The Minnesota Vikings defeated the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in a manner justifying the Vikings' off-season courtship and pre-season signing of former Packers' quarterback, Brett Favre. Inside two minutes to play, and trailing by four without any timeouts, Favre led the Vikings methodically down the field, hitting little-used Greg Lewis on a 32-yard rope for the receiver's first reception of 2009.
Favre's touchdown pass to Lewis rallied the Vikings from what appeared to be a near-certain loss, propelling the club to 3-0 heading into next Monday night's game against Green Bay. The drama was made for FOX and the NFL, but that there was so much drama at the end of the game ought to have had many players, coaches, and fans, alike, shaking their heads in bewilderment.
Entering the game as a mere 1.5 point home favorite over the formerly woebegone 49ers, the Vikings took advantage of the early departure of San Francisco running back, Frank Gore, holding the 49ers to 11 first downs from the line of scrimmage and to 0-11 on third-down conversion attempts.
Normally, no matter the offensive endeavor, that's the kind of stifling defense that produces a lop-sided victory. Not for Minnesota on Sunday, however. And much of that has to do with the Vikings' two greatest issues entering the season. Those issues, concerns about offensive line play and offensive play-calling, at least partially abated in Vikings' week one and two victories.
The concerns were far more glaring against the more capable 49er's, however, and nearly cost the Vikings a victory. Throughout the game, Vikings' center, John Sullivan, struggled to control the pass rush or provide any semblance of blocking on running plays, Bryant McKinnie proved once again slow in his lateral movements, and Phil Loadholt, though generally good throughout the game, drew air in attempting to block his man on a Vikings' field-goal-attempt turned touchdown for the 49ers.
The problems along the offensive line have been a constant for the Vikings for years, pre-dating Brad Childress' arrival in Minnesota. That points to the difficulty in resurrecting a porous offensive line, but also highlights for the Vikings one of the team's short-comings.
Playing in a contract season in 2008, former Vikings' center, Matt Birk, was open about his desire to stay in Minnesota under the right circumstances. The Vikings opted to let the 2008 season play out, however, before making Birk an offer.
Throughout 2008, the tension between Childress and Birk was palpable. Birk frequently made public his frustrations over the Vikings' plodding offensive system, pleading for the head coach to move into the twenty-first century of offensive football. Childress declined the invitation, instead taking more than one opportunity to put his center in place.
By the end of last season, Birk and Childress were strictly on business terms and Birk shopped his wares. Childress was convinced that his bottom-line relationship with Birk would prove sufficient to bring the center back for one or two more seasons in Minnesota. Instead, despite a twelfth-hour slightly higher bid from the Vikings, Birk chose to move to Baltimore where he now is playing well for a strong Raven's offense.
Over-playing their hand with Birk left the Vikings with two rookies, two underwhelming veterans, and stalwart Steve Hutchinson along the offensive line this season. On Sunday, that meant numerous hits on Favre and little room for running between the tackles. Eventually, that has to catch up to the Vikings.
And if that happens later, rather than sooner, it might earlier be outdone in terms of damage to the offense by the Vikings' inexplicable use of the player that even Vikings' coaches term the most explosive offensive weapon in the NFL, Adrian Peterson.
Against the 49ers, Peterson had nineteen carries and two receptions. Chester Taylor and Percy Harvin--essentially the co-alternatives to Peterson--combined for 11 receptions and seven carries. That made twenty-one touches for Peterson, purportedly the most explosive offensive weapon in the NFL, and eighteen touches for two other guys who, though good, are not currently in Peterson's area code.
On numerous occasions on Sunday, Peterson could be seen on the sidelines watching Taylor man the backfield. On numerous occasions on Sunday, the Vikings, thus, opted for a lesser version of Peterson when the game was in the balance.
If the Vikings' ploy is to save Peterson, not only for later in the season, but also for later in his career, it could be argued that the ploy is paying off so far this season. The Vikings are 3-0 and have a healthy Peterson heading into a week four game against the Packers.
If, however, Peterson remains on the sidelines in favor of Taylor and loses touches to Harvin simply because Childress cannot acknowledge, in a season in which he already has acknowledged his mistake in foisting an unproven quarterback on the team, that Peterson is quite capable of turning short screens into long touchdowns and gassing a defense when given some second-half touches, then the Vikings really are back to square one with their intransigent helmsman.
On Sunday, no matter the reason, the Vikings' decision not to make better use of Peterson nearly cost the team a close-to-the-vest victory. Thanks to Favre's heroics, that did not come to pass. But next Monday now becomes the next proving ground for the Childress system and the next measure of whether 2009 will evidence a new Childress system or merely the same old Childress system with better personnel.
Up Next: Say It Isn't So, Jim.