Well fans, all it took was one win to move the Vikings from the outhouse up to the penthouse. Love that Central Division! All it will take is for the Lions to lose next Sunday down in Tampa Bay, surely an easy task for them, and the Vikes will have gone from first to last in the Central Division standings, at least for about three and a half hours -- all based on the one win against the Saints. In fact, they could probably lose to the Falcons and still retain a share of the lead.
And truly, this may be what we must hope for, based on the somewhat anecdotal evidence provided by the last three Sundays. Now we know that the Vikes are not as bad as they looked in losing to the Bucs and Bengals, both of whom are unexpectedly among the NFL's five unbeaten teams. They actually dominated the Saints, except for a shaky third quarter, but it is probable that New Orleans is in a down year, and looking back, the Vikes have always had the upper hand with them, just as they've always had trouble with the Bengals.
After looking like the same old bunch of stiffs last week, the defense regrouped on Sunday to hold a good Saints offense to sixteen points, seven of which resulted from a very questionable interference call on Kenny Irvin. I see two keys to the improved performance: 1.) Pat Williams anchors the run defense up the middle. Defense starts there, and if it doesn't, it will never get off the field; 2.) The Purple cornerbacks, once the 98 pound (and slow) weaklings of the league, are now a strength. Ted Cottrell can bring the blitz because he has corners who can cover man to man, and, at least against the Saints, it usually got the defense off the field on third down.
Unfortunately, it looked like there was a big drop off when Ralph Brown came in for the injured Brian Williams, and with safeties Darren Sharper and Willie Offord also hurt, this group is pretty badly shot up early in the season. Hopefully Sharper can play next week and the injury will not nag him as a similar one did all last year. At this point there is no word on the seriousness of the knee injuries sustained by Offord and Williams, but it did not look good Sunday night.
Linebacking remains a work in progress. Ours still do not get back into pass coverage as well as they might, which made for way too much excitement when the Vikes tried to protect Sunday's lead.
On offense, a lot has been made of Daunte Culpepper's resurrection, but I don't think he played as badly in the first two games as some think. No QB can be effective without an offensive line to offer pass protection, plus run-blocking to keep the attack from becoming one-dimensional and replacing #11 with a bulls eye. Culpepper has thrown eight interceptions, yes, but four occurred after the game was out of reach against Cincinnati, and two in the Bucs game were dropped balls. The astute fan will note that Aaron Brooks, on Sunday, was unhappy and scatter-armed against constant pressure.
The biggest worry for the Purple, now that the kicking and special teams have shaped up, is an offensive line that has been very inconsistent. Once again they failed to pick up the blitz and couldn't sustain the running game when necessary to protect a lead. (Adam Goldberg took advantage of his opportunity to replace the struggling Marcus Johnson by getting immediately knocked head over heels; Johnson, meanwhile, celebrated his underwhelming performance by getting arrested for wee hours highjinks along with his line mate, Bryant McKinnie. The Purple continues in its wild and wacky ways. Who was it that referred to them as Jim Beam's team?)
After week three, I would bet that Purple hopes rest mainly on how effectively the hole in the dike at center and right guard gets patched. Next week down in Atlanta could be a toughie to watch.