Missing Rings: 2009 Minnesota Vikings

When you think back to the NFL before the free agency era, you rarely had the chance to see players take on their former team. Not with the venom or emotion we have seen post 1993 as players left as salary cap casualties with something to prove. We watched Hall of Famers like Marcus Allen & Thurman Thomas move to divisional rivals knowing they had 2 shots a year to get some payback. Yet over the years this was rarely seen at the QB position.

Favre’s locker at The Pro Football Hall of Fame on display the day of his induction.

The last true time we saw this was when Joe Montana was traded out of San Francisco to make way for Steve Young. They had rebuilt on the run and were still among the league’s elite and no longer needed their young QB looking over his shoulder at a living legend who played the same position. In 1994 they faced off in an epic week 2 battle that captured the nation’s attention. We wouldn’t see a match-up of this magnitude again for another 15 years.

Now of all the long standing rivalries in the NFL there are few with more hatred between two teams like that of the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings. Theirs is a clash of lifestyles, cultures, teams, and an envy from Vikings fans and players of the Packer’s globally revered NFL legacy.

Although the Packers have won 13 championships it’s the legacy of Vince Lombardi and their being “Team of the 60’s” that NFL Films and books have elevated these teams & players to mythic status. Minnesota on the other hand is largely remembered for losing 4 of the first 11 Super Bowls with very few of their great players being recognized by  Pro Football Hall of Fame. One example is Paul Krause, the NFL’s All Time Interceptor with 81 passes. It took 20 years for him to make “The Hall” after a 16 year career. Could you imagine any player who retired #1 in any major statistic waiting that long to make the journey to Canton?? I didn’t think so.

Had the Vikings won those 4 Super Bowls they would have been remembered as the “Team of the 70’s.” There are only 5 members from the Vikings enshrined compared to the 12 from the 60’s Packers and that will increase to 13 when Jerry Kramer gets in this year.

From the mid 90’s on it seemed as though the Viking organization was constantly searching for a QB. The Vikings spent the better part of 2 decades with teams good enough to make the playoffs but not “the guy” to get them over the top. They shuffled in an aging Warren Moon, an enigmatic Jeff George, resurrected Jim McMahon, had journeymen like Sean Salisbury, and revived a retired Randall Cunningham.

In ’98 Cunningham was the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year as he threw for 34 TDs. Super rookie Randy Moss set a record with 17 TDs as the Vikings roared to a 15-1 regular season and set the NFL scoring record with 556 points. They were a meteor and was the best of the Denny Green era however they were upset in the NFC Championship 30-27 and had to watch Super Bowl XXXIII.

Lost in this sea of futility, the Green Bay Packers became the center of the universe with the emergence of Brett Favre and the free agent signing of Reggie White. When they won the ’96 Super Bowl, Favre was in the midst of 3 straight MVP seasons and Viking faithful seethed with envy. The hated Packers had become one of the glamour teams and Favre had become the face of the league.

Peterson sets the NFL single game rushing record at 296 yards vs. Chargers.

This went on for years as the Vikings, with Randy Moss, could make the playoffs yet could only muster 1 more championship appearance. Once there, the lights went out in a 41-0 loss to the Giants in the 2000 NFC Championship. The most explosive player in football and they couldn’t field a champion with him. After his departure lightning struck again when they landed future Hall of Famer in RB Adrian Peterson in the 2007 draft. His rookie year saw him rush for 1,341 yards highlighted by an NFL record 296 yd rushing performance against San Diego. Yikes! His combination of speed and power might have been the most frightening at its zenith in NFL history. If they only could get a quarterback with him they could be lethal…

Elsewhere in the NFC North the Packers had retooled and Favre had become the grand old man trying to get back to the Super Bowl. Gone were the gunslinger days where Brett had to will his team to victory, he was getting by on guile. Timely audibles, leadership and staying controlled within Coach McCarthy’s offense led to a 13-3 record and homefield advantage. Early in the year he eclipsed Dan Marino to become the NFL’s all time touchdown passer, against the Vikings no less. In his 17th season he was the sentimental favorite to win a title in a swan song season that seemed predestined. But alas… the New York Giants upset Green Bay 23-20 in the NFC Championship. Favre had thrown a fatal interception in overtime to Corey Webster…and it was over.

The saga of Brett retiring and unretiring began as the Packers wanted to move on with a young Aaron Rodgers. Having his championship appetite whet he didn’t want to retire. Green Bay didn’t relent and he became a free agent and wound up playing the 2008 season with the New York Jets. He wasn’t inspired and seem to go through the motions and retired again… but when the Vikings came calling… this sent shockwaves through the NFL and a rejuvenated Favre hit the ground running.

Football fans everywhere took sides waiting to see Favre with the hated Vikings take on his old team. Packer fans were outraged he went to Minnesota and felt betrayed. Social media was in its infancy but comments “Judas” and quotes from the Godfather “It was you Fredo!” with pics from the kiss of death scene were everywhere as the buildup for those games began that summer.

To go with All Pro RB Adrian Peterson, the Vikings had developed WR Sidney Rice and drafted wild card and super rookie Percy Harvin off the NCAA champion Florida Gators. Farve had never had this type of firepower in Green Bay and Packer fans were nervous as hell. More important there was a pep in his step as though Favre had stepped back in time 5 years. He returned to being the emotional gunslinger and was on full display in week 3. The Vikings had begun the season 2-0 and were losing at home to San Francisco. They were being accused of looking ahead to the 1st matchup with Green Bay….and then the Vikes got the ball with 1:29 to go needing a touchdown.

The old man swaggered onto the field and brought life to the Viking huddle they hadn’t seen in a decade. A frantic drive saw Favre complete 6 of 8 passes that weren’t spikes and his last pass was a scramble & 32 yard touchdown to Greg Lewis with :02 seconds to go to win 27-24. The Metrodome hadn’t been that loud since the days of Moss and Cris Carter a decade before. Bring on the Packers!!

A raucous crowd awaited a Monday Night audience as the old knight outdueled the young lion in a 30-23 victory. Farve had gone 24 of 31 for 271 yards and 3 TDs where Aaron Rodgers had been sacked 8 times and harassed all night. He threw for 384 yards 2 TDs and an interception and had to play uphill all night. Favre left the field with his arms outstretched amid a sea of reporters. However in week 8 the Vikings would have to take the trek to Lambeau Field. Surely the Packer faithful would be just as loud and unforgiving as the Metrodome crowd had been for Rodgers.

In what might have been the biggest sporting event of the decade the nation tuned in for Favre’s return to Lambeau Field. Had there been pay per view for football games this would have smashed any record any boxing match had ever achieved. All the shows aired specials on the game and all week Fox dotted their television landscape with promos for the Game of the Week. The NFL’s all time winningest QB with the most touchdowns and yardage in NFL history, and the greatest Packer legend was going to be playing in purple and gold?? The mind struggled to take it all in…and when the whistle blew:

When the smoke cleared the Vikings were going into their bye week 7-1 and Favre had definitely had his revenge. In 2 games he completed 41 of 59 for 525 yards 7 TDs and was in complete control where Rodgers threw for 6 TDs, however had 1 interception and was sacked 14 times by the Viking front line. Yes… 14 times!! The Packers only led once in either contest, 3-0 in the 2nd game, and didn’t intercept or sack #4 once in either contest. This was against a Packer defense that finished ranked #2 in 2009. Suddenly the season was at the halfway point and the question had to be asked: Was this the best team in the NFL??

For the season Minnesota finished 2nd against the run & 6th in total defense and led the NFL with 48 sacks. Future Hall of Famer Jared Allen was a menace all year with 14.5 sacks and 5 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries, a safety and a touchdown in a season where he was All Pro and made the Pro Bowl. He would have been Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year over the NFL’s choice in Charles Woodson. Why?? In the 2 biggest games of the year Packers vs Vikings, Woodson never intercepted Favre where Allen sacked Aaron Rodgers 7 times which included the safety. This led to Rodgers being the most sacked QB in the NFL in 2009 taken down 50 times. Yes… 7 times. Checkmate!

Allen was joined at the Pro Bowl by fellow defenders CB Antoine Winfield, immovable DT Kevin Williams (also All Pro) and LB Chad Greenway should have been. DE Ray Edwards had a career best 8.5 sacks in ’09 playing across from Jared. MLB E.J Henderson, OLB Ben Leber, DT Pat Williams, and CB Cedric Griffin turned in solid seasons.

Offensively the Vikings finished 5th in the NFL and scored 470 points which ranked 2nd. All World RB Adrian Peterson rushed for 1,383 yds and a career best 18 TDs while collecting 43 rec. for another 436 yards. Wideout Sidney Rice was another contributor with 83 rec. 1,312 yards and 8 TDs…all career highs. Now add in NFL Rookie of the Year in Percy Harvin who contributed with 925 yards from scrimmage 6 TDs while ranking 3rd on kickoffs with a 27.1 yard avg for 1,100 yards and 2 more scores.   This team had weapons!

Do you realize at 40 years of age Favre completed a career high 68.4% of his passes for 4,202 yards 33 TDs and a career low 7 interceptions?? It was the highest season TD total for #4 in 12 years.

After racing out to a 10-1 start, the Norsemen finished 12-4 as the most complete team in football. Well, some were saying the New Orleans Saints were and after the Vikings stomped Dallas 34-3 in the NFC Divisional Playoff, they would meet in the Superdome for the NFC Championship. It was the only time in the 51 year history of the Super Bowl where a QB had taken 2 different teams to the conference championship game in just 3 years.

Favre had grown up just 60 miles from the Superdome and this was the building he had won his Super Bowl title. The script seemed to have been written…

A team that finished 3rd in fewest turnovers allowed w/ 18  during the ’09 regular season turned it over 5 times in New Orleans. The Vikings were able to bring in the catalyst for the best season in 10 years but he couldn’t breathe championship pedigree into players who didn’t have it on the professional level. Well at least for this game.

A 31-28 defeat in overtime to a team they lost the turnover battle to 5-1 on the road. Most teams get blown out yet the Norsemen hung tough and fought to the bitter end. Brett gambled with a bad throw on the Tracy Porter interception when the Vikings were near field goal position to win it in regulation. This became the final on field image of a legendary performer… like it or not. The Saints were off to Super Bowl XLIV where the Vikings had to ponder the what ifs…

The NFL’s best team had to sit and watch the New Orleans win the Lombardi two weeks later and the sports world was left to ponder “what might have been”?  Had the Vikings gone on to win that 1st Super Bowl, Brett Favre would have become the 1st QB to win the NFL Championship with 2 different teams since Norm Van Brocklin in 1960. He did become the 1st QB in the Super Bowl era to lead two different teams to a conference championship appearance in a 3 year period.

In the grand scheme of things it had been a magic carpet ride for fans everywhere. Not only for the middle aged men who got behind an aging lion in a young man’s game, but those who cheer the Viking legacy and almost watched the greatest Packer in history win their 1st Super Bowl Championship. A unique chapter in NFL history remembered at Favre’s Pro Football Hall of Fame induction. Both by speech as Chris Berman addressed the audience and the display pictured above. For Packer fans that grumbled at the locker display I just encouraged them to stand in front of the Viking jersey when taking their pics. Yet when you look back at the ’09 Vikings overall it was one of the strongest teams in the last 20 years that fell short of Super Bowl glory.

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Percy Harvin Traded To The Seahawks

Percy Harvin is going to be a viable threat out of the backfield as well as in the slot.

Percy Harvin is going to be a viable threat out of the backfield as well as in the slot.

Percy Harvin is packing his bags for the Pacific Northwest. He is going to a legitimate Super Bowl contender at the expense of 2 1st round selections. One this year and another next year. Let’s face it he only had a salary of $915,000 last year and provides an explosive element to the Seahawks on offense as well as special teams.

If there is a weakness on the Seahawks, they didn’t have enough play makers around Russell Wilson. The only way to free up Sidney Rice is to get a complete receiver on the other side. Harvin isn’t that guy. He’s the guy that will attack from the slot formation when you split your attention between Marshawn Lynch, Sidney Rice, and the later to be named receiver they should get in the draft or free agency. Understand the dynamic that Harvin isn’t the end all be all.

He’s going to be that wildcard in their offense that you won’t be able to account for. Couple that with Russell Wilson’s running ability and Harvin just needs to stay alive on those plays. Everyone knows he is always one missed tackle from taking it the distance. If you read our Seahawks preview https://taylorblitztimes.com/2013/03/08/2013-seattle-seahawks-preview-ready-to-make-a-move/ you’d know the relative ages of these players. This team is in for a Super Bowl run and they would still have another year before free agency can nick at this team. So giving up 2 first rounders for a team that is loaded at every position but receiver, this was a good trade. If they take the field for Super Bowl XLVIII, it will be looked upon as a great trade.

 

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NFL Week 8: NFC North – New Beginnings

Will Jay Cutler’s toughness be questioned after coming back from a frightening sack on Monday night??

In a gritty performance on Monday night, the Bears upped their record to 5-1 beating the Detroit Lions 13-6. The game wasn’t an artistic one for the Bears by any means but a win is a win is a win. Bear fans were thrown for a huge scare when Ndamukong Suh slammed Jay Cutler to the turf in the second quarter. As trainers attended Cutler, everyone flashed back to the 2010 NFC Championship Game. In that one he left with what looked like a questionable injury and his toughness has been in dispute ever since. The Monday night crew showed replay after replay and it looked like he may have suffered a serious injury to his shoulder or collarbone.

The silence at Soldier Field was deafening until he popped up and ran to the sideline. The uneasiness of losing Cutler could derail what looks like a possible super season for the Bears. Anxiety turned to appreciation when he jogged onto the field a few minutes later. A quarterback once questioned for his toughness, was now receiving a standing ovation for exhibiting such. There was something gained during those anxious moments between the Bears fan-base and Jay. It will be interesting to watch as we move forward on how he will be perceived. We believe a new found respect for Cutler and the Bears offense will emerge from this. They won more than a game a few days ago.

Lets take a look at the standings…

North Division

W

L

T

PCT

PF

PA

HOME

ROAD

DIV

CONF

STRK

LAST5

Chicago Bears Bears 5 1 0 .833 162 78 3-0 2-1 1-1 3-1 W4 4-1
Minnesota Vikings Vikings 5 2 0 .714 167 131 4-0 1-2 1-0 3-1 W1 4-1
Green Bay Packers Packers 4 3 0 .571 184 155 2-1 2-2 1-0 3-2 W2 3-2
Detroit Lions Lions 2 4 0 .333 133 150 1-1 1-3 0-2 2-3 L1 1-4

Charles Tillman has been a Pro Bowl caliber corner for years. On Monday Night he turned into Optimus Prime, holding Megatron to just 3 receptions for 34 yards.

Now according to NFL accounting, the Bears field the 6th best defense in pro football. Yet what jumps out at you is they have only given up 78 points this season. In the last four games they have held three of their opponents to 10 points or less. An argument can be made against them since they haven’t beat a team with a winning record. However if you’ve looked at their schedule, seven of their last eight have winning records and we will know where this team is going facing that gauntlet. When our CEO did his Pro Bowl voting, he could only find spots for four of these defenders on his ballot. Charles Tillman, Henry Melton, Tim Jennings, and Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year candidate Lance Briggs. Melton has reaped the reward of teams paying so much attention to Julius Peppers on the corner. His 18 tackles and team leading 4.5 sacks is best for NFC interior defensive linemen. As the season progresses and teams make Melton more of a focal point, it will free Peppers to make more of an impact.

They are playing team defense that hasn’t been seen since the 2008 Steelers or 2002 Buccaneers. Do you realize in 6 games, they have 21 sacks, 14 interceptions, 5 defensive touchdowns, forced 9 fumbles, recovered 7 of those to the tune of 21 turnovers?? Those are ’85 Bears numbers if you project them out to a full season.

As it appears the Packers have righted their ship, they lose a rudder with Charles Woodson going down with a broken collarbone. He is out indefinitely and this is a big loss. He is the reason they are able to juggle him around at safety, nickel corner on slot receivers, and can use a variety of blitzes with his man to man cover skills. Without him the Packers may change how they are calling plays from a defensive standpoint. Right now they are 14th in total defense and 17th against the pass while giving up 22 points per game. They will have to score to win.

Speaking of which, the Packers have sprung to life on offense averaging 33 points per game in their last three. All of them against defenses that rank in the top half of the league. After a slow start Aaron Rodgers has thrown 16 touchdowns in the last 4 games. That is a torrid pace and here comes the 24th ranked defense of Jacksonville to help pad his Pro Bowl stats. Yet in back to back games the Packers have been unable to run for 100 yards and this will eventually come back and haunt the offense at some point. This deficiency may not come back to bite them this week, but the week after against the 4th ranked Cardinal defense it may. Still a season on the brink in Green Bay.

Adrian Peterson is the heart and soul of the Vikings offense once again.

Is there a more below the radar 5-2 team than the Minnesota Vikings?? Whenever we hear the so called experts talking about the best team in the NFL no one mentions them. Everyone anoints the Niners the team to beat but these Vikings hammered them in week 3, 23-14. Not only does this team have a 2-1 record against teams with winning records, they are an RG III 76 yard touchdown run and an Adam Vinatieri field goal from being undefeated. Percy Harvin has been one of the league’s best players and received a Pro Bowl vote from our CEO. He has 53 receptions for 577 yards and teams never know where he’s going to line up.

As the season goes on, Adrian Peterson looks like he’s getting stronger with each game. With 652 yards on 136 carries (4.8 yd avg) and 3 touchdowns, already worthy of a Pro Bowl vote, we’re waiting for that breakout game during the second half of this season. It’s coming. Think back to Jamal Lewis who once played for the Baltimore Ravens. He tore up his knee in 2001, and after a slow 2002, burst out with a 2,066 yard season which was the second highest in NFL history. We see the same thing coming in Peterson and with his speedy recovery we expect him to be a tornado come playoff time. It’s not far fetched when you remember this guy holds the NFL rushing record of 296 in one game.

Then you take a look at the defensive side of the ball and you’ll see it’s a complete systemic effort. Pressure from the front four starts with Jared Allen (pro bowl vote) with 6 sacks, along with Brian Robison’s 4, only then do you realize they have more sacks than the Bears at 22. Is there anyone Chad Greenway (pro bowl vote) hasn’t tackled?? He has 75 and we’re not at the half-way point of the season! He is on pace to be over 160 for the season and deserves to be recognized for his steady play. With 55 tackles, 1 sack and 2 interceptions Antoine Winfield is having a great year, but can he keep it up at 35 years of age. As a group they don’t force a lot of turnovers yet are ranked a respectable 11th.

So we at Taylor Blitz Times understand what we see: A serious contender for the NFC North title and serious NFC representative for the Super Bowl if they can get through weeks 12-17, when the division faces one another. First off, they have tie break advantages over San Francisco and Arizona if they are both division champions or wild card participants. They play Seattle in two weeks where they could possibly have them under their thumb also. By the way, the Vikings are 4-0 at home and only have one loss in the conference. It’s all these tie breakers that will propel the Vikings forward and should come back to haunt Green Bay. As The Chancellor of Football has said many times “At some point you have to believe what your eyes are seeing.” Wake up!! That holds true when you think of this team and a new way to look at them as a contender.

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By the way, many thanks to The Artie Clear Show where The Chancellor was on talking football with Artie yesterday. The show is a friend to the Taylor Blitz Times in more ways than one. Check out all the former pro players, from all sports that he has on. Tellin’ it like it is except when he’s debating The Chancellor, give the show a listen. Especially with the baseball postseason going. He’s on it… http://www.theartieclearshow.com/