Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Letting it sink in

After a few days to absorb "the loss," I find that my opinion hasn't really changed much. The wound has healed slightly, and I'm moving on with my life. Just like Brett Favre. Or maybe not.

This paragraph, right here, will be the only thing I write from now until the start of the next season about whether I believe Brett Favre will return. My opinion: I don't know. Neither do you, and neither does he. We can all speculate, we can all guess, we can all read rumors, hear quotes, we can read on the Internet, hear on the radio, watch on ESPN, whatever. None of it means anything. Anything. Yes, he currently says it's unlikely he'll play again, but that's because he's tired, sore, and mentally exhausted right now. We've been through this before. By April, he'll be healed up and get that "itch" again and make some offhand comment to someone and then it'll be FavreWatch all over again. I'm willing to play out scenarios about the Vikings' quarterback situation going forward, and I'll include caveats about "If he returns," but all they'll be is speculation, just as if I was saying "If the Vikings draft a quarterback this year." It might happen, it might not. Until Week 1 of the 2010 season begins and Brett Favre is not suited up, then he is returning to play again. Until that time, I'm not interested in speculation. Really. Not at all. (In related news, Brad Childress won't set a deadline for Favre to return, which is like telling your boss that it's OK for him to take tomorrow off.)

Now that I've got all that out of my system, it pains me to admit that I can't really blame the NFC Championship Game loss on Saint Brett. Yes, those two interceptions, especially the one at the end of regulation were brutal, but even if he runs for a few yards on that play, as many have pointed out he could have, it would have left us with a 50-ish-yard field goal for the win. Ryan Longwell is certainly capable of making that in a dome, but it's not like Favre outright "lost us the game." He lost us a chance to win, yes, but probably no worse than the 50/50 chance we essentially had in overtime. I also don't blame the officiating crew who, despite some questionable calls in overtime, seemed pretty even-handed in dishing out the lousy calls all around, including a classic "roughing the Favre" penalty that even Troy Aikman didn't believe should have been called. Folks, when Troy Aikman thinks roughing the passer shouldn't be called, it ain't roughing the passer. And the Vikings' defense and special teams played surprisingly well, allowing just 257 yards from scrimmage and just one big kick return while completely bottling up Reggie Bush on punt returns. Even the playcalling was mostly good, if a little conservative late in the game.

No, the blame has to go around to guys like Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, and Bernard Berrian, for their stunning inability to hold on to the football. None of Peterson's official three fumbles were recovered by the Saints, though he was probably to blame for the fumble at the goal line on a botched handoff at the end of the first half. That, as well as Harvin's and Berrian's fumbles all were recovered inside the 10-yard-line (either the Saints' or the Vikings') and it's easy to see that avoiding just one of those plays would have made a huge difference in such a tight game. Avoid all three and the game is likely a blowout for the Vikings.

It's amazing, though, to realize that even with five turnovers and a -4 margin, the Vikings were still just one play away from winning, which stands as a tribute to their overall strong play in other areas. This stands in stark contrast to their last NFC Championship Game appearance, the infamous 41-0 thrashing at the hands of the Giants in 2001. Even the agony of the 1999 loss to the Falcons seems more hurtful than this game, if only because we were supposed to win that one easily. This was a game on the road against a team with a superior offense and we practically dominated them. The manner of the loss is hurtful, but the loss itself seems less than unexpected.

But it's still a loss, and it's another gut-wrenching end to the season for the Vikings. I suppose I should be used to it by now. After all, statistically, only one out of 32 teams ever finishes the season the way it wants to, so the odds are always against us. But hope springs eternal, I suppose, and I'll be hoping again with the rest of you when September comes along.

Wait 'til next year.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

NFC Championship Game: Overtime

Saints win the toss. C'mon, pick six...

They're making way too much of this "inexperienced kicker" thing.

14:52. Well, that's not an optimal return. And Cedric Griffin's hurt. Yay.

14:07. If the Saints want to run twice when we lose our starting corner, that's fine with me.

13:12. Oh Tyrell Johnson, if you were only skilled, you might have grabbed that deflection.

12:56. When you blitz like that and get no pressure, you're in trouble. And I don't think Devery Henderson was ever touched. Got away with one there.

12:06. Pierre Thomas almost lost the ball. Now, does he only get the spot from where he semi-lost it?

I hope we'll see Brett in Miami, too.

Yeah, that's tough to overturn. Well, they're at the 41 and need about 10 more to put it in semi-comfortable field goal range.

11:45. Flag? Oh, hell. The receiver was diving back for the ball himself, he wasn't interfered with! Very, very weak call.

11:40. Loss of four? I'll take that!

10:49. Gain of 12 over the middle. That'll just about do it. Or was that an incompletion? How about a review?

Strange things we've seen in this game: 6 Viking fumbles, Brett Favre making bad plays, and Brad Childress using a timeout smartly.

"The ruling on the field will stand." Dammit.

10:19. And here we go. 40-yard field goal attempt to win the game. Let's hope for a repeat of Antoine Winfield's blocked FG against the Saints last year.

And now, Brad Childress uses a timeout stupidly. All is right with the world.

10:15. Nope. 31-28 Saints.

Well, that's it. Amazing that we made as many mistakes as we did and still had a chance in the end. Good-bye Brett. I hate you slightly less than I did at the start of the season.

NFC Championship Game: Fourth Quarter

Somehow, I'm guessing the Saints will blitz.

14:53. I'd be happy enough with a Percy Harvin/Chester Taylor RB committee in this quarter.

14:10. Or maybe I wouldn't.

Seeing Favre limp around there worries me, though. He will never, ever take himself out of a game, no matter how much he's hurting. On the one hand, that's heroic, on the other, it can be really bad if he's too hurt to play effectively.

12:39. Third down and again, close but no sack. Touchdown. 28-21 Saints.

12:32. Is Favre rolling out really a good idea?

11:45. Peterson hit by -- yep, Darren Sharper.

11:17. Oh dear. We're starting to see Bad Brett. That should have been a pick.

11:05. I didn't think there was any chance that pass would work. Awesome catch by Bernard Berrian.

9:37. Oh. My. God. Time to break out the stick-um.

8:18. Head-up play by Brees, and could have been amazing for us.

On the bright side, all these fumbles by the Vikings means we aren't punting to Reggie Bush. (Hey, I'm reaching here...)

7:42. Last year, I was scared every time Tarvaris Jackson dropped back. That's how I feel now whenever Adrian Peterson -- or pretty much anyone else -- has the ball.

7:06. Big-time stiff-arm by Shiancoe!

6:29. Peterson juked a little too hard there, basically took himself down.

5:45. That could have been PI against Berrian or Porter, IMHO. Or maybe neither, after seeing the replay.

4:58. Now for some defense. Please, some defense. 28-28 tie.

4:52. Good kick coverage. That's the first step.

My fingers are actually trembling.

4:43. OMG sack! If only we could have recovered...

3:07. I think I'm more nervous on 3rd-and-18s than I am on 3rd-and-4s.

2:37. Two minutes, 37 seconds left. Time for a classic Favre drive.

I don't think even Katy perry gets me this excited.

1:55. Is this really the time to run the ball? We can't possibly be playing for overtime. Tell me we aren't playing for overtime.

1:43. Bernard Berrian is having the game of his life.

1:31. Perfect pass by Favre, perfect catch by Rice.

1:06. 33 yard line. That's just about in FG range!

0:19. Adrian, you can't stop and go here. Go forward, get two yards, if that's all you can do. It's fine, really. He just wants to hit a home run every play. And we really better pass on third down.

0:19. 12 men in the huddle? What is that?!


I mean, it's not like a 45- to 55-yard field goal would be automatic, but at least give it a chance! On to overtime...

NFC Championship Game: Third Quarter

These first-half stats are brought to you by Mass Effect 2.

14:49. I wish Commander Sheperd had been on the field. He/she would have actually tackled Courtney Roby better than Tyrell Johnson. Or maybe would have just shot him, depending on whether he/she was a paragon or a renegade.

14:04. And Pierre Thomas shakes off Pat Williams(!) for a six-yard gain to put the Saints in the red zone.

12:56. I'm surprised more teams don't use that extra lineman as a blocker. 21-14 Saints.

12:56. Yeah, that was a pretty bad call on that touchdown.

10:54. Naufahu Tahi is my hero!

10:20. And so is Visanthe Shiancoe!

9:37. Anthony Herrera whiffs on his block. Possibly because he was too tired from getting outside because he's really fat.

8:15. This is the Visanthe Shiancoe drive! (and a slight hold on the defender)

7:35. Adrian held on to that one. 21-21 tie.

Not that I think he shows favorites, but I wonder who Roger Goodell's favorite team is. He has to have one, right?

7:22. I think that's the first official "hit" on Drew Brees.

6:40. False start. Phew.

6:29. I always thought it was a rule that a punt returner never, ever goes inside the 10. Ever. But I've seen it seemingly a ton this year.

5:39. That's it. Take Adrian Peterson out of the game. Now.

4:09. That's a really dubious penalty. I used to call those Roughing the Favre when they were called against us and they made me crazy. And you know it's dubious when Troy Aikman thinks it's a bad call.

1:59. Triple coverage. Interception. Ack.

Addendum: He hit him below the waist! That's a penalty, dammit! A stupid penalty, but a penalty!

And the fourth quarter begins. With Tarvaris Jackson possibly under center. (And Katy Perry makes me feel dirty.)

NFC Championship Game: Second Quarter

14:33. Even Brett's earplugs are purple. How cute!

14:07. And here's Chris Myers with an update on the purple earplugs. That's some reporting!

13:29. And now, a punt. Hold me, I'm frightened.

13:21. Fair catch. Phew.

13:03. 3rd and 10, someone get a hand on Brees, and it's a 28-yard gain. Nothing infuriates me more than an almost-sack on third down.

11:00. When #64 goes in motion, you know it's a running play.

10:30. A touchdown on that drive seemed almost inevitable. 14-14 tie.

I ate about 2/3 of a pizza for dinner about an hour and a half ago. That's suddenly seeming like an unwise decision.

10:22. So maybe they don't always run when #64 goes in motion...

9:44. Brett Favre leads the league in fake-passes-followed-by-fake-handoff-followed-by-a-pass-es.

9:03. And Sidney Rice's arms grow to six feet long!

8:24. Adrian Peterson and Darren Sharper are joined at the hip today.

5:22. Lynell Hamilton isn't going to gain a yard on 3rd-and-1 against our defense. I mean, really.

4:29. Gratuitous Deanna Favre shot. She's in the stands? She couldn't get a box?

3:51. We are going to need more than 14 points against the Saints. We really are.

3:36. Oh, Ben Leber. I would have forgotten all the nasty things I said about you on the Pierre Thomas touchdown if you'd intercepted that pass.

3:28. 3rd and 1. Bet they don't give it to Lynell Hamilton.

2:44. Reggie Bush, meet Pat Williams.

2:07. So, when the Viking jumped into the neutral zone, why didn't the Saints snap it? That was the point!

I'm spending my downtime looking at pictures of Katy Perry. I think I like the one in the green bikini the best.

1:52. You can't advance a muff, and the whistle was blown. That's a penalty, Saints fans. The ball was dead.

1:38. Big third-down toss and catch by Berrian and Favre.

1:24. Brett's accuracy on downfield throws is...lacking. Berrian was wide open.


0:56. Oh, phooey. And he had a nice hole to get to the end zone. Crap, crap, crap.

And that's the half. Back to Katy.

Stream of consciousness blogging: NFC Championship Game

It's like the comments section of a post, but only I'm invited.

Joe Buck calls the Superdome "the loudest building in football." He clearly forgot where he was last week.

14:50. The key to the Vikings' offense is, obviously, the early inclusion of Jim Kleinsasser.

13:34. There was a time when I would have been upset at four straight passes to start the game. Not any more.

11:35. That screen looked good until John Sullivan missed not one, but two defenders.

10:50. An Adrian Peterson sighting!

9:35. Whoop! Sorry about that, Darren Sharper! 7-0 Minnesota.

Six months ago, I hated the Brett Favre Sears commercials. Now I kinda like them. That's very, very depressing.

8:55. Really can't give Drew Brees that much time, even if it was incomplete.

7:51. K-Will almost tipped that one.

7:00. When Pat Williams jumps offsides, it should probably be a 10-yard penalty.

6:30. Missed tackle by Ben Leber = Saints touchdown. 7-7 tie.

On the other hand, those "tiny hands" Burger King commercials still freak me out.

6:15. OK, maybe they could run just a little bit.

6:11. Sure looked like there was contact...ah, there we go.

6:03. Bernard Berrian finds the spin button on his controller!

5:37. They call a personal foul on hitting Harvin, but not Favre? Uh...(amended: OK, so it wasn't)

4:20. Favre won't need a uniform if we play another game, he'll be purple all over.

2:53. That might have worked if Phil Loadholt wasn't 800 pounds.

2:11. Favre. Rice. TOUCHDOWN!!! 14-7 Minnesota.

2:05. Blatant hold against Tyrell Johnson on the kickoff return that goes uncalled.

1:27. Man, that reverse could have been outstanding!

And the Vikings take over at the 15 as we go to the second quarter. This post is already too long, so I'll start another!

Don't expect big numbers from Adrian Peterson

One final thought before the big game...

The common belief among just about everyone is that Adrian Peterson will finally have a big game, one he hasn't had in a while, against the Saints and their so-so rushing defense (4.49 yards per carry allowed, 26th in the league). Problem is, we've been waiting for AP to have that kind of day for over two months. He's only had one game with more than four yards per carry -- and that was just nine carries for 54 yards against the Giants in the last game of the season -- since running over the Lions to the tune of 18 carries for 133 yards (7.39 YPC) on Nov. 15.

In 17 games this year (including last week's playoff game against Dallas), Peterson has only faced one team that's allowed more than the Saints' 4.49 yards per carry during the regular season, and that was the Browns back in week one. However, five other teams averaged more than 4.4 YPC against, so those are probably comparable. The exact numbers are:


Team YPC vs.






St. Louis



NY Giants





San Francisco

Green Bay

Green Bay


Four of the "easiest" rush defenses AP faced -- Arizona, Carolina, and Chicago twice -- came in the second half of the season, and he averaged 1.46, 2.92, 3.40, and 3.92 yards per carry in those games. So I'm less than optimistic about the predictions regarding his "sure-fire" breakout game against the Saints today. If the Vikings win, it will likely be how they've won for most of the second half of the season: with the defense and on the arm of Brett Favre.

Hey, you don't suppose we could play the Lions again, do you?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

NFC Championship Game Facts

This year's NFC representative in the Super Bowl will be either a team that hasn't been to the big game in 33 years or a team that has never been there. Either way, that's kinda cool.

The most points ever scored in an NFC Championship Game is 66, when the 49ers beat the Cowboys 38-28 in January 1995. There's a reasonable chance that will be exceeded on Sunday.

Only the Cowboys (14), 49ers (12), and Rams (9) have been in more NFC Championship Games than the Vikings (8). The 49ers and Cowboys have squared off five times in the game.

Road teams are 13-26 in the NFC Championship Game.

The last time Brett Favre was in an NFC Championship Game (1998), Drew Brees was a sophomore at Purdue and Percy Harvin was nine years old.

Chester Taylor had more combined rush-receive yards (727) in 2009 than Reggie Bush (725).

I am officially tired of typing "NFC Championship Game."

Sunday, January 17, 2010

And then there were four

Well, you can forget about talks of "hot" teams and streaks and all that nonsense and how much impact it has on the playoffs. Teams on 11- and four-game winning streaks (San Diego and Dallas) lost, while the four teams that won this weekend were a combined 4-8 in their last three games of the regular season. Among them were the Vikings, who put a 34-3 throttling on the Dallas Cowboys to go to their first NFC Championship game since the 2000 season.

At this point, I don't even care that the Vikings are a pass-first team and are almost completely impotent at running the football. You'll still hear the usual tripe about how the Saints "must stop Adrian Peterson," but he's currently playing like, at best, the third-best player on the offense, behind Brett Favre and Sidney Rice. Even Chester Taylor looked better the few times he touched the ball on Sunday.

On the bright side, the Vikings will play a team next Sunday that was 22nd against the run in total yardage and 26th in yards per carry, and gave up a 70-yard run on the first play from scrimmage on yesterday's game. The Saints, in fact, were 18th in scoring defense and 25th in total yards allowed (the Vikings were ninth in both categories), and, for all their offensive firepower, scored just 40 points more than the Vikings, or less than a field goal per game. And while it is a road game, playing in a dome suits the Vikings just fine. This has all the potential makings of a high-scoring, but close game.

But that's the future. For now, I'm just basking in the heady glow of knowing that the Vikings are just 60 minutes away from their first Super Bowl in 33 years. And despite my better judgment, I'm actually believing it can happen.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Streakers come to Minnesota

If I was completely impartial and unbiased, I would probably say that the Vikings are the most likely home team to lose this weekend. Dallas has been hot for the last month, the Vikings have been hit-or-miss, and Tony Romo is that type of elusive quarterback who gives our pass rushers nightmares. (Remember the Jeff Garcia Tampa Bay game in 2008? Yeah, I've tried to forget it, too.) The oddsmakers would seem to agree with this, making the Vikings just a 2.5-point favorite, the lowest of all the home teams.

Fortunately, I'm not impartial and unbiased. Well, I am, and I do think the Vikings will struggle, but the team that I think will really have troubles this week is New Orleans because they've struggled even worse than the Vikings down the stretch.

Here are the results of the Saints' last five games:

23-10 loss @ Carolina (where the starters barely played)
20-17 loss vs. Tampa Bay
24-17 loss vs. Dallas
26-23 win @ Atlanta
33-30 win @ Washington

The tight Atlanta win came without having to face Matt Ryan or Michael Turner and the Washington win...well, it was against Washington. That's five straight weeks of subpar performances, including two wins against teams they should have dominated. And then there was that Tampa Bay loss.

So I think Arizona has a better than average chance of beating the Saints, especially on the fast surface of the Superdome. So, what about those "hot" Cowboys? Well, they beat New Orleans, which, as previously mentioned, may or may not be impressive. Then they shut out Washington -- no great feat -- and twice hammered Philadelphia, which came into their week 17 contest on a six-game winning streak. So much for being "hot."

A few years ago, I did a study on streaking teams in MLB and the NFL to see if there really was any correlation between being on a win streak and whether a team would win its next game. The correlation in baseball was virtually nil. In 2005, a team that had won six or more games actually won its next game less than 50% of the time. Football, with its smaller sample size, was a little more volatile. Over the five seasons I looked at, a team with a four-game or higher win streak was 107-54 (.664) in its next game.

So, what's all that mean? That Dallas's win streak means less than the fact that the team is talented. So are the Vikings. (And consider that San Diego, on an 11-game winning streak, is still not favored to win the Super Bowl.) I think the "buzz" over the Cowboys playing well in December and January and the Vikings being so-so over that same time span is enough to influence people to think that the Cowboys are the better team. But we're all too smart for that, right?

Let's hope so.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Vikings' top players of the decade

So I'm back, moved in to my new apartment in Dallas, complete with the two most vital ingredients for keeping me sane:

1) Internet; and
2) Coffee

All is well.

What is a little troubling, though, is that the Dallas Cowboys are now 2-0 since I moved down here. Hopefully, they'll be 2-1 soon. But I'll worry about that later. For now, I'll stick with something easier. With the regular season over, I thought I'd use Pro-Football-Reference's Player Season Finder, I thought I'd look up the Vikings' top contributors during the 2000s. It'll be a fun look back at seasons past and some of the leaders might surprise people.

Passing Yards
1) Daunte Culpepper -- 20,162
2) Brad Johnson -- 4,635
3) Brett Favre -- 4,202
4) Tarvaris Jackson -- 3,643
5) Gus Frerotte -- 2,847

Passing TDs
1) Daunte Culpepper -- 135
2) Brett Favre -- 33
3) Tarvaris Jackson -- 21
3) Brad Johnson -- 21
5) Gus Frerotte -- 18

It's a sign of how much the QB position has been a revolving door since Culpepper left that Favre rates so highly on these lists after just one season. No other Vikings QB threw for more than 1,000 yards or 10 TDs in the decade.

Passing Interceptions
1) Daunte Culpepper -- 86
2) Brad Johnson -- 19
3) Tarvaris Jackson -- 18
4) Gus Frerotte -- 17
5) Brett Favre -- 7

And yet Favre ranks fifth on this list, one ahead of the immortal Spergeon Wynn. These are crazy times we live in.

Rushing Yards
1) Adrian Peterson -- 4,484
2) Michael Bennett -- 3,174
3) Chester Taylor -- 2,797
4) Daunte Culpepper -- 2,470
5) Robert Smith -- 1,521

Honestly, I was a little surprised to see AP at the top of this list, after just three seasons with the team. It's been an even longer road for the team to find a replacement for Robert Smith than it has been to find a replacement for Daunte Culpepper (which, admittedly, isn't over).

Receiving Yards
1) Randy Moss -- 6,416
2) Cris Carter -- 2,145
3) Sidney Rice -- 1,849
4) Nate Burleson -- 1,789
5) Jermaine Wiggins -- 1,659

Then again, it's been an even longer road to find a replacement for Randy Moss. Sidney Rice isn't exactly on his level, but in becoming the Vikings' first 1,000-yard receiver since Burleson in 2004, he's definitely the best we've had in a long time.

1) Randy Moss -- 62
2) Adrian Peterson -- 41
3) Daunte Culpepper -- 29
4) Moe Williams -- 23
5) Chester Taylor -- 21

Moe Williams sighting! Visanthe Shiancoe is 6th with 19. Cris Carter owns the Vikings record with 110 TDs, something Peterson might already have his sights set on.

1) Ryan Longwell -- 448
2) Randy Moss -- 374
3) Gary Anderson -- 275
4) Adrian Peterson -- 246
5) Daunte Culpepper -- 182

Just think: if we hadn't signed Ryan Longwell, Gary Anderson would probably still be kicking for the team...

1) Kevin Williams -- 48.5
2) Lance Johnstone -- 41.0
3) Jared Allen -- 29.0
4) Ray Edwards -- 21.5
5) Chris Hovan -- 17.0

Amazingly, Chris Hovan is still in the NFL. Well, he's in Tampa Bay...

1) Darren Sharper -- 18
2) Antoine Winfield -- 15
3) Corey Chavous -- 14
4) Brian Williams -- 12
5) Brian Russell -- 11

Ex-Packers Sharper and Longwell lead two categories, and Brett Favre looks good in all the passing categories. I'm not sure what that says, other than nyah-nah-nah-nah-nah!

And finally...

Yards per punt
1) Chris Kluwe -- 44.40
2) Mitch Berger -- 44.21

Nobody else even managed 100 punts or 40 yards per punt in a Vikings uniform. Maybe they should have played more World of Warcraft.