This year, the National Weather Service continued its questionable practice of naming winter storms. Unfortunately, last Sunday’s blizzard in Baltimore was named “Gargamel.” It would have been only fitting if it had been called “Winter Storm Bud,” after the “Old Trapper” and legendary Vikings coach Harry “Bud” Grant. I’m sure that Grant watched the whiteout conditions, flying snowballs, and tough sledding with however he expresses glee, and is looking forward to the Vikings’ two-year rental of TCF Stadium. For Adrian Peterson and the guys who were huddled around the heater, probably not so much.
For true Minnesota fans, Sunday’s 29-26 wild bobsled ride of a loss to the Ravens was a perfect storm of Sunday Vikings viewing satisfaction. Watching the two teams skate around in a blizzard was immensely entertaining, and for most of the game, the lack of visibility and traction severely limited the World Champion Ravens’ offensive attack. Then the snow cleared away late in the fourth quarter. The two teams’ five-touchdown haymaker finish in the game’s last 2:06 has to qualify as one of the most exciting (if not satisfying) endings in team history. Minnesota’s young players performed well enough that we have hope for the future, and the team gave the Ravens fits in front of their very unhappy home field fans. Best of all, we came away with a hard fought, last second loss that greatly improved our chances of getting a franchise quarterback in next year’s draft and a new coach for Christmas.
At 3-9-1, the Vikings are officially eliminated from the playoffs. Ironically, if Frazier and his staff had played Matt Cassel, Xavier Rhodes, and Cordarrelle Patterson from the beginning of the season, the team would probably be preparing for post-season play, and the coaches wouldn’t have to be updating their resumes. Minnesota lost four games this season in the last seconds by a combined total of 12 points. Frazier’s blind allegiance to aging (or inept) veterans and the Tampa Two zone defense doomed this team and kept them out of an eminently winnable NFC North race. To give him credit, Frazier did take my advice about starting his young players, and coaching them within an inch of their lives. Unfortunately, it will prove to be too little, too late.
There has been a lot of grousing from both fans and players (most notably Adrian Peterson), who say that the officials cost the Vikings the game. While it may be one of the poorest officiated games in recent memory (Why do they have replay anyway?), the reason the Vikings lost the game was that Xavier Rhodes suffered an ankle injury in the fourth
quarter and couldn’t return. Rhodes has been playing lockdown defense for the last few games, and defends a lot of passes because he looks back at the quarterback in coverage. His press coverage ability helped drag Leslie Frazier kicking and screaming out of the Tampa Two and into man-to-man coverage. He drew Ravens star wide receive Torrey Smith on Sunday and limited him to one reception, after which Rhodes caused him to fumble. Marcus Sherels took over for Rhodes after the injury, Frazier went back to Tampa Two, and the floodgates were opened.
If the draft were held today, the Vikings would be choosing fourth, based on Sunday’s loss. The experts are predicting that Minnesota will choose Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr with the fourth pick. With a young franchise quarterback to mentor, underrated players on both offense and defense, and the best running back on the planet, Rick Spielman should be able to lure a top veteran coach like Bill Cowher, or John Gruden to Minnesota. Both coaches are reportedly available for the right price, and Zygi Wilf has repeatedly proven that he is willing to spend what it takes to get the Vikings to the promised land.