Four hours after watching the Vikings put away the Packers in the latest, greatest edition of the Aaron Rodgers whack-a-thon (nee: The Brett Favre Bowl), I still have no idea what I just saw.
I don’t know if I saw a juggernaut in action, or a team that can’t close to save its soul.
I don’t know if I saw three quarters of heart-stopping football, or one quarter of mind-numbing timidity.
And I don’t know if I’ll wake up tomorrow feeling like a Vikings homer or a Vikings hater.
So to sort things out, we’re going to hear a bit from both.
We teed up a handful of salient topics from the aftermath of Monday night’s game. My inner homer and inner hater lined up to take their best swings—the former waxing poetic about all that went right in Minnesota’s win, and the latter bemoaning all that went wrong.
Here’s what they had to say about:
The Homer Says: Complain all you like about AP’s modest stat line—55 yards rushing on 25 carries—but Peterson did three things very, very right in this game:
1) He willed the Vikings down the field on their first possession. Peterson was responsible for seven of the 12 plays that made up Minnesota’s mammoth opening drive. He bullied his way to two first downs along the way, including a 4th-and-1 pickup, and set the stage for the game’s first score by hauling the rock to the Green Bay one-yard line.
2) He put the ball in the end zone. If you think that’s easy, just ask the Packers, whose inability to punch it in from a yard out in the fourth quarter wound up being mighty costly.
3) He got the Packers to commit about 14 guys to stopping the run. They stopped it all right, but effectively abandoned the pass rush in the process. Peterson may not have put up the kind of eye-popping numbers we’re used to seeing, but his loss was Brett Favre’s gain.
Peterson won’t get credit for what the offense did to the Packers, but his presence on the field was no small part of the end result.
The Hater Says: Somebody get the Bears on the phone—we need to find out how they managed to swap our Adrian Peterson for their own.
How else do you explain “All Day’s” all-night no-show?
The numbers were bad, especially when you figure that for a 6’1” back, 2.2 yards per carry is about as much as you’d gain if you simply ran up to the line of scrimmage, held the ball out, and fell forward.
The context was worse: In the previous two weeks, the Packers gave up 141 yards rushing to Cedric Benson, and 117 to Steven Jackson, even though Jackson was the only Ram who remotely resembled a playmaker.
This wasn’t exactly the Steel Curtain here. But Peterson got stuffed four times for negative yardage. He was stopped for no gain another four times.
And about that fumble…
As ESPN commentator Ron Jaworski asked, how does a man with such monstrously strong hands lose so many balls?
You’re better than that, AP, and you know it.
The Minnesota Defense
The Homer Says: Before the game, when Mike Tirico said the Vikings sport “the best defensive line in the NFL,” I thought he was going a little overboard.
Afterwards, I wondered why he didn’t use a few more superlatives.
Jared Allen spent most of the game doing things to Aaron Rodgers that are illegal in most states. The mulleted maniac racked up 4.5 of the team’s eight (eight!) sacks, delivered five quarterback hits, registered four tackles for loss, and nailed Rodgers in the end zone for a safety that stretched Minnesota’s lead to 30-14.
A little further back, Antoine Winfield led the Vikings with 10 tackles, including a vicious hit on Ryan Grant at the goal line to set up Allen’s safety. Winfield also snuck around Greg Jennings to pick off Rodgers and kill what would have been a go-ahead drive for the Packers in the second quarter.
And how about that goal-line stand to kill an eight-and-a-half-minute, 14-play Green Bay drive at the one?
Rodgers took the Pack 81 yards to set up 1st-and-goal from the Minnesota five-yard line. Spectacular stops from E.J. Henderson, Chad Greenway, and Ben Leber on the next three downs forced the Packers to throw on 4th-and-1, and a lucky drop by Donald Lee ended the threat.
If the Packers had any aspirations of matching Favre blow-for-blow, the Vikings snuffed them out right then and there.
The Hater Says: How do you terrorize a quarterback to a degree he’s never seen in his career, down multiple punts inside the five-yard line, force a safety, kill two scoring drives with turnovers, and still let the other guys put 23 points on the board?
By giving up a whole bunch of big plays in between.
The Vikings allowed Rodgers to complete six passes of 20 yards or more, including touchdown throws of 33 and 62 yards. In fact, when they weren’t busy giving the Packers QB turf burns, they were relatively powerless to stop him from picking their secondary apart to the tune of 384 yards passing in a 26-of-37 performance.
Tight end Jermichael Finley came into the game with 11 career receptions for 136 yards. He caught six passes for 128 yards on the night. Donald Driver chipped in four catches for 55 yards and way too many first downs. Jordy “Doofy White Guy” Nelson caught three balls for 47 yards and a score.
Even with Greg Jennings limited to 31 yards on three catches, the Green Bay passing attack was in business.
Ryan Grant led a running game that banged out a surprisingly potent 82 yards on 17 attempts, for 4.8 yards per carry. If the Packers hadn’t been playing from behind for most of the night, he might have posed a legitimate problem.
At the end of the night, the Vikings let the Packers collect 19 first downs, including seven third-down conversions in 13 tries. If Green Bay hadn’t blown a chance at points on the goal line, Rodgers’ fervent drive in the game’s final two minutes might have cost Minnesota dearly.
Brett Favre and the Passing Game
The Homer Says: This was one of those nights when you’d love to spend a little quality time with one of those Packer fans who insists on calling his fallen idol “Brent.”
Through three quarters, Favre was 20-of-24 with three touchdowns. If the Vikings hadn’t put the passing game on ice in the final period, he almost certainly would have topped 300 yards passing for the second straight week, and would have been a decent bet to pick up another score or two.
As it was, he had to settle for 271 yards, a 135.3 passer rating, and the satisfaction of being the best quarterback on the field.
Bernard Berrian looked like a legitimate weapon for the first time all season, catching six balls for 75 yards and a touchdown. When Sidney Rice wasn’t busy plucking on-side kicks out of the air, he managed to haul in five passes for 70 yards and find the end zone himself. Visanthe Shiancoe delivered in the red zone.
The best part of the passing attack? The Packers didn’t lay a finger on Favre all night. At one point in the third quarter, Green Bay brought just three rushers, giving Favre seven eternal seconds to sit back in the pocket as the defenders bounced haplessly off the O-Line. He hit tight end Jeff Dugan for a cool 25-yard pickup on the play.
Favre insists tonight wasn’t about sticking it to the Pack. But if it was, well, consider it stuck.
The Vikings beat a division rival in their first real showdown of the year. They looked fantastic at times in doing so. They’re 4-0. You can’t ask for much more than that.
The Hater Says: Favre was indeed unstoppable for much of the game—until the Minnesota coaching staff decided to stop him.
He was throwing to whomever he wanted, whenever he wanted—until Brad Childress decided to stop throwing.
Bold move there, Chilly.
Listen, we get that you had a 16-point lead and wanted to run down the clock. We get that you didn’t want to put Favre in a position to commit a game-changing turnover.
We get that part of being an NFL head coach these days means checking your cojones at the door, and that in choosing to kneecap your heretofore-dazzling offense in the fourth quarter, you were just living up to that expectation.
But how many zero-yard runs was it going to take before you figured out you weren’t fooling anybody out there? How many times did you plan to run a minute and a half off the clock via three-and-out in the closing stanza, anyway?
For that matter, how many times did you see the Packers stop Favre and the passing offense in the first three quarters? I’ll field that one for you: Once. They stopped him once. Your other five possessions during that stretch ended in one bizarre turnover and four touchdowns.
This bears repeating: Your quarterback was 20-of-freaking-24. He had more time to throw than Usain Bolt needs to run the 100-meter-dash. He was shredding the Green Bay secondary like an Enron intern on a Friday.
So why take your foot off the gas? Why leave points on the field and let the Packers make a few desperate plays to claw their way back into the game? Why not go for the kill?
They used to say the only person who could stop Michael Jordan in college was Dean Smith. On Monday night, the only person who could stop Brett Favre was Brad Childress.
And people wonder why I don’t trust this team.
This article is also featured on Purple Reign, a part of MTR Media. For more on the NFL, follow Marino on Twitter @MarinoEccher.