 winning streak was built on the back of solid, sometimes absurd defense, mostly suspect opposition, and the running of Adrian Peterson. Ultimately, it collapsed under the weight of its own expectations.
This year, the Vikings have rebounded from another miserable start on the strength not only of the team's defense, but also on the strength of offensive players other than Peterson. Nowhere was this more evident than in the first half of Sunday's 28-27 victory over the Green Bay Packers. In a game in which the defense stifled the Packers' offense, the Vikings countered the Packers in the first half by incorporating Bobby Wade, Visanthe Shiancoe, Jim Kleinsasser, Chester Taylor, and Gus Frerotte into the offense.
While the Vikings reverted to a conservative, predictable offense for portions of the second half, their first-half use of players paid dividends in the game-winning drive. That drive, a drive that road the success of Peterson roughing up the Packers' secondary, was made possible by the Vikings' first-half display of a professional offense. Without that display, the Packers would have committed to stopping Peterson and Frerotte might have thrown the fourth interception of what clearly was his worst day at the helm of the Vikings' offense.
Instead, the Packers respected the pass and hoped to match up against the run. The Vikings did their best to keep the Packers honest on the final drive, using Peterson in a manner that Childress repeatedly has contended the back is not suited to be used, as a receiver across the middle. The Vikings' plan worked, the Packers' failed.
The Vikings' victory on Sunday showed two things. It demonstrated that, despite the loss of a key defensive player, an offensive line that continues to play without a right tackle, and a special teams unit that cannot play an entire game, the team has sufficient talent to play with some of the better teams in the league. It also demonstrated that the Vikings can play some offense and that they can do so by incorporating all of their offensive players in a fashion that highlights the team's most talented offensive player.
The revelations might not only suffice to make the Vikings competitive in a weak NFC North, but might also make them competitive in the NFL in a season in which there are no dominant teams. That might not only make this a good season for the Vikings, but also a good one for a heretofore justifiably beleaguered head coach who is adding some on-field performance to his off-field effort to ingratiate himself to the fan base.
Up Next: Some Numbers. Plus, More on the Minnesota Amendment.