Thursday night marked the beginning of the 2010 season for the NFL; a night that puts two of the NFL's premiere teams on center stage for a rematch. The result either meant a statement of superiority from the 2009 Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints or revenge for the "oh so close" Minnesota Vikings.
The rematch is one that many Vikings fans have been anticipating since Garrett Hartley's field goal broke our hearts yet again (see 4 Super Bowl losses and 3 straight NFC Championship losses) and sent the Saints to play the Colts in the title game last year. That day, the Vikings were the better team, but failed to execute the small things that usually tie up a victory for a top tier football team. We should have won that game, ahh turnovers! As you can tell, I am still bitter. However, that is neither here, nor there, on to 2010.
Thursday's game was played in the Superdome, the same building that played host to the NFC Championship last year. The Saints are still on a Super Bowl high, with the Vikings looking to maintain their same high level of performance from last season with some new faces. Gone are the likes of Chester Taylor to free agency and Sidney Rice and Cedric Griffin to injuries. New players like Toby Gerhart, Greg Camarillio, and a collection of other new defensive backs are needed to step up their game to fill the absence of those notable players.
Many people will point the finger of blame for the opening night loss on Mr. Favre, but those people are very wrong. The fault of losing this game falls directly on the shoulders of Vikings often times moronic Head Coach Brad Childress. Favre was definitely off his game and was not N' Sync, err, I mean in sync with his receivers or the offense. Hey Brett, THAT'S WHY YOU GO TO TRAINING CAMP! If the soon to be 41 year-old quarterback could have completed just one of those poorly aimed passes, especially on the third down plays, the outcome of the game may have been different.
So why is the blame for this loss on Chilly? How about taking the rock away from Adrian Peterson, the team's best player, in the second half of the game? Childress is clearly a man who cannot adapt his game plan to what is happening on the field. It was obvious fairly early in the game Favre was not sharp and AP was running with a chip on his shoulder inspired by last years loss in the NFC Championship game. How can you take the ball away from a beast running with vigor (while also protecting the football), and then put the game in the hands of Favre who is off beat like Rosanne singing the national anthem?
AP finished the first half with 13 carries, 57 yards, and some great finishes to his runs. The second half featured a pass heavy offense that bogged down, limiting scoring chances. Favre was trying so hard to pick up where he left off from last season, but that is difficult when taking almost no reps with the first team offense in training camp. What is the easiest solution to this passing problem? How about give the ball to one of the NFL's best running backs? Easy enough right? Apparently not. It should have been an easy choice with Adrian running through tackles, protecting the football, and clearly pumped after each of his punishing rushing attempts. The more he runs, the better he gets.
But can you guess how many rushing attempts Adrian had in the fourth quarter? If you guessed zero, you are correct. Are you kidding me Childress? Zero running plays for your team's best player? I honestly almost melted down in rage when I double checked the stats to compose this article. It's not like AP was doing anything like fumbling or having no success on his attempts to deserve this treatment.
He played a great first half and was rewarded with no running plays late in the game? Sure the Vikings were playing catchup after the Saints scored again, but they were only down by 5 points. This is the type of coaching that I think keeps Childress from being an elite coach in this league and prevented the Vikings from being even better last season. We only needed one score to win, and it was clear that AP was the only guy on his game Thursday night.
The other player who looked great on offense was the Vikings underrated tight end Visante Shiancoe. He hauled in big catches when needed and provided his team's only touchdown with a nice pitch and catch with Favre. Shiancoe was the team's leading receiver in the game with 4 catches for 76 yards. And while Percy Harvin missed a lot of practice in the preseason, his lack of presence on the offense is another example of Childress under utilizing another one of the Vikings best players. At least intentionally put the ball in his hands twice a half and see what happens (minus kickoffs of course).
The Minnesota Vikings made a statement on one side of the ball with this game. Their defense only allowed the Saints high-powered offense to score 14 points. The classic bend but don't break defense of the Vikings was on full display as the unit allowed yards, but not many points. After allowing the Saints to score on the opening drive in five plays, the Vikings defense tightened up and only allowed one more score. Surprisingly, the defense didn't flex their strength of pressuring the quarterback. There was never a whole lot of pressure on Drew Brees and the defense only notched one sack from Jayme Mitchell. Once the defensive line settles in, expect some hits on the opposing quarterbacks.
My favorite stat of the day has to come from E.J. Henderson getting the second most tackles on the Vikings during the game. E.J. looks like he has returned to his usual destructive self. He was all over the field breaking up plays, plugging holes, and throwing his body into ball carriers. Also worth noting was the quality play of Antoine Winfield. Any concerns about his age were smothered with his decent play against the Saints wide outs, and a 7 tackle performance.
While the Vikings started off on the wrong foot, I think this performance was inspiring. AP looked dynamic, the defense looked as formidable as last year, and the Vikings stayed with the defending Super Bowl champs, even with a lackluster performance. Yeah, Favre looked rusty; but his play wasn't MVP-esque last season until his miracle pass against the 49ers three starts in. Now if someone can just kick Childress in the head when he is making terrible decisions, slowing the Vikings down.