Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ever the Contrarians Vikings Move to Within One Game of Playoffs

To be sure, the Arizona Cardinals were ripe for an upset. The Cardinals have no running game of which to speak, they frequently cede early leads, and they already had clinched their division with only home-field advantage left to play for. And there was the fact that the Cardinals were the favorites on Sunday.

Without even checking the history books, nearly every Vikings' fan knows when the Vikings are most poised for victory or defeat. The Vikings lose when they should win and win when they should lose. Today, the Vikings won when all signs pointed to a loss, albeit a close loss.

That the Vikings were starting a quarterback who had been demoted to backup without a clear future was only the first sign of foreboding to the uninitiated prior to Sunday's game in the desert. There was also the issue of who the Vikings were facing--the NFL's top-ranked quarterback and equally impressive receiving corps. Add to the mix the fact that the Vikings were on the road and all signs pointed to a closely managed loss.

But things did not go according to script on Sunday. Or they did.

Rather than cede a lead, the Vikings' special teams established an early lead on a long punt return by Bernard Berrian. The run continued with the Vikings and Jackson going to the air. Despite finishing the game with a mere 169 yards passing, Jackson connected for four touchdowns on only 11 completions.

It was good strategy for the Vikings, the kind that this team has lacked in all but the most precious of moments during head coach Brad Childress' tenure with the Vikings. Rather than rely exclusively on the run with Jackson in the game for an injured Gus Frerotte, the Vikings immediately went to the air. And, if it is possible to claim to have stayed with the passing game when the team passed only 17 times, the Vikings did just that, with Jackson identifying not one, not two, but three wide receivers on a team heretofore suspected of having a single wideout.

After building a lead in uncharacteristic passing fashion, Childress turned to Adrian Peterson to rip off chunks of yardage and run down the game clock. It looked competent, it looked competitive, it looked Giant-esque.

The question of many Vikings' fans--one offered in previous seasons after similar impressive victories--is where this game plan and result have been for the better part of three seasons. If the Vikings continue with this philosophy for the final two games of the regular season and into the playoffs, that question will die down. If not, those suspicious of Childress' approach to coaching will only have more ammunition for their critiques.

Up Next: The Williams' Challenge. Plus, playoff bound.

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