Monday, February 02, 2009

Super Bowl Follows Familiar, Possibly Encouraging Script for Vikings' Fans

With fifteen seconds remaining in Sunday's Super Bowl match-up between the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cardinals' quarterback Kurt Warner dropped back in the pocket looking for an open receiver in the hope of pulling out a last-second comeback. With his receivers covered deep and no time to throw short, Warner danced in and out of trouble in the pocket, running precious time off of the game clock. Then, with five seconds remaining, the Steelers dealt what would be the final blow to Arizona's improbable championship run, stripping the ball from Warner.

The Steelers recovered the subsequent fumble and hurried their offense out onto the field to run the final five seconds off of the game clock, thereby securing their sixth Super Bowl title, this time under a second-year head coach. Peeling back the thinnest of layers to this game, the manifestations of this game seemed all too fitting for Vikings' fans.

The most glaring connection for Vikings' fans to this game was the way in which the game ended. Despite what clearly appeared to be a "tuck" pass by Warner, the officials on the field ruled that Warner fumbled the Cardinals' final offensive play of the season. That would be fine--and consistent with the officials' suspect officiating at points throughout the game--but for the fact that the replay officials declined to review the play. That's inexplicable. And that's precisely the type of treatment that Vikings' fans would have expected for the Purple at such a moment.

Horrible replay decision aside, Vikings' fans had other reasons wistfully to watch this year's Super Bowl. Not lost on even the most casual of Vikings' fans is the fact that this Super Bowl pitted two second-year coaches against one another, one representing a franchise that never before had even made it to the Super Bowl and had barely even made the playoffs in its history, the other arriving in Pittsburgh after a season as Minnesota's defensive coordinator. All of which makes the continuing monologue out of Winter Park about having to "grow with the system over time" seem like the Vikings might just be following the conservative path to nowhere.

Contrary to what was on display in Minnesota in 2008, both the Cardinals and the Steelers showed why the systems they employ made a Super Bowl run possible for each team this year. Flailing like fish out of water near the end of the season, the Cardinals abruptly altered course, finding a defense that previously had not existed, and challenging opponents to stop their vaunted passing game.

In Minnesota, the Vikings routinely trot out the best running back duo in the NFL, along with a top five defense. That, Vikings' head coach Brad Childress is wont to say, is the recipe for success in the NFL. Unfortunately, it was not the recipe for success in Minnesota.

The Cardinals, meanwhile, showed that, despite neither of these luxuries, it is possible to succeed in the NFL. And, in so doing, they further demonstrated the canard that NFL teams cannot immediately succeed under new regimes.

At the end of the regular season, the Cardinals had arguably the worst rushing attack in the NFL and one of the worst defenses. That head coach Ken Whisenhunt was able to rectify the defensive problems speaks volumes of his ability to adapt. And, while the Cardinals' running game was mediocre at best in the playoffs--awful in the Super Bowl--the Cardinals still were able to exploit a strong Pittsburgh defense known for its ability to put pressure on the quarterback.

Mike Tomlin, too, showed his ability to adapt, relying less on a running game that seemed to have no traction in the Super Bowl and more on the arm of Ben Roethlisberger. The move paid obvious dividends as the Steelers won on the strength of their passing game.

The lesson, of course, is that teams can dramatically adapt in season and even in game. That the Vikings, under Childress have not been able to do either with any degree of success, absolutely calls into question the modus operandi of the Vikings' head coach. While the same can be said of numerous other NFL head coaches, most of those head coaches did not have the luxury of orchestrating the Vikings' defense or running game in 2008. Their faults, therefore, are slightly more excusable. For the Vikings, the question is not, then, necessarily who they will add in the off-season, but whether they can ever add enough pieces to win it all in spite of Childress.

What ought to be encouraging to Vikings' fans, however, is that the lesson is now front and center for all to see. No longer will the tired line calling for patience and time for the system to develop and take shape be acceptable. No longer will excuses by condoned. While this message might be arriving two or three years too late for most Vikings' fans, at least there is no longer any skirting the reality. If Childress cannot put the pieces together next year, surely there can be no more tomorrows for his stint in Minnesota.

Up Next: Free Agency.

No comments: