Saint Paul, Minnesota, U.S.A., Earth- Oh fer geez! Vikings fans have been known to say this during games, especially when a receiver hauls in a pass surrounded by what looks like an empty park. Often on these plays a ghostly looking Vikings safety appears on the edge of the television, a purple arm or a purple leg or a purple head flashing briefly on the screen before disappearing into the green as the antagonist walks into the end zone. Uff da.
That was the old days though, well, a few weeks ago, whatever. It’s in the past because for two straight games Vikings fans have been yelling “Would you look at that!” The last two weeks Vikings safeties appear to have human bodies with human shoulders and human arms that are arriving at the same time as the ball and actually dislodging that sucker! And more than once too! Like three or four times in a single game!
The most pivotal play of Sunday’s 20-13 victory involved rookie Harrison Smith uprooting not only the football, but Megatron himself in the end zone at a crucial moment in the game. Megatron is a guy that plays for the Detroit Lions. His real name is Calvin Johnson and he’s 8 feet tall or something like that. If you’ve never seen him he looks like the FOX football robot. On Sunday, Megatron was rendered meaningless as he was hounded by Antoine Winfield and safeties Smith and Jamarca Sanford.
Vikings fans who are used to hearing an internal slide whistle in their head while watching the purple’s secondary suddenly have their eyes popping out of their sockets because none of this is making any sense. For the second consecutive week, the Vikings mauled an opponent with physical and disciplined play. On a day when the offense struggled, especially in the red zone, defense and special teams stepped up and won this game. There’s been plenty of talk about the Vikings offense not showing up in Detroit but contenders find other ways to win a handful of games. On Sunday the Vikings benefitted from kickoff and punt return touchdowns from Percy Harvin and Marcus Sherels but this game was won by the defense stopping one of the top passing offenses in the league.
First year defensive coordinator Alan Williams needs to be commended at the quarter pole of the NFL season for getting the most out of his unit. They have reverted back to the run stopping, no big play defense that was the hallmark of the 2009 outfit. A pattern is developing in the way the Vikings approach games, one that is producing genuine optimism among the purple faithful. I have no idea what happened to the Vikings coaching staff on their way back from Indianapolis, if they were abducted by football gods or football aliens or football whatevers, but something changed during the course of that flight. It might have been as simple as Leslie Frazier getting aggressive by asking for two bags of peanuts instead of one.
It was easy for prognosticators around the NFL to write off this collection of Viking footballers. Entering the season they were universally lump with the rest of the awful, rebuilding teams in the league who lack true superstars. What seemed to be lost in the 3-13 mess from a year ago was the star power that still existed. The fact is that many of the players from the 2009 Favrenheimer joyride did not go the way of Brad Chilldress. Percy Harvin, Adrian Peterson, John Sullivan, Chad Greenway, Jared Allen, and Chris Kluwe are all top ten players at their positions. I’m not sure what Winfield or Kevin Williams are anymore but they still can wreck shop every once in a while. Couple that with the emergence of Sanford, Christian Ponder, Brian Robison, Letroy Guion, Kyle Rudolph, Jasper Brinkley and potentially Jerome Simpson and the Vikings start looking pretty good. Mix in the incredible play of rookies Smith, Josh Robinson, Matt Kalil, and Blair Walsh and quickly the club has become formidable. Add playing physical, disciplined, smart football with solid game planning and the Vikings are, dare I say, dangerous?
When the front office looked forward to 2012 they knew the only way for the Vikings to win involved multiple pieces coming together at the same time, including the kids being alright, the game plans being creative, players they’ve been waiting on finally emerging, and for the coaches to get the players to buy into what they’re selling. All of these things are happening right now and the Vikings are in first place. Eh? The Vikings are in first place. Oh fer geez. Wait. Huh? The Vikings are in first place? Don’t ya know that then!
Even though Peterson is still not 100 percent, his freakish return from a torn ACL has made a huge impact on the team because the tone he sets on the field matches the Vikings new approach. Also, it’s my opinion that a little scheduling luck has benefited the Vikings tremendously. Perhaps all that happened after the mundane and bored to death performance in Indianapolis was the fact that San Francisco was on the schedule next. As Frazier and his wacky co-stars Nils and Daphne started studying the 49ers formula, they might have seen their own future. The 49ers came out of nowhere last year by being the most physical defense in the league. With a potent running attack and a conservative offensive approach they found themselves in the NFC Championship game. Offensively, a healthy Peterson is essential to playing this brand of football. When the Vikings signed Peterson to his new contract, in a way they were making a commitment to this style of play. The problem was, the defense wasn’t punishing enough, rather, it was soft, especially on the back-end to make a go of it in the modern NFL. But that was last year. The physical play of the defense was crucial in out-49ering the 49ers. The Vikings duplicated that performance against the Lions on the road and here we are wondering, dreaming, and thinking too damn much for our own good. Maybe.
The Vikings play the dreadful Tennessee Titans on Sunday and I’m sure Vikings fans will be wary of any big hens walking around the streets surrounding the Metrodome. A victory will move the Vikings record to 4-1 and in position to actually make a run at the playoffs in 2012. A thing like that. Ya don’t say?