This past Sunday for the Minnesota Vikings, their defeat of the Washington Redskins 17-13 represented more than just a win amongst a pair of also-rans. For the Vikings a new chapter in the team's history was forged.
Interim Head Coach, Leslie Frazier - just as his predecessor did four years ago - began his head coaching career with a win against the Redskins at FedEx Field. The Vikings got their first road win since November 1st, of last year (nine straight losses), because of strong defense, a solid running game, and maximum ball security. That's right, the Vikings committed zero turnovers for the first time this season.
In stark contrast to the previous 10 games under former Head Coach, Brad Childress, this Viking team was disciplined and poised. Entering the game leading the league in penalties, the Vikings committed only three. Normally fragile on the road - after yielding an opening drive touchdown to the Redskins - this time the Vikings responded with a touchdown drive of their own. After tying the score with their first touchdown scored on an initial posession all year, the Vikings, never trailed the Redskins again.
If the Vikings are going to return to NFL elite status under Frazier's watch, getting the Vikings to focus on the basics of sound football is a good start. Make no mistake, the Vikings did not play a great game Sunday, and are certainly not the powerhouse that they were last season. Not yet anyway.
The Vikings did not wow anybody Sunday, but with the exception of kick coverage, they were solid in every other phase of the game. That case could not be made in any other performance all year. Last Sunday's blueprint can be the foundation for a Vikings' return to prominence.
The Vikings played perhaps their finest defensive game of the season, giving up only 216 total yards (29 yards on the ground) and 10 first downs, 83 of those total yards and four of those first downs coming on the Redskins lone touchdown drive that opened the contest. The Viking pass rush also returned as they consistently got good pressure on Redskins Quarterback, Donovan McNabb, sacking him four times. That yardage total was both a season low for the Viking defense and the Redskin offense this year.
The Viking offensive attack was ground-oriented, with 38 rushes against just 23 pass attempts, mainly of the safe check-down variety. While going against statistically the worst defense in the league made the going easier than normal, the Vikings had to go it without star runner, Adrian Peterson, for most of the game. Peterson was off to a big start however, averaging six yards per carry, racing to a 34-yard gain on a screen pass, and plowing through several Redskins to score the first Viking touchdown, but he injured his ankle early in the second quarter and was unable to return.
Fortunately, rookie running back, Toby Gerhart, was able to grind out 76 yards rushing on 22 carries, and also plowed through several Redskins to score the second Viking touchdown. Quarterback Brett Favre, toned down his play to merely becoming a manager of the game, and at this stage of his career, that low-risk role is probably better suited to producing a winning result.
The most impressive aspect of the offense was actually nothing particularly exciting, but it was nonetheless very telling of an improved overall team attitude. The Vikings, on the road, were able to run out the final 6:13 of the game - with the exception of a single completed pass - entirely on the ground. The final drive was capped off by...a 10-yard third down scramble by Favre! That run, Favre's longest in two years, sealed the Viking victory.
Ironically, had Favre done the same thing in the final minute of regulation in the NFC Title Game this past January, the Vikings almost certainly would have played in the Super Bowl. Finally the right decision, just a season too late.
In any event, while there was a hiccup in kick coverage - Redskins Rookie, Brandon Banks, returned one kickoff 65 yards, and had a potential 77-yard punt return for a touchdown called back because of a block-in-the-back that had no bearing on the run - the Vikings otherwise played like a different team under Frazier. With the Vikings showing the composure to win on the road for a change, it will be interesting to see if they can win in Philadelphia and Detroit the last two games of the season.
A victory over the former, might really speak volumes as to whether Frazier will remain as the permanent head coach, or if his Viking tenure will end with only six games. For all of this season's turmoil, and the poor, disjointed efforts demonstrated on the playing field, Frazier's getting the Vikings to get back to the basics, was definitely the right thing to do.