In the Vikings first match up of the season vs. the rival Chicago Bears they left no argument who the better team was. For the second straight week Minnesota pounced on a weaker opponent and drove them into the ground like an elite NFL football team should.
Though for the second straight week the Vikings failed to score in the first quarter they spent the final 7 minutes of the opening quarter driving down to the Bears 1 yard line. Then, soon to be Offensive Rookie of the Year Percy Harvin caught his fifth touchdown pass of the year. The ensuing kickoff and drive for the Bears was one of the few blemishes on the Vikings Week12 resume.
The Bears dangerous kick returner Daniel Manning took the kick off 44 yards and then Cutler took over the passing attack as he drove the Bears deep into Minnesota territory. Cutler's squeezed the football through a tight window into the awaiting arms of Johnny Knox who played his role perfectly by hauling in the football while tiptoeing the back corner of the end zone. An absolute indefensible pitch and catch from Cutler to Knox to tie the game at 7-7. The beautiful reception would be Knox's only catch.
The Bears luck ran out from there. The Vikings took the next four minutes in the second quarter to march from their own 20 yard line deep into Bear territory again. Same result from their previous red zone trip but this time a dump pass to Chester Taylor that he took 10 yards for the score by diving for the nearside pylon.
After that score I told my friend Mandy, "This game is officially over." That prediction did not take much longer to truly look factual as the Bears fumbled the ensuing kickoff giving the Vikings another field goal to pad the score. The Vikings scored 10 points in the five minutes after the Bears rallied off their only touchdown of the game.
The next two Bear drives were halted by, you guessed it, Cutler interceptions. One was a tipped pass intercepted by Defensive Lineman Jared Allen giving him two for his career. The second was Cornerback Cedric Griffin's third interception of the year as he dove backwards to rip the touchdown pass out of the air when Cutler tried to go back to Knox on the same route that scored earlier. This time on the opposite side of the field but the difference being the fourth year Cornerback from Texas who navigates the left side of the field. Griffin has stepped up his game majorly in the absence of Antoine Winfield. Griffin not only is playing the pass well but also has stepped up his role in the run defense. He made four solo textbook open field tackles in Week 12 giving him 62 total on the season which ranks second among Cornerbacks in the entire NFL.
The second glaring blemish came as lightning fast Johnny Knox took the second half kickoff 77 yards to the Minnesota 8 yard line. Special teams hiccups are a past weakness of the Vikings and this game looked reminiscent of last years squad. Two big special teams plays by Chicago were among the few Bears highlights on the afternoon. Robbie Gould kicking the ball for three points through the uprights was all the Bears could muster from the Vikings 8 yard line as the defense held its own by getting sacks from Pat Williams and Ray Edwards.
The rest of the half featured the Vikings effectively moving the football but sometimes stalling once they reached Bears territory. A fine example is Chester Taylor's 20 yard touchdown run being nullified by a holding call on Bernard Berrian. The biggest failure of the game came as the Vikings failed to score from inside the Bears 4 yard line. Granted Childress and the Vikings were in conservative mode at this point with a 17 point lead, but we need to score inside the 10.
A great overall effort by the Vikings entire team, but these are the most important aspects from the game.
IMPORTANT THINGS FROM THE GAME
#1 Brett Favre continues to set passing records each week he steps on the field. Week 12 he became the first player in NFL history to score 500 total career touchdowns. He also went his fourth straight week without an interception. With 24 touchdowns and 3 interceptions Favre now has the highest touchdown to interception ratio in NFL history at 8.0. Of course that could be spoiled if #4 falls back into his old self and throws more than just 3 interceptions, but my guess is he will not stop throwing touchdown passes.
Favre continues to pile on the numbers to promote his cause for a fourth NFL MVP Award. Favre threw for 392 yards on 32/48 passing with 3 touchdowns. Each week fans are waiting for a lapse in the perfection he has displayed so far this season but the 40 year old shows no sign of slowing down. He has the second highest passer rating just .5 points behind Drew Brees.
#2 Can Minnesota fans really pick a better defensive performance between Week 11 and 12? Last week the defense only surrendered 9 points, this week 10. Last week the Vikings held the Seahawks to 4 total rushing yards, this week they held the talented Matt Forte to only 27 yards on 8 carries (Cutler also rushed for 16 yards). The next stat is what takes the cake for Week 12 dominance. The Minnesota defense held Chicago to only 169 yards of total offense. Cutler's most dangerous target was the always dangerous Tight End Greg Olsen, but even he was held in check only netting 45 yards but still caught 6 passes. Cutler's next biggest target was Forte who had 4 receptions. The Minnesota secondary shut down Devin Hester and Johnny Knox forcing Cutler into his check down receivers.
This week also featured a forced fumble and two interceptions giving the Vikings defense three turnovers to keep the game out of reach for the Bears. The defense also held Chicago where it counts most, on third down and in the red zone. The Bears third down efficiency was 2-8, and they did not score in the red zone.
#3 Despite thumping the Bears the Vikings had plenty of mistakes highlighted by yellow flags. Minnesota was penalized 10 times for 70 yards which is always a bad sign for purple lovers. If the Vikings want to keep pace with the better teams in coming weeks they will need to play mistake free, especially from the penalty standpoint. I already commented on Chester Taylor losing a touchdown because of a flag; if that happens in a close game that could cost the Vikings a game like mistakes did against the Steelers.
Adrian Peterson fumbled twice for the second time in three weeks. Week 10 against the Lions AP lost both fumbles, this week he only lost one. He fumbles most often when fighting for extra yards by using his free hand to push away tacklers which leaves the football unprotected. Opposing defensive coaches are obviously stressing in practice to focus on hitting the football from Peterson. Throughout the game the defensive players are swiping at the football in Peterson's cradle like Tiger Woods' wife with a golf club. AP needs to wake up and realize a possession is worth more than those extra few yards. PROTECT THE FOOTBALL YOUNG FELLA!
#4 Favre continues to distribute the football among his weapons. Four players had 6 receptions this past Sunday and Tight End Visante Shiancoe wasn't far behind with 5. The three touchdowns thrown by Favre were all to different receivers. It is hard to find a stand out among the numbers these receivers put up.
Percy Harvin: 6 receptions, 101 yards, 1 TD
Sidney Rice: 6 receptions, 89 yards
Chester Taylor: 6 receptions, 51 yards, 1 TD
Bernard Berrian: 6 receptions, 74 yards, 1 TD
Against his former team Bernard Berrian finally looked like the dominant wideout he was last year. The Vikings will need him as a threat coming down the stretch of the season. Having Berrian running full speed again will add him to the vertical threats already featured in Harvin and Rice.
#5 The defense also is spreading around the love as well. The tackling against the Bears was some of the best I have seen from the defense this season. Madieu Williams (finally he stepped up), E.J. Henderson, and Chad Greenway all were top in tackles this week with five a piece. Cedric Griffin had four tackles, all of them solo. Of those 19 total tackles 15 of them were solo. This means the Vikings are tackling very well and do not need to gang tackle to bring the offense down.
#6 The coaching staff designed another excellent scheme to rip apart the opposing defense. The Vikings attacked the Bears Cover 2 early and often. Every football fan knows opposing teams like to stack the box to stop "The Diesel." The Vikings countered that by using sets featuring two receivers wide running deep routes occupying the Safeties. This forced the Linebackers to cover Percy in the slot which is an obvious mismatch with his blazing speed. When the Linebackers covered deep middle after being burned Favre carved up the Cover 2 with underneath routes to Shiancoe. If the Safeties or Linebackers cheated towards the line of scrimmage Favre made them pay. Great week of preparation on the coaches part to get their team ready.
#7 Young Percy Harvin continues to to thrive in the offense. He has been used on fake reverses over the weeks, but this week the Vikings handed him the ball twice. He netted 45 yards on the reverses that did not turn out to just be deception.How many of the 21 teams that passed Percy in the 2009 Draft are kicking themselves right now? Answer: all of them.
IMPORTANT THINGS FROM AROUND THE LEAGUE
The Saints continued to roll as they played the Patriots on Monday Night Football. Drew Brees looked as dangerous as ever throwing for 5 touchdowns for 371 yards while only throwing 23 passes. That is an average of 16.1 yards a pass! Undoubtedly Brees is an elite Quarterback in the NFL but his amazing performance was made possible by the Patriots continuously blowing pass coverages. It wasn't just the Patriots secondary playing horrid either.
I have not seen the Patriots play that bad as a team since I can remember. Even Tom Brady played like a chump. Gisele is even ashamed. Once again I will give the Saints credit for putting plenty of pressure on Brady (which we all know he never handles well) but to see the team fail in every regard except their running attack was a shock to me and I am sure many of you.
How does Tom Brady throw ZERO touchdown passes against the Saints defense? I know New Orleans has a feisty D and boast the league's top ball hawk in Darren Sharper, but the Patriots have Wes Welker and Randy Moss; and the Saints do not have a great secondary by any means. As much as the Saints dominated a lot can be attributed to the Patriots playing like a pack of clowns coached by Eric Mangini and not the great Bill Bellicheck. The Patriots surrendered 6 pass plays over 25 yards. The New England secondary allowed the Saints pass plays of: 33,75, 25,38, 27, and 68.
Good signs for Vikings fans from the Saints' Week 12 performance is their inability to stop a bruising Running Back as displayed by Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk, and Sammy Morris. New England could have piled on more than 122 yards if they woke up from the daze the Saints passing offense put on before their eyes. I guarantee if the Vikings faced off against the Saints 20th ranked rush defense in the playoffs Adrian Peterson would punish the New Orleans (arm tackling) secondary. Coupled with the elusive Chester Taylor the Vikings have a real advantage with their dominant rushing and passing attacks supplementing each other. Another thing running the football does it eat up the clock which the Vikings do very well.
The Saints don't have a shabby running game themselves with Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell. Stacked against the Vikings run stopping machine on defense they fare much worse. The Vikings rush defense is once again in the top tier of the league at second overall only giving up an average of 81.6 yards a game. With the Saints offense only being able to pass (not necessarily a horrible thing) the Vikings stout defensive line can tee off against Brees dropping back every play. Don't forget the Vikings lead the NFL in sacks with 40.
#2 The actual game of the week was the rolling Titans hosting the Cardinals. Vince Young led the Titans on a 99 yard drive to win the game as time wound off the clock. The Titans completed 3 fourth down passes to keep the drive and the hopes of winning their fifth straight game alive. Chris Johnson continued his unconscious play netting over 125 yards for the sixth straight week. I wonder if this could be a reason the Titans are on a five game winning streak?
The Vikings play the Cardinals Week 13. I was happy to see that Kurt Warner was injured this week and Matt Leinart had to play against the Titans and possibly Minnesota. Instead of the "NFL Matt Leinart" it was like the "USC Leinart" showed up Sunday threading the ball through tight windows and playing mistake free football. Whether Warner or Leinart takes the snaps Sunday the Vikings will need to step up their pass defense to slow down Arizona.
#3 The Falcons chance for a deep run into the post season is seriously hindered by the injury of Matt Ryan. Falcons management said he will not be playing in Week 13 and Michael Turner has not been practicing this week.
#5 The Colts recovered to win after being down 17-0 against the Texans. However, the Colts should be very concerned about one of the hottest teams in the NFL, the San Diego Chargers. LaDainian Tomlinson is looking similar to his old self, Phillip Rivers is passing efficiently, and the ever dangerous Antonio Gates is mounting up another Pro Bowl season. The Bolts have now won 5 straight.
#6 The Steelers are in trouble by losing their third straight to the Ravens on Sunday. They are now 1-3 in division play with their only win against the Browns. The Steelers are now tied in the division with Baltimore. If the Super Bowl Champs don't step up they could be on the outside looking in come postseason.
#7 Are the Bengals for real? The Bengals barely defeated the horrible Cleveland Browns 16-7. The amazing passing attack of Carson Palmer only netted 110 yards? Strange. Another unfamiliar sight is seeing the newly acquired Larry Johnson rushing for over 100 yards in his first game with Cincinnati. Could this be the second resurgence Running Back in a Bengals uniform this season? See Cedric Benson's body of work this season before getting injured.
Are the Cowboys for real? They beat a bad Oakland team on Thanksgiving.The true gauntlet comes up as they play the Giants, Chargers, and Saints the next three weeks. This stretch of games will make or break the Cowboys. My guess is break.
The Broncos are not for real. Definitely not. Despite their victory Week 12 they are not good enough to win the division or the Wild Card.
Week 13 brings more great match ups. Tune in for the Titans and Colts, Cowboys and Giants, and the cherry on top coming from a Vikings vs. Cardinals match up on Sunday night. Oh yea, and how about the Ravens traveling to Lambeau for a match up against the Packers. Winner on Monday Night Football is ready to make a playoff push.