I can’t quite make out what exactly is happening this year with the Minnesota Vikings. The purples are 3-0 when common sense dictates they should not be, so my question at this point is the same question everybody else is asking: Can they keep this up?
They weren’t supposed to beat the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. That is, the Panthers are the defending NFC champions. The Panthers were at home working on a 14-game home winning streak. The Vikings, first minus Teddy Bridgewater and now minus Adrian Peterson, were due to come down to earth after their emotional victory over Green Bay the previous Sunday night.
As I watched the game through most of the first half, everything seemed to be going the Panthers’ way. They got off to a 10-0 lead. New Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford seemed out of sync. There was no AP to bail him out.
When the Panthers’ robo-quarterback, Cam Newton, took a safety -- inexplicably holding onto the football in the end zone when he had ample time to throw it away -- the game still looked like Carolina’s to win. The Vikings didn’t score upon getting the ball back. Newton still had that walk-in-the-park smile that is his trademark.
So how in the heck did the Vikings win, 22-10?
Well, of course, it had everything to do with defense. And special teams. Marcus Sherels returned a punt 54 yards for a touchdown late in the second quarter, and even though Blair Walsh missed another one of his extra points, the momentum was taken. Bradford drove the Vikes 79 yards for a score on the team’s first possession of the second half. And at game’s end, Carolina -- and Newton -- were left scratching their heads.
“Whatever they were doing was effective,” Newton said.
I guess he didn’t know what was going on, either.
It may not be too early to wonder whether the Vikings are becoming the NFC’s version of the New England Patriots. That is, they are going to win no matter what.
The Patriots are different, I suppose. They win year-in, year-out without ever having an off-year. But this season, like the Vikings, it doesn’t seem to matter who quarterbacks the team. It doesn’t seem to matter who’s injured. The Pats just win, and head coach Bill Belichick, looking like Yoda in those ill-fitting sweatshirts he wears, remains impervious to explanation.
I continue to insist that the Patriots have perfected a method for cheating that is invulnerable to exposure. I don’t know how they do it, or exactly what they are doing, but I cannot accept the idea that the Patriots -- and the Patriots alone -- can ride above the inevitable peaks and valleys of NFL competition and never experience low tide.
People tell me that it’s just the Belichick way. Yes, but the NFL is a copycat league; if it’s merely an operational strategy, why can’t anybody else figure it out and do it, too? They tell me it’s because the Patriots have a focus other teams just don’t have. Oh, please. Are you telling me only the Patriots are capable of being so calibrated?
OK, I seriously don’t think the Vikings are the Patriots of the NFC. Before long, they’re going to miss having Peterson in the backfield. I know Bradford’s history. He can’t hold the offense together all by himself.
I’m not convinced, however, that the Vikings can’t keep this going anyway. Why? Because forget the Patriots and think, for a moment, about the 1985 Chicago Bears.
The ‘85 Bears, to me, possessed the best NFL defense of all time. I’m not saying the Vikings are that good, but consider this: In three games, they’ve forced turnovers in 25.7 percent of opponents’ drives. They have nine takeaways in three games. Their defense and special teams have produced as many touchdowns as their offense. On Sunday, they sacked the great Newton eight times and intercepted three of his passes.
The Vikings also have extra incentive. Remember Walsh? Remember his miss of a 27-yard field goal that cost Minnesota a playoff win against Seattle last season?
In 1984, the Bears were devastated by losing 23-0 to San Francisco in the NFC championship game. They were determined to do better in ‘85.
I don’t know if Walsh’s miss is providing the extra incentive the Vikings need this season. But something’s going on.