If you were the owner of a football team and you happened to come across across a magical genie who did the prototypical genie thing by granting you three wishes, what would you wish for? Here’s what I’m guessing would be the absolute last things on your list: One, that your stadium roof would implode mid-winter at the end of an already-miserable season, with the epic scene becoming an instant YouTube classic; two, that exactly one December later, your somehow-even-worse football team would see its franchise superstar collapse to the turf in similar fashion in a 100% meaningless game; and three, that while this is all going on, your most-loathed division rival and next door neighbor would slowly morph into one of the most dominant teams in football. If your geography is rusty, that wasn’t a Lions reference.
The Vikes downward trajectory led to a 3-13 finish in 2011, good for securing a spot in the musty basement of the NFC North. On tape, the team in general looked more lost than Pacman Jones at a book fair. Adrian Peterson pushed them toward the top of the league in rushing numbers, but the dizzying carousel of QBs sunk any notion of a consistent passing game. That inconsistency at play-caller no doubt made it difficult on the offense in “click” terms. Joe Webb, Donavan McNabb, and Christian Ponder didn’t exactly blow any minds as they joined forces for aerial displays averaging around 184 yards-per-game.
At the same time, statistically-speaking, the Vikings weren’t as outright atrocious as their record might indicate. It’s just that they were “blah” in nearly every category. That’s kind of unscientific analysis, but look at the numbers for yourself—they were always wallowing somewhere near the lower half and lower third in most conference offensive/defensive categories. And being “blah” amidst the record-setting seasons put out by Green Bay and Detroit didn’t cut it over the course of the year.
I consulted a friend of mine—a long-standing and long-cynical Vikings fan—for this retrospective, and worked a few of his thoughts into the piece. We’ll call him “Greg” to protect his identity, even though that’s actually his real name.
So here it is: your Minnesota Vikings retrospective.
Season Highlight: The emergence of Christian Ponder, since it’s slim-pickings when you’ve got three total wins under your belt. Although he didn’t arrive and deal up Cam Newton-esque numbers (his final statistical line is comparatively closer than you’d think to McNabb’s and Webb’s outputs), at least the guy looked under control in the pocket. He showed mobility, too. More than a few eyebrows raised when he rolled out to his weak side and drilled Michael Jenkins for a 71-yard completion on his very first play as an NFL starter against the Pack in week 7. He at least eliminated for the Vikings the headache of having to debate the quarterback position. Even if he doesn’t turn out to be a miracle-worker, they know they at least don’t have to fight over signal-callers in free agency or the draft.
Season Lowlight: In each of their first three games, the Vikes had the lead going into the second half. And for three straight weeks they crapped the bed, twice at home. Contrary to the real world, in football it is considered much more humiliating to crap the bed at your own place versus at a stranger’s house. It got exponentially more tragic, as they blew a 10-point lead against the Chargers in week one, were up 17 on Tampa Bay in week 2, and were, by NFL terms, blowing out the Lions 20-0 in week three before everything fell apart. Remember that roof metaphor thing? The tragicomic gold keeps coming.
Team MVP: Mr. All-Day. Had Peterson not missed three full weeks plus half the Raiders game with a tweaked ankle, he’d be sitting on another 1200+ yard season, guaranteed. And all this with an aging and underperforming offensive line. Granted, they didn’t win games even when he was healthy, but try to fathom how much more the Vikings would have suffered in the points column without him. Even as a Packers fan who enjoys any chance to wallow in Minnesota misery, I hated seeing him go down, especially in that pointless manner. He’s the best back any of us might ever see, and if you harbor any bitterness at the guy, it’s just because you’re mad he’s not on your team.
Needs: While it might be fun to draw on paper, that Swiss Cheese Defensive Scheme doesn’t play out on the field. Secondary issues plagued them all year, and while Antoine Winfield is allegedly ahead-of-schedule for his return from injury, they could afford to sign a reputable safety, or two. Or three. And that aging offensive line needs help. They do own the third overall pick in this year’s draft, which Greg tells me might best be used on USC tackle Matt Kalil. Admittedly, I know nothing about Kalil, but in photos of him, does appear to be a rotund white guy, which history tells us bodes well for offensive linemen.
What’s in a Vikings Fan’s Liquor Cabinet: Grain Belt Premium.
If they’re going to get wasted it might as well be on cheap, local beer. It will help deaden the pain of a miserable season and the fact that they have to wear purple clothing. Plus the money they save can go towards the inevitable taxes they’ll be required to pony up when the city decides it is every citizen’s civic duty to provide a comfy place where millionaires can throw a weird-shaped ball around.
Straight Cash Homey Meter:
Har har. Been there, done that. Moss’s attitude and his play stunk when he returned to Minnesota. His legacy there is still largely intact, but going back for thirds isn’t on management’s agenda.
Entirely Too Early Prediction for 2012: The good news is that it’s really impossible for them to get any worse. Bad news is that they’ll have to navigate a nasty division schedule once again. A lot depends on A.P.’s status, but I still don’t see anything magical happening in any scenario, even if Ponder progresses and they have a solid draft. I’m going with an optimistic 6-10 and a pessimistic 4-12.
Tomorrow Ben tackles the Lions! Then steps on them. Then claims he was trying to regain his footing. Then loses his sponsorship deal with Subway.