by Patrick Marek
Sunday's game against Detroit was like a special double episode of "Extreme Makeover." The Vikings were magically transformed into an offensive and defensive juggernaut while mauling the Lions, and former head coach Jerry Burns looked like a GQ model while being inducted into the Vikings "Ring of Honor." Unfortunately, like most reality shows, both subjects will soon revert to type. Just when we start to get optimistic about a change of behavior, the Vikings will stink up the field, and Jerry Burns will go back to combing his hair with a rake.
For now, however, it's pleasant to live within the moment, and for Vikings fans and coaches, the Lions have been the gift that keeps on giving. The "Old Trapper" Bud Grant had a 26-8-1 record against Detroit, Jerry Burns was 8-4, and even Les Steckel managed to beat the Lions for one of his three victories. Past Vikings coaches have had to contend with talented Lions' players with names like Greg Landry, Barry Sanders, and Mel Gray to emerge victorious. The Detroit teams that Mike Tice has faced during his three year coaching career have been so horrible that even he has been able to notch a 7-0 record against them despite a career mark of 19-31 against the rest of the league.
For whatever reason, this Sunday the Vikings came to play, and resembled the team we all expected with the multimillion dollar offseason acquisitions. Matt Birk's replacement at center, Melvin Fowler was a dominant run blocker, leading the way for exceptional performances by Michael Bennett and Melwelde Moore. It was refreshing to see Melwelde cutting back against the cracks in the Lions' line and Michael Bennett showing speed and toughness to the outside.
The defensive performance was difficult to judge because of the woeful performance of Joey Harrington and the rest of the Lions. Minnesota was able to tally four sacks, but some of that was because Harrington holds the ball even longer than Culpepper did. He still had way too much time to throw the ball. Lance Johnstone and Keith Newman were the only defenders to get consistent pressure. The secondary played much better, with Antoine Winfield making an acrobatic interception and eight tackles.
At quarterback, it was great to have someone at the position who can make a quick decision. Brad Johnson doesn't have the bionic arms or legs of Daunte Culpepper, but he is a veteran who knows how to find the open receiver, get the ball off quickly, and keep mistakes to a minimum. It's no coincidence that it's usually the "boring" quarterbacks like Johnson, Trent Dilfer, and Tom Brady who win Super Bowls. I'll take a quarterback with limited skills who is cool under fire, over one with a world class body and a frozen brain any day. With the Vikings talented receiver corps, Johnson should find a target rich environment If the coaching staff can design a game plan with quick openers and crossing routes against the middle of the field.
That is a big if. Mike Tice is the Wal Mart manager of NFL coaches. He is underpaid, overworked, and overwhelmed, but still manages to be cocky. He doesn't have the talent or imagination to make adjustments during the game. Have you ever wondered why he never takes his pencil out from behind his ear? It's because he can't think of anything to write down. He is a poster child for a coach who has reached his level of incompetence.
That being said, I actually think that despite media speculation to the contrary, the Vikings have the players to compete. We just don't have a coach on the staff who can lead them to the promised land. If Zygi can land a "real" coach in the off season, along with some free agents that can actually rush the passer, 2006 could be a year to remember. Until then, don't let temporary makeovers and token victories get your hopes up. As for next week...the Vikings get killed at the Meadowlands 28-7.