Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A case of one-game-itis

Last year about this time, you couldn't hear enough good things, not just from the Vikings coaching staff, but from Vikings fans, about how Tarvaris Jackson might have turned things around and would be a good for the Vikings at the quarterback position in 2008. Most of the optimism centered around his "stellar" 8-4 record as a starter in 2007, but a portion of fans (whom I argued with frequently) pointed at his comeback against Denver in the last game of the season.

Trailing 19-3 in the fourth quarter, Jackson led the team on two late TD drives, each with a two-point conversion, to tie the game at 19 and send it into overtime. To hear some people talk about it, that very good half a quarter nullified the mediocre to bad other 11 7/8 games he'd started, showcasing his "intangibles," his "leadership," and other claptrap and ensuring he'd have a great 2008. After a solid (but short) preseason, the consensus was strong again that he'd turn in a good season and lead the Vikings to the promised land.

We all know how that went. He wasn't altogether horrific in his first two starts of the season, but was bad enough to (rightfully) be benched in favor of Gus Frerotte, who led the team as far as he could before getting injured and giving way to the seemingly new and improved Tarvaris Jackson, who played three and a half games of excellent football to close out the regular season and secure a division title and playoff spot for the Vikings.

Now, after what happened last year -- that is to say, that Jackson was bad mostly all year, showed a very brief spurt of excellence near the end that led people to believe he was good and to trust in him, only to have him revert to form at the start of the next season -- you'd think that, regardless of how he played against Philadelphia in the playoff opener, that fans would remember his good final month of the season and be behind him -- at least partially -- going into 2009.


Most of what I'm seeing out there is the same kind of talk I heard after week two -- namely that, unequivably, Jackson must go. Forget those good games he played at the end of the year. Forget his 95.6 passer rating over his last five games (which includes the Philly game). Forget his 8-2 TD/Int. ratio. His last game was awful. Therefore, he's no good.

Really, have we learned nothing?

First and foremost, fans need to understand that Tarvaris Jackson's play wasn't the only reason the Vikings lost. For the second week in a row, Adrian Peterson had one and only one good carry -- his 40-yard touchdown run, to go with his 67-yarder against the Giants. 12 of his 20 carries against the Eagles went for two yards or less. Combined, Peterson and Chester Taylor ran for just 89 yards on 31 carries -- a 2.9 average -- if you take out the 40-yard run, and, in the second half, when the Vikings were shut out, the two running backs managed just 24 yards on 10 carries.

That's not the fault of the quarterback, people, though it may not have been the fault of the running backs, either. The offensive line routinely allowed multiple defenders into the backfield, making it difficult for any runner to gain yardage. Jackson was only sacked once, but he rarely had time to comfortably look downfield and pick out receivers, and do we need to talk about Matt Birk's bad snap that essentially ended the game for the Vikings?

All this came against the #4 scoring defense in the league, so it's understandable that any team would struggle on offense against them. And, given the horrific state of the Vikings' special teams, it's a tribute to the defense that they were even in the game at all in the final quarter. But Tarvaris Jackson shouldn't necessarily receive the brunt of the criticism for this loss, just as he should never have received the lion's share of the praise for the team's record in his starts in 2007.

Now, I'm not saying that Tarvaris Jackson should be a stone-cold lock to start for the Vikings in 2009. Ideally, I'd like to see Gus Frerotte replaced with a slightly less fossilized quarterback who can compete with Jackson in training camp while John David Booty bides his time on the bench and, in perfect world, develops to the point that he can compete for the starting job. In any case, if you thought Tarvaris Jackson was a halfway decent quarterback a week ago, there's no reason for you to think otherwise after a game where the entire offense -- quarterback and the other 10 guys -- fell flat.


Pacifist Viking said...

I don't think this is one-game-itis. The problem isn't that Jackson played poorly in the playoff game; it's that Jackson' poor performance in the playoff game was reminiscent of many of his previous poor games.

If Jackson had often been exceptional, then had a bad playoff game and fans turned on him, that would be one-game-itis. But there's a larger context here--throughout his career as starter, he usually hasn't been that good. His biggest flaws are inaccuracy, poor pocket presence, and decision making. These are flaws that many people (including me) have been able to point out going back to early last season. And then in the playoff game, he struggled because of inaccuracy, poor pocket presence, and decision making. The performance in the playoff game would not be an indictment if it was not poor for the same reason many of his other games have been poor.

I think, too, you're generally misrepresenting Viking fans' attitude toward Jackson.

Last off-season, I sensed much less optimism from Viking fans regarding Jackson than you apparently did (based on your first two paragraphs). I sensed some hope, but primarily skepticism and worry. Everywhere I turned, I heard about how quarterback was the biggest question mark on the team, and everything else was set, and Jackson would make or break the season. It's why last off-season I said it was fine if the Vikes wanted to roll with Jackson as starter again, but they absolutely had to bring in a quality backup in case he sucked, and that they didn't.

People also didn't turn on Jackson after the first two games just because of two games--it was that those two games highlighted the same problems as last year. If Jackson had Tony Romo's numbers last year, he wouldn't have been benched after two games. He came into the season needing to prove he was good BECAUSE HE HADN'T YET, and in two games he didn't do that.

I'd also disagree that Jackson "showed a very brief spurt of excellence near the end that led people to believe he was good and to trust in him." He showed a very brief spurt of quality play (but not excellence), but that doesn't mean that many Viking fans had "trust in him." I hoped he was good more than believed he was good, and I heard very few Viking fans claiming they trusted Jackson for the playoff game. I think most fans thought the Vikes had a chance because of the defense and running game, not because they believed Jackson was good or trusted him.

So I'd say, yes, forget those few good games Jackson played at the end of the year, unless you're also going to remember all the bad games he played, including the horrendous playoff game. Keeping him as starter because of a couple of good games would be as stupid as replacing him for one bad game. Replace him not for the one bad game, but because after three seasons, he hasn't shown that he is an accurate or consistent passer, and he hasn't shown signs that he'll develop into an accurate or consistent passer.

I'm not shifting my view just for one playoff game. I had hope (I always talk myself into some form of hope, and that's my flaw, not turning on Jackson now), and that hope was proven wrong. When I try to look objectively at Jackson's tenure as starter, I see a bad quarterback--unfortunately, I also don't see a quarterback showing signs he will become a good quarterback.

DC said...

What PV said.

Jason said...

I did a little searching, but couldn't find any of the comments I had read about "TJack is fine" after the 07 season...probably on other people's blogs or on SN stories. I'll accept maybe I was overexaggerating a little, and maybe I'm overprojecting all the claptrap I read from Vikings management about TJack in the offseason, but there were still a significant number of fans who thought he would be fine.

(Here's a recent post, though, with such insightful comments as "how is it that you go with Jackson who went 1-2 as a starter with his only win over the Giants JV team. Meanwhile all Ferrotte did was go 9-4 as the starter" and "Starting Jackson was a curious decision, especially given Frerrote's late season success." And a couple weeks ago, it seemed like everyone and their brother came out of the woodwork to defend TJack from John Clayton.)

The question is, who is the "real" Tarvaris Jackson? The one who looked lost for his first 16 games (and his last one) or the one who looked great for a four-game stretch this December? True, four good games shouldn't nullify 17 poor ones (counting the playoff game), but I think it's at least possible he spent those three months on the bench learning and improving himself and remaking himself into a better QB -- who occasionally does have a lousy game against a very good defense, as many QBs do.

As for his play the last four games of the regular season, I'd call a passer rating of 115.4 (to go with a 64% completion percentage) "excellent." I know, it's passer rating, and you can question the quality of defenses he went up against, but still, he looked poised and confident, finding the open man more often than not and making good decisions throughout. That gave me hope.

Now, by no means do I think this means he should be outright handed the reins to the team next year. I'd still like to see the team bring in another QB to at least compete with him for the starting job, while grooming Booty or another drafted QB in case Jackson or the new guy flame out. But I'm also open to the possibility (or maybe I've just succumbed to the inevitability) that TJack will be the starter in 2009.