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As predictions go, I was prepared for an entertaining afternoon of pro football watching from the warmth of my spacious but cozy great room. Fox was carrying two games in succession, with the Vikings at Jacksonville at noon, followed by the Packers at home against the Seattle Seahawks.
I figured the Vikings-Jacksonville game would be a clinker, two teams struggling for stability going against each other. And I was prepared for a second game that would be as great as the first one wouldn’t be. So I wasn’t expecting too much: first game bad, second game great.
Turns out, I was right about the first game, but wrong about the second.
This is the NFL, which has spent the season wondering why the masses, most of whom have been passionately lured to following every game imaginable, have been not watching this year in alarming numbers. Ratings are down, excitement has been down just as much, as games are more anticlimactic than scintillating. Come to my house, and we can talk about it.
With all that in mind, my wife, Joan, and I chose to drive up the North Shore to a favorite breakfast place in Two Harbors. It was only 10 a.m., so we easily could do the omelet and pancake thing and get back before the Vikings noon kickoff. We had a couple newspapers with us and we spent a half-hour or so perusing them and discussing various stories. Then we spent more time.
We finally got our food, and it was good, but we ate hastily in our hopes of getting home for the opening kickoff. We didn’t make it. We missed the entire first quarter. We missed the Vikings twice driving down the field, driving 50 yards in five plays and 45 yards in five plays, one of them rushing and four passing on each, and we missed Kai Forbath kicking field goals that staked the Vikings to a 6-0 lead.
I settled into my favorite chair as the Jacksonville Jaguars kicked a field goal, then I watched Cordarrelle Patterson run the kickoff back 53 yards, and advancing on a 15-yard roughing penalty, and still find it impossible to reach the end zone, so Forbath kicks his third field goal for a 9-3 lead. The Jaguars then had their turn for two drives that couldn’t reach the end zone, and Jason Myers kicked two field goals for their side, making it 9-9 at halftime. Yawn.
Third quarter, and the Vikings yet again put up a drive that didn’t reach paydirt, and Forbath’s fourth field goal made it 12-9. But this time the Jaguars marched 90 yards for a touchdown to go ahead 16-12. A 90-yard drive! But wait...the Vikings contributed a defensive holding first down, a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and a pass interference penalty to help Jacksonville pretend its offense was not totally inept.
Much as the Vikings needed to win to keep their fading playoff chances aflicker, it seemed to me that if they can’t do more than kick field goals against a Jacksonville team that has won only two of 13 games, then they didn’t deserve to win.
Every time I focused in hard on the game, Sam Bradford’s passing had gotten the Vikings down to something like first and goal from the 3. Matt Asiata, who charged heroically all day with little reward, was stopped on third down, and again on fourth down. On one of those, the futility was overflowing as Asiata tried to lunge across the goal line but fumbled. Sure enough, the Jaguars recovered. When they checked whether his knee was down, it was proven that Asiata’s knee hit but the ball had come loose about an inch short of the goal line. To tell you what kind of game it was, the Jaguars didn’t have to take over on their own one-inch line; the fumble bounced into the end zone, and the Jaguars recovered there, for a touchback, and got to come out to the 20.
But finally, in the fourth quarter, Asiata crashed in from the 1 and the Vikings regained the lead. But wait again! Forbath missed the extra point, and it was only 18-16. When the Jaguars once again proved inept at a game-breaking score, the Vikings drove once again down to the 3, and this time, amazingly, Bradford ran a roll out and passed to Kyle Rudolph for another touchdown. Two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, and a 25-16 victory.
Vikings players afterward were quoted repeatedly saying that winning was all that mattered, that it didn’t matter how ugly the game was, winning was all that counted. No. I disagree. And when the NFL executives come by my great room to ask me, I’ll tell them that people might prefer to go outside and play in the minus-10-degree cold than to watch such an ugly game.
Coach Mike Zimmer, with a patch over his surgically-repaired right eye, went with the team and coached from the sideline. I hope he’s OK. If he had a sense of humor, Coach Zimmer might have ended the game with a patch over BOTH eyes.
The best thing about the Vikings game was that it ended about 3:10, which gave us about 15 full minutes for Fox to analyze it and get us to Green Bay for the kickoff of the much-anticipated Seattle-Packers game. We checked, and it was 28 degrees and not snowing, so it wasn’t the hopelessly bad weather conditions we had thought possible. To pass the time, Fox switched to the Miami-Arizona game, which Arizona was just in the process of scoring a touchdown with 3:01 left to tie it, 23-23.
Breathlessly, Fox followed every nuance and every time out, and every chance for a closeup of both coaches on the sidelines, and as time expired, Miami won it 26-23 with a field goal. Finally, the game we didn’t care about was out of the way, and we switched to Green Bay.
What? The Packers had scored on a perfect Aaron Rodgers pass for a 66-yard opening touchdown, and it was 7-0. The Seahawks, for some reason, never recovered. Russell Wilson had perhaps his worst day at quarterback, throwing five interceptions, with most of them bouncing through or off receivers’ handes, or facemasks. And the Packers won the non-game 38-10.
Meanwhile, Detroit overcame an aroused Chicago Bears try to win 20-17 as Matthew Stafford engineered his NFL record eighth fourth-quarter comeback for a victory. The Lions are 9-4, while the Packers and the Vikings are both 7-6. Stafford, however, finished the game despite torn ligaments and a dislocation of the middle finger on his throwing hand. He wore a glove over a tape job in the first quarter.
So here’s the deal for the division title: Detroit plays at the Giants, at Dallas, and home against the Packers; the Vikings play at home against Indianapolis, at Green Bay, and home against the Chicago Bears; Green Bay is at the Bears, home against the Vikings and Lions.
If Stafford can grip a football, I think he will finish a magical season as MVP and the Lions win the title. The Vikings have the easiest three games, but the way they are playing they will have a great challenge to win two of them – even if Adrian Peterson follows through on his insistence to play. The Packers have Aaron Rodgers limping on hamstring injuries, but he’s still Aaron Rodgers, and it would not be impossible to imaging the Pack winning all three. Picking which of those games will be exciting enough to cause people to want to watch is another matter.
To reiterate, I thought the Vikings game last Sunday would be bad and the Seattle-Packers game would be great. I was right aboiut the first game, but wrong about the second. There must be a hockey game to watch.