...but do not relax!
Well fans, in the first Bengals offensive series when Antoine Winfield stood up under vaulting RB Brian Leonard and flipped him to the ground for no gain, the sense of relief for fans of the Purple was palpable. The astute observer will have noted that not only did Winfield upend Leonard, but also wrapped up his ankles so that there was no way he could come down running. At 5’9” and 180 pounds, he is the surest tackler the Vikings have, perhaps in the NFL.
With starters E.J. Henderson and Tyrell Johnson replaced by rookies, the Vikes defense dominated the Bengals and held one of the league’s best rushing attacks to 119 yards and only 91 passing. The best player on the Minnesota defense is not E.J. Henderson, Jared Allen, or Kevin Williams, but Winfield. The only defensive back in Vikings history who dominated like he does was Joey Browner a couple of decades ago. Meanwhile on the right side, Cedric Griffin continues to improve in coverage, besting Chad Ochocinco in their matchup, despite drawing an unwarranted roughing penalty.
How the Purple would hold up on defense without their starting middle linebacker and strong safety was a good question; with Winfield playing, they looked as good as they have all season, despite a less than overwhelming pass rush. Jasper Brinkley played a solid game standing in for Henderson with three tackles, but admitted to a rookie error that allowed Bengals RB Cedric Benson to get away for 42 yards.
Jamarca Sanford was simply outstanding at strong safety, in on six tackles, second only to the incomparable Winfield, who lead the team with nine unassisted. It could have been a Wally Pipp moment for Tyrell Johnson. In any case, it shows that the Vikes continue to have good depth in the defensive backfield, and gives Brad Childress an immediate option should tackling at the safety position grow lackadaisical again.
It was another big relief to see the Vikes pound out 142 yards on the ground against the NFL’s second best team against the rush. Brett Favre’s infamous tendency to throw INTs comes on when he is pressed, and that happens when there is no ground attack. I didn’t like that he got smacked around so much and had to cover my eyes when Tank Williams pancaked him – ouch! Favre has the reputation of wearing down towards December, and this kind of uffda moments won’t help that either. The third malign Favrian tendency which the Cheeseheads will gladly tell you about is a lack of tolerance for icy conditions brought about by advancing decrepitude. Packer backers who remember the indifferent performance he put in two years ago down at Soldiers Field in December are looking forward to Minnesota’s date there December 27.
In the meantime, in order to clinch the division title, the Vikes must get past the Panthers down in Carolina this Sunday, which shouldn’t be an acid test. Jake Delhomme has long since gone down, hors de combat. The Purple will face second stringer Matt Moore, and should dominate once again in a world where all’s right. However, do not relax!