Well fans, Sunday's loss to the Steelers could hardly be described as close, but the game hinged early on several key plays that, had they gone differently, might have made all the difference in the world. First was the boneheaded roughing penalty on Erasmus James, how typically Viking. Take that away and they shut down the Steelers' first offensive series decisively and give the ball to Brad Johnson with momentum instead of an early deficit. Next was the fade pass to Marcus Robinson which looked like it should have been allowed but wasn't. Then there was the long Randle El punt return allowed by special teams. And of course, thirteen penalties didn't help generate any momentum.
In a game touted as a test of whether the Vikes could stay on the field with a legitimate playoff contender, the Purple showed itself well able to hold their own against the Steelers physically, if not mentally; their defense stopped the run -- the Bus was never an issue -- and finally mounted a superior pass rush for the first time this season.
And at least in the first half, the offense was able to move the ball against a stingy Steeler defense, picking up their vaunted blitz quite well though not gaining much on the ground. It was not until the issue was decided in the second half, (with center Fowler and right tackle Johnson hors de combat), that the Vikes attack sagged, Brad Johnson uncharacteristically losing his passes into the etherium.
But when it came down to concentration, making key plays under pressure, and maintaining poise, Tice's team was clearly inferior to Bill Cowher's. Some of that comes down to breaks, which ran decidedly the Vikes' way during the winning streak and will inevitably turn, and some to that mysterious intangible, coaching. Some teams rise to the occasion, and others succumb to bad biorhythms or otherwise stub their toes.
This is a repeating scenario in Purple country; just when it seems that the current regime has been disgraced so thoroughly that it must fall upon its sword or face public trial and execution, a miraculous comeback is staged, the issue is clouded, and judgment postponed. It appears that Mike Tice will take this team to a 9-7 record and has made himself sweet and lovable enough to Zygmunt Wilf that he will be brought back for another year.
Amusement to be had in Viking land might be distinctly inferior without the continuing soap opera of the Trials of Tice; but those who would prefer to watch the Purple advance deep into the playoffs might best root for them to boot the next two games.