It's hard to tell exactly when the Week 7 edition of Monday Night Football officially crossed the line from a disappointing snoozefest to an unwatchable farce.
It wasn't when New York Giants punter Steve Weatherford got flagged for a flying horse-collar tackle attempt. It wasn't when Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen sacked Giants quarterback Eli Manning around Giants left tackle Will Beatty.
Manning had another poor night, but he looked like his big brother Peyton with Josh Freeman on the other side of the field. Freeman, in his Vikings debut, completed 37.7 percent of his passes for 3.6 yards per attempt, no touchdowns and one interception—and he was lucky the Giants only caught one.
A case could be made that the game went completely off the rails when ESPN play-by-play announcer Mike Tirico got brutally honest, declaring both teams "just bad":
"This is a terrible quarter of football. Both of these teams are just bad."—the great Mike Tirico, having his Network moment.— Chris Jones (@MySecondEmpire) October 22, 2013
Those with stern constitutions held it together until rookie Vikings defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd fumbled the ball away to the Giants while attempting to return a kickoff.
Not Like This
It wasn't supposed to be this way.
Floyd, the highest of the Vikings' three first-round draft picks, was supposed to be apprenticing behind stalwart Kevin Williams and flashing in rotational snaps.
Floyd, along with cornerback Xavier Rhodes and receiver/returner Cordarrelle Patterson, was supposed to bolster the foundation of the Vikings franchise, fresh off a triumphant 2012 return to the postseason. The three top picks were supposed to ensure the Vikings would stay on top of their NFC North division rivals.
On the other side of the field, the Giants weren't anybody's Super Bowl favorite. Then again, many, including me, lauded general manager Jerry Reese for his offseason. With limited cap space, the Giants made several low-priced, high-impact free-agent signings, and they had a good draft.
When the schedule was drawn up, this game might have seemed like a good one, with two division-title contenders and true marquee players on both teams, like star Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson.
Nobody ever could have predicted these two teams would have just one win between them at this point.
Nobody ever could have predicted that, as Bleacher Report NFC East Lead Writer Brad Gagnon wrote at This Given Sunday, this game would feature the second-worst Monday Night Football matchup (by combined win percentage, post-Week 4) of all time.
The Green-Eyed Monster
Yet, there's no way it was ever going to match the "War of 1812," one of several nicknames given to Week 7's Sunday Night Football fixture.
With Indianapolis Colts legend Peyton Manning returning with his Broncos to take on Colts legend-in-the-making Andrew Luck, the two teams could both have been winless and it would have been compelling TV. Instead, the Broncos were undefeated and the Colts 4-2, and the game lived up to every ounce of its considerable pregame hype.
The high quality of play from both offenses and defenses was evident, and the game was a thriller until the very, very end.
Meanwhile, Week 7 got its usual Sunday sequel: a viewer-unfriendly fixture between uncompelling teams with no storylines. Even if there weren't turnover hijinks and special-teams goof-ups galore, this game was never going to compare to the previous night's classic.
I'm far from the first to notice that Monday Night Football has had quite a few poor matchups over the past few seasons, especially compared to Sunday Night Football's prime pickings.
Football fans have been noticing: Per Sports Media Watch, Monday Night Football hit a four-year ratings low in 2012, likely due to bad matchups and blowouts. Meanwhile, TV by the Numbers reports that Sunday Night Football has been the No. 1 prime-time television show of any kind for two straight television seasons.
A Comedy of Errors
The game started off with a poor display of ball control. Manning and the Giants drove down the field in excruciating fashion, putting together a 17-play, 9:36 drive that somehow didn't reach the end zone.
After settling for a field goal, Freeman and the Vikings took over. On his first drive in purple, Freeman went 1-of-4 for nine yards, while Adrian Peterson rushed twice for a net of zero yards.
That could have been Freeman's fourth-best drive of the game.
The Vikings defense forced a three-and-out, and the Giants punted. That's when one of the game's few legitimate highlights occurred:
Marcus Sherels' 86-yard punt return for a touchdown couldn't happen without a little ridiculousness, though; the Giants were penalized twice on the play, including a horse-collar flag on punter Steve Weatherford.
The two teams traded three-and-outs before Manning favored us with a rare display of passing competence, hitting receiver Rueben Randle for a 24-yard touchdown:
The Vikings took over and had a chance to answer, driving all the way from their own 20 to the Giants' 35. Vikings kicker Blair Walsh, who per ESPN's Ben Goessling had never missed from over 50 yards before, missed:
First-ever miss from Blair Walsh over 50 yards. Came up short. Probably don't see him miss short if his hamstring is healthy.— Ben Goessling (@GoesslingESPN) October 22, 2013
That was as close as the Vikings got to scoring offensive points.
Each team went three-and-out again, and then the Giants snuck in one first down before again being forced to punt. The Giants' Antrel Rolle briefly extended the Vikings' ensuing drive with an unnecessary roughness foul, but only briefly. When the Giants got the ball back, the incredible Allen sack occurred:
Halftime was blessed relief.
Then, the wheels came completely off. Minnesota went three-and-out to start the second half and punted to Randle, who fumbled. The Vikings recovered deep in Giants territory—but on the second play of the ensuing drive, Freeman threw an awful pick.
A Giants three-and-out followed by a Vikings three-and-out led to another Giants three-and-out. Sherels fumbled that ensuing punt, which the Giants recovered on the Vikings' 3-yard line. Somehow it was still surprising when Peyton Hillis actually punched it in for a touchdown.
On the ensuing drive, it looked like Freeman had finally put together a decent series. Then, he took an unconscionable 14-yard sack on 3rd-and-3 from the Giants' 21-yard line. NFL Network's Rich Eisen had this to say about the Vikings' choice to take the ball out of Peterson's hands there:
Insane. Just insane. Positively insane. Fireably insane.— Rich Eisen (@richeisen) October 22, 2013
After another interminable Giants drive (16 plays, 8:31 drained off the clock) to another field goal, the see-it-to-believe-it Floyd kickoff return occurred. Check it out at the three-minute mark here:
On the ensuing kickoff, the Vikings engineered a 13-play drive that went only 41 yards. It featured seven Freeman incompletions and ended with a turnover on downs.
The Giants answered with another three-and-out, so Freeman mounted another improbable non-scoring drive: nine plays, seven incompletions, extended twice by defensive penalties and still no points.
Former Vikings offensive guard (and likely future Hall of Famer) Steve Hutchinson chimed in with his opinion of the game:
This is the worst sporting event ever broadcasted— Steve Hutchinson (@poisonpill76) October 22, 2013
A Good Night of TV-Watching, Spoiled
It's hard to take away anything of value from this game.
Freeman was nowhere near ready; he was very limited in the playbook and essentially unable to audible or make on-the-fly adjustments. Appearing nervous and "pressing," Freeman was badly overthrowing nearly every single pass. He still has more quarterbacking talent in his non-throwing arm than any other Viking, but he's weeks away from being able to help this team win games.
That Leslie Frazier was willing to throw him out against the Giants in vain hope that lightning would strike says a lot about Frazier's opinion of his job security.
The Giants got off the schneid, which is psychologically huge, but they did it against a Vikings team that would have lost playing against nobody.
The level of play from both sides was shockingly poor; when levelheaded media pros like Tirico and Eisen are publicly ripping teams and coaches, you know something's very, very wrong.
The good news is, Monday Night Football will get much better from here on out—because the NFL doesn't get any worse.