Saturday, November 20, 2010
Vikings May Be Big Test For the Packers
Yes, by every imaginable measure, the 6-3 Packers are on a roll, well-rested coming off a bye, and seem to finally have all their cylinders firing at the same time. On the other side of the ball, the Vikings are beat up, beat down, and on the verge of complete implosion. Their coach is on his way out the door, likely sooner than later, and the players don't appear to want to help save his job. These two teams are about as far apart in fortunes as can be imagined.
Which is exactly what makes the Vikings so dangerous. This team is barely on pace for a 6-10 finish, the quarterback they wet-dreamt about looks even older than he really is, and Sydney Rice looked around at the turmoil and tried to stay on the sideline as long as possible before being forced to join in the fun. This is a team that is going nowhere, and they all know it. Big changes are on the horizon, and collecting a paycheck is now the primary motivation to show up for work.
This is a desperate team, and a team that is desperate knows that moral victories are sometimes the best they can hope for. And for a team that is coming apart at the seams, there's nothing that will temporarily ease all the pain than a home victory over the Green Bay Packers.
Mind you, not just the Green Bay Packers, division rivals. It's the Green Bay Packers, the team the Vikings built themselves to beat. It's the Green Bay Packers, the team Brett Favre was supposed to be able to unravel. It's the Green Bay Packers, who delivered a loss last month that sent the Vikings into complete free-fall.
It's the Green Bay Packers...and a victory over them would be a tremendous emotional victory. After all, didn't the win against the Vikings do the same for the Packers a month ago? If games were won on paper, why would Chris Berman keep tell us. "That's why they play the game". For the last thirty years. Over and over again.
Come on. We've seen this for years, especially since the fall from the Holmgren era. Think about a pathetic Detroit Lions team somehow gathering itself and playing the Packers tough on a Thanksgiving Day game. Amidst season after season of dismal play, on that one November day, they played their "Super Bowl", and beating the Packers was icing on the cake. Or. imagine Lovie Smith's Bears, who announced upon his arrival that their first mission was going to beat the Packers, and has managed an 8-5 record against the Packers during his regime (getting wins even in the Bears' poorer seasons).
Yes, the Packers should win. And yes, the Vikings should lose. The momentum, however, is likely to lie with Minnesota and the screaming fans in the Humpty Dome to start out. The Vikings have nothing else to lose this year.
One thing that sort of bothered me coming out of the Packer victory over the Vikings last month was the comments from the locker room, how players mentioned how important this game was the Aaron Rodgers, and how much they wanted to get the win for him. I'm not doubting that importance or its significance, but you do have to wonder, especially with how inconsistent Rodgers has been this year, if having to get psyched up for one game based on who you're playing is a sign of a playoff quarterback.
You don't hear about Tom Brady or Peyton Manning having to get a "special game". While there is certainly plenty of backstory to Rodgers' finally "beating" Brett Favre, you also want to have a quarterback...and a team...that approaches every regular season game with the same level of focus and determination. Personally (and I did say this before the game), Rodgers should be to the point now where he no longer NEEDS to have to "beat Brett Favre" to prove his worth to himself or anyone else. Period.
That kind of mentality should be reserved for teams like the Lions on Thanksgiving, or a Lovie Smith Bears team that is on its way to a losing season, knowing they can placate their fans with wins over their arch-rivals. And, naturally, its a kind of mentality that we're likely to see from the Minnesota Vikings tomorrow.
Hey...if Aaron Rodgers' teammates can vie to get an emotional win for their beloved quarterback (even on a day when he is struggling), you don't think the Vikings aren't going to be trying to get one back for Favre? You know they're not playing for Childress, and quite frankly, they're likely looking for a reason...any reason...to play like the division champs they were last year. Tit for tat, as they say.
This game has the potential, quite frankly, to be the toughest competition the Packers will have played so far this year. Seriously. The Packers haven't played too many tough teams this year: the Eagles were still starting Kolb at quarterback, and the Jets looked rather off, too. Yes, the Packers did their job against those two teams, but they may have to do more against the Vikings if they do keep that momentum going.
The Packers are positioning themselves as a legitimate playoff team, and yet we saw how they fared in the playoffs last year: a defense that fell apart, reducing the game to "Madden" on easy mode. If the Packers are going to fare any better, they have to learn how to defuse a motivated team early. The Vikings will be looking for any positive plays to energize them, whether it be a turnover, a sack, a three-and-out, a big touchdown...whatever. This is a desperate team that will play desperately, but will also respond well to any success.
The Packers are going to have to control the ball and make sure that they don't make the big mistake. Obviously, establishing a running game would be aid the Packers in that quest. But even if the Packers do jump out to an early lead and demoralize the Vikings, we've already seen the Vikings come from behind late in a game against the Cardinals to win at the end. And, we have seem the Packers fall apart later in games this year, too.
In the end, I believe the Packers will win, but to do so, they need to do the things that a playoff team needs to do. They need to not beat themselves with foolish penalties and special teams gaffes. They need to control the ball, take it away when they can, and not put it on the carpet or in the hands of their defensive backs. But most of all, they need to get that lead, and put the boot to the throat of the competition and keep them down.
The first win this season against the Vikings transformed the Packers into a confident team that was able to rattle off two more wins, including one against the Jets. It gave them the momentum to handily beat bad teams and stand up to the better ones.
A win tomorrow may be just what the Packers need to take themselves to the next level, ready to face the Falcons, the Patriots, and the Giants....and whomever they may meet in Week 18.