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Sunday, December 7, 2008
Another chance for Tarvaris Jackson

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

 
 Leon Halip/US Presswire
 Tarvaris Jackson led the Vikings to 17 second-half points on Sunday.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

DETROIT -- A group of Minnesota coaches and players gathered around Tarvaris Jackson in the locker room late Sunday afternoon. Jackson was grinning from ear to ear, accepting congratulations and slaps on the back.

Someone passed out a final stat sheet.

"One-forty-three!" exclaimed offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.

No, that figure wasn't the number of interceptions Jackson threw Sunday. He didn't take 143 sacks or make 143 poor decisions or throw a pass 143 feet over someone's head.

Actually, 143.8 was Jackson's passer rating in Minnesota's 20-16 victory at Ford Field. After replacing an injured Gus Frerotte, Jackson led the Vikings to 17 second-half points. His 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe proved to be the game winner, an important milestone for a once-banished player who might be asked to quarterback his team to the playoffs.

"[Coaches] have been telling me, 'I guarantee you'll be back in there at some point,'" Jackson said. "That's just how the NFL is. And today it actually happened. I'm just glad we got a win out of it."

Coaches often motivate a disappointed backup with similar rhetoric, but in the Vikings' case it was a very reasonable scenario. Frerotte, 37, has been knocked from four of the 11 games he has started since taking over in Week 3. Sunday, Frerotte never returned after a back contusion forced him to leave the field on a cart in the second quarter.

Coach Brad Childress refused to speculate on Frerotte's condition or the likely duration of his absence. But based on how slowly Frerotte was moving through the locker room, it seems quite possible Jackson could resume his role as the Vikings' starter next Sunday at Arizona.

"[Frerotte] has a back contusion and is very sore right now," Childress said. "So we're trying to settle him down and make him comfortable. Can't say enough about Tarvaris coming into the game and how he played. With limited reps, that's what happens at that position, but I thought he did a great job coming in and moving the football around. Converting third downs, directing the show. He knew exactly what he was doing."

That's easier said than done for a player who has received few practice reps this season while Frerotte established a comfort level for the offense. There have been whispers that Jackson was deeply hurt by Childress' quick hook in September, but teammates said Sunday they appreciated Jackson's approach.

"The best word to put on it is that he's been professional," receiver Bobby Wade said. "Extremely professional about not liking the situation, about having a lot of emotions about the situation, but understanding that's it's a business. He has handled it perfectly, if you ask me."

It's only fair to point out Jackson was playing against a Lions defense that hasn't stopped many teams this season. (Or is it any? We'll check and get back to you). But for his part, Jackson displayed none of the tentativeness that plagued his two early-season starts, completing 8 of 10 passes for 108 yards with the help of some friendly play calling from Bevell.

Bevell re-employed the Vikings' bootleg passing game as soon as Jackson got on the field, hoping to maximize the quarterback's mobility against a Lions defense that clearly forgot that Jackson did nothing but roll out earlier this season. Bevell, in fact, went to a version of the bootleg in an ideal situation with the Vikings trailing 13-10 early in the fourth quarter.

On second-and-eight from the Lions' 11-yard line, Jackson faked a handoff to tailback Adrian Peterson and rolled toward the right sideline. Safety Dwight Smith froze, unsure whether to chase Jackson or follow Shiancoe into the flat.

Jackson fired a perfectly-timed pass, and Shiancoe dove into the end zone to give the Vikings a 13-10 lead.

"[Jackson] just brings a different dynamic to the position," Bevell said. "Every guy has skills and abilities, and him being on the move is one of the things he does well."

It's one thing to complete eight of 10 passes against the Lions. But three months after getting benched, can Jackson steer a team to the playoffs? Depending on Frerotte's progress, the Vikings might not have an alternative.

"Since the beginning," Jackson said, "I was trying to use [the benching] as motivation to work. It's been a difficult situation throughout the whole time. ... It's been different, and it's been hard. But I can't sit here and dwell on it now. It's over. I can't do anything about the past. I just have to use it to get better."

Some other random thoughts, observations and notes from Sunday's game: