We have arrived at the mid-point of the season. Eight games played, and eight games to go.
After Sunday's thrilling come-from-behind overtime victory by the Minnesota Vikings over the - still in shock - Arizona Cardinals 27-24, both teams stand at 3-5. That poor record is not at all what was expected at the beginning of the season for the 2008 NFL runner up, the Cardinals, and certainly not for last year's NFC runner up, the Vikings. Both division winners from a year ago, have been major disappointments so far this year.
Sunday's game provided many Viking heroes. Obviously Brett Favre, who threw for a career high 446 yards and the game-tying fourth quarter touchdown, but also Percy Harvin who posted career highs in receptions with nine, and receiving yards with 126, Bernard Berrian who had a season high nine receptions, and Adrian Peterson who totaled 144 all-purpose yards and scored two touchdowns. The biggest hero of the game however? Greg Camarillo.
No, not because of his season high four receptions, and season high 66 receiving yards, but because of his saving play of the day. Lost because of the fourth quarter and overtime dramatics, was the first quarter play that Camarillo made on Cardinal defensive back, Kerry Rhodes. Rhodes picked off a Favre pass, and raced 66 yards for what appeared was going to be the game's initial score, but a hustling Camarillo came from out of nowhere to knock the football loose, and the pigskin bounced out of the end zone. Touchback Vikings.
Had that play by Camarillo not been made, the score would have been Cardinals 7, Vikings 0, and yet another pick six would have been posted against Favre. The boos would have echoed down from the crowd, and tension between Favre and Head Coach, Brad Childress, would have increased another notch, as Childress - no doubt - would have again entertained thoughts of benching Favre.
Because that play was made however, the game's complexion changed, and the Vikings wound up scoring first. Although trailing at halftime, and looking out of it heading into the fourth quarter trailing 21-10, the Vikings finally pulled things together and put on a furious rally.
From the fourth quarter and into overtime, the Vikings played their best football of the season. Other than a failed fourth down and goal pass attempt, they played flawless football for 20 (game-clock) minutes. All of the intensity and sense of urgency on both sides of the ball that had been missing all season long, were fully unleashed upon the poor Cardinals who probably never knew what hit them.
In that 20 minute span of time, the Vikings outscored the Cardinals 17-3, outgained them 237 yards to 13, and sacked them four times. The Vikings had registered only six sacks in their first seven games!
To put that domination in perspective, prorating that performance over a full 60 minute game, the Vikings would have beaten the Cardinals 51-9, outgained them 711 yards to 39, and sacked them 12 times.
While the scintillating win may have prolonged a slim playoff possibility for another week, it did not hide the wounds that the Viking team carries. Leading into Sunday's very critical division battle against the Chicago Bears, six anonymous Vikings expressed to the Chicago Sun Times that they would like to see their head coach fired.
This criticism, while an unusual revelation for a team mid-season, is not at all surprising. Any observer of the Vikings during Childress' tenure, would have to have suspected there to be dissension in the locker room. What with the crass way in which Childress conducts himself, the vindictive way in which he treats his players, and the many stubborn and questionable decisions he makes on and off the football field, it is any wonder why team owner, Zygi Wilf, left Childress in place after the coach's hasty, unilateral decision to waive legendary Viking receiver, Randy Moss, last week.
Perhaps Wilf believes the Vikings can restore there ambitions for a Super Bowl appearance this year if Childress is left in place. In order for that to happen, a 3-5 first half, will probably have to be replaced by at least a 6-2 second half. That is a tall order for a team that has not won a road game in over a calender year.
The Vikings' road losing streak now stands at an alarming eight (including the playoffs), and nine out of their last 10 road trips have resulted in a loss. In order for them to finish 9-7 and have a decent shot at the playoffs - provided they are a perfect 4-0 at home the rest of the way - the Vikings would still have to win two games out of visits to Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia, and Detroit.
With the exception of the Eagles, the other three teams seem vulnerable, but only the Lions presently have a losing record, and they are not quite the typical punching bag that they have been in recent years.
Given the added baggage of being a dysfunctional ball club, finishing .500 is far more likely than qualifying for the playoffs, and playing in Dallas come February, seems almost an impossibility.
The only way the high expectations of this season can still be accomplished, is if the Vikings can bottle up that last 20 minutes of football they played Sunday, and play that way on a regular basis from here on out; not just in spurts. No one knows where that inspired play has been, but that is the quality of play this team is capable of, and what was anticipated coming into this season, given last year's performance.
Sunday's contest at Soldier Field, where the Vikings have lost two in a row, and eight of their last nine, will likely give good insight as to what the second half of the season will look like. If the Vikings do grab a rare win in Chicago, things could get interesting before it's all said and done.