A Tale of Two Halves

Posted: September 14, 2011 by vongrapenstein in NFL, Purple Pride

It was the best of halves, it was the worst of halves.  There really is no other way to describe the Vikings’ first game of the 2011 season.

 

It began as well as any player or coach or fan could have hoped with an 103-yard touchdown on the opening kickoff courtesy of Percy Harvin. Adding to that, Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding tore his ACL during the play, greatly aiding the Vikings chances to steal the game.

A quick three-and-out by the Chargers on the next drive kept that dream alive, until Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips made an athletic and heads-up interception on a Donovan McNabb quick, timing pass – his first pass of the season. There was no reason to blame McNabb for that one, though, and the Chargers offense used their great field position to score quickly and tie the game.

But that was the last good news for the Chargers in the first half.

After a couple of possession changes, the Vikings went on a 7-minute dive, featuring a 23-yard scramble from McNabb, a third-and-five draw play for Harvin, and some inventive, unpredictable play-calling from new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. That time-consuming drive ended with only a field goal, but the offense moved with a precision that most feared it would lack this season.

Later, a 46-yard run by Adrian Peterson, which showcased his power and speed and determination, set up another Vikings touchdown. Somehow, the Vikings were up 17-7 against a supposed Super Bowl contender.

As nice as the offense appeared, the defense was the real story of the first half. Defensive ends Brian Robison and Jared Allen continually harassed Philip Rivers throughout the first half; in addition, Allen made a couple of nice plays in pass coverage, including a beautiful interception in the second half, and Robison tipped a pass late in the first half that was intercepted by Antoine Winfield, the ageless wonder who also played lights-out in the first half. New linebackers coach Mike Singletary clearly had all the linebackers (E.J. Henderson, Chad Greenway, and Erin Henderson) prepared, as they were quite active and very quick to the ball.

While it should be noted that the injury to their kicker caused the Chargers to go for first downs when they usually would’ve kicked a field goal, the Vikings defense deserves plenty of credit.

But that was the first half.  The second half was, as they say, another story.

Donovan McNabb completed 1 of 6 passes for 2 more yards than you threw for in the second half – on the day, McNabb finished with the embarrassing line of 7/15 for 39 yards. Peterson tried to do what he does, be a one-man offense, but momentum was killed when Musgrave inexplicably decided to trot-out the least-inspired wildcat package of all-time with Joe Webb. Tight ends Visanthe Shiancoe and Kyle Rudolph were M.I.A.

On defense, the Chargers were able to wear down the Vikings through time possession, dump-offs, and the bowling ball Mike Tolbert, who finished the day with 35 yards on 12 carries, 58 yards on 9 receptions, and 3 touchdowns.

The coup de grace was late in the game when the Vikings were trailing and trying to get the ball back. Defensive tackles Letroy Guion and Fred Evans combined for three bone-headed offside penalties, killing any chances the Vikings had to win the game.  Philip Rivers (33/48, 335 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions) was able to kneel and the game was over.

So what does this game tell us about the Vikings?

Got me.

Are they the first half team? The team with the play-calling that kept the defense on their toes, that involved Harvin almost as much as Peterson? The team that understood that even if Peterson is stuffed ten times in a row he can still break that eleventh run for a touchdown?  The defense that pressured one of the best quarterbacks in football and didn’t allow the best tight end in football to do damage?

Or are they the second half team? The one with the abysmal quarterback who can’t get out of his own way? The one with the offensive line that couldn’t do anything?  The one with the offensive gameplan that looked too much like the Childress regime? The one with the tired, old, thin defense?

Got me.

Maybe suspended Kevin Williams would’ve swayed the outcome of that game, but doubtful.  Working around McNabb’s diminished skills is going to be a year-long struggle, until the Christian Ponder experience begins – which will involve a whole new set of problems. And if the offense can’t control the ball, the defense will wear down everytime, just as they did in the second half.

But the simple, boring answer is more than likely this: The Vikings aren’t as good as they looked in the first half and they aren’t as bad as they looked in the second half.

This was just the first chapter of the season and there are still 15 chapters left in the season. The Vikings still have Peterson, Harvin, Allen, and Williams will return soon. If McNabb can do better – and really, how couldn’t he? – Minnesota will find themselves with more opportunities to win this season than previously thought.

Hopefully they can finish the job next time.

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