Pieces falling into place ...2-2 next week a reasonable hope?
Well fans, it was a queasy start Sunday, looking like 0-3 coming up with the shoddy kickoff coverage followed by a dumb face-mask penalty on Cedric Griffin. Giving up a quick three points on the first series will not tend to instill confidence in a 0-2 team that needs to win already in order to salvage its season. The Purple pass rush was not much in evidence, and when Berrian and Shiancoe both dropped passes, the sense of of doom grew stronger. At least, I thought, that’s the last we’ll see of Visanthe, but I was wrong, and I’m not sure whether I’m happy about that. It would be nice if he could get treatment for his hands, because he does seem to get open.
Now, the Vikings attack gathers steam, only to give back the TD twice, on holding penalties. The one on Birk seemed uncalled for, but Herrera’s was obvious, and stupid. It was a running play, which had already gone past him. At that point I was sure the Vikes would lose by less than four points, just as I was certain they would lose last week against the Colts when Longwell missed the 48-yarder, despite the 15-point lead late in the third quarter.
But football games will hinge on single plays, and after Winfield recovered the ball and ran it in for the score just before half-time, the Vikes seemed like a different team, one more in line with all the preseason hype. (I noticed him out there wide of the defensive end, and figured he was coming, but it seemed to take forever. I couldn’t believe Delhomme never spotted him. It was like the scene in a horror movie where the heroine enters the room and peers only, perversely, to the left, while the monster lurks on the right.)
With only a ten-point lead, I expected a stomach churner of a second half, but the revamped Purple defense made the lead hold up just fine; I barely had to use any body English to get them through it. If a ten-point lead is safe against a team with a competent QB and great wideout like Steve Smith, watching the rest of the season will be much less of an ordeal than what we’ve gotten used to the past few years.
Now some of the pieces are falling into place. Gus Frerotte can get the ball downfield, and make the routine throws as well. That makes the ground game much less predictable, and enables the Vikes to stage long, time-consuming, lead-protecting drives. The offensive line, despite the absence of the night prowling McKinnie, has held up quite well. Artis Hicks gave up only the one sack to Julius Peppers.
And best of all, when the other guys get the ball and have to throw, their QB doesn’t get to hold the ball for ten or twenty minutes until a receiver breaks free. How wonderful to see Delhomme sacked twice on his last two desperation pass attempts. The addition of Jared Allen has improved the Purple defense as projected.
Next week against the 3-0 Titans won’t get any easier, and Hicks must go up against another top pass-rushing end in Kyle Vanden Bosch. However, Tennessee’s wins have come against undistinguished competition, and their QB is the journeyman, Kelly Collins, rather than the disappointing Vince Young. Vikes at 2-2 next Sunday night would not be an unreasonable thing to hope for.