Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A tale of two halves

I was thinking about the Tennessee Titans last night.

The phrase people used to describe the Titans during their second-half resurgence this season was that they'd "dug a hole" so deep at the start of the season by going 0-6 that even their remarkable 7-2 run since wouldn't be enough to get them into the playoffs.

By that same measure, the Minnesota Vikings dug themselves into a hole in the first half Monday night by playing the worst half of football I'd seen them play all year. Offense, defense, special teams -- absolutely nothing worked for the entire half, in which the team could only manage about 100 yards on offense while allowing the Bears to march up and down the field. At that point I was already thinking of making plans for the third weekend in January, since I knew I wouldn't be watching the Vikings in the playoffs' second week.

Then came the second half. Somehow, the team that had sleepwalked through the last month or so was replaced with the team that we'd seen during the seasons first three months. That team featured Adrian Peterson running free, Brett Favre zinging passes downfield, and Sidney Rice catching everything. That team scored 30 points in the half. That team looked like a playoff-caliber team. That team looked unstoppable, at least on offense.

The special teams, unfortunately, looked also like a throwback -- a throwback to the 2008 unit. A missed extra point and poor kick coverage allowed the Bears to get back into the game but, oddly, when the Vikings got the ball back with five minutes left to go and needing a touchdown to tie the game, I felt something I hadn't felt in a long time: confidence. Of course Brett Favre was going to lead the team down for a game-tying touchdown. It's what he does. And waiting until fourth down with 16 seconds left to go to do it? Brilliant.

Then came the final stanza. Would we see the first-half Vikings or the second-half Vikings? I didn't know if I should be confident or pessimistic. I figured there was an equal chance of both and, unfortunately, we got the latter. The Bears were in field goal range immediately and it only took a miracle for them not to score on their opening drive. Then, just when I thought a healthy dose of Adrian Peterson would be just what the doctor ordered in OT, it was pass, sack, sack, punt. The next time, the Vikings got the ball to AP for the first time in the extra period, only to have him cough it up yet again and hand the Bears the win.

Certainly, there's more blame to go around to just lump it all on Peterson. The special teams, as mentioned, were horrible. (A bobbled snap and a 15-yard punt? Really, Chris Kluwe?) The announcing team mentioned that Antoine Winfield could be beat one-on-one downfield, which the Bears took full advantage of on the game's last play. And, other than one good tackle, Jaspar Brinkley again looked like a poor replacement for EJ Henderson. And then there was that offensive line that played in the first half, which was definitely not the same five guys who played in the second. I refuse to believe it.

Yet strangely, despite the loss and the fact that the Vikings now need help from Dallas to get a first-round bye, I feel strangely confident. That second half showed me that the team can actually look and play like a good team again, something I didn't think possible after the last few weeks. Yes, they're still fading down the stretch, but they showed at least a little something to give me hope. Maybe it's a false hope, as often is the case with Minnesota Vikings teams, but I'll cling to it for a little while longer. It's all I've got right now.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Too true on too many levels. The Vikings special teams play is horrible of late and the complete lack of tackling ability makes me wonder if they truly deserve a run in the playoffs.

Sure they have a grade A caliber offense but at key moments AP makes those costly mistakes of going for the extra yard or two, which leads to turnovers more often than not. He has the highest fumble rating of any RB in the league and that is going to kill the Vikings in clutch situations.

Four weeks ago I would have said the Vikings deserve a first round bye, but now they deserve everything they have worked for or rather have not worked for.