NFC North: Eagles-Vikings
Perhaps more than any other cliché, you can always count on NFL coaches and players telling you that running the ball and stopping the run is the key to winning playoff games.
That adage largely has proved true during this decade, especially when the run differential between two teams is substantial. In fact, according to Elias Sports Bureau, there have been 28 playoff games since the 2000 season where a team has outrushed its opponent by at least 81 yards. Those teams are 26-2.
One of the losses? You guessed it. Minnesota (148 rushing yards) outgained Philadelphia (67) by exactly 81 yards Sunday but lost, 26-14, at the Metrodome. The only other team to fall in that category was the 2006 San Diego Chargers, which dropped a 24-21 divisional playoff game to New England despite outrushing the Patriots, 148-51.
What does this oddity mean for the Vikings? You could point out that even a strong running team needs a functional passing game, which Minnesota did not have Sunday. But in this case, the Vikings hardly produced a consistent running game.
Tailback Adrian Peterson scored on a 40-yard carry, but managed a total of 43 yards on his other 19 rushes. Twelve of those remaining carries went for 2 or less yards. Backup Chester Taylor did not fare much better, gaining more than 7 yards on only three of his 12 carries.
A quantitative analysis of Peterson and Taylor's day, courtesy ESPN Stats & Information:
Two grizzled veterans might have played their final games Sunday in Minnesota's 26-14 wild-card playoff loss to Philadelphia.
Center Matt Birk had a picture taken of himself on the field after the game and spent a long time working the locker room. Quarterback Gus Frerotte, meanwhile, made plans to re-join his family in St. Louis amid rumors he does not want to return as the Vikings' backup.
Birk, who completed his 11th season with the team, does not have a contract for next season and the Vikings want to move on at the position. He said "you never know" about future plans but made clear that moving on was an option, according to Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune.
"After [the game] I made sure I went around and just shook everybody's hand and just telling them how much I appreciate them," Birk said. "One thing that's evident is change in this deal. A lot of guys aren't going to be back."
Frerotte, meanwhile, is signed through the 2009 season but did not hide his objections to remaining the backup after a back injury healed two weeks ago. He has spoken often about the hardship of leaving behind his family in St. Louis, where his children are in school, and might not be interested in returning to Minnesota in 2009.
Here's what Frerotte said afterwards, according to Rick Alonzo of the St. Paul Pioneer Press:
"Like I told Coach [Brad Childress], I want to be the guy that's out there. It's hard to sit back. Any professional wants to be out there and play with these guys. Obviously I'm a pro, and you're going to do whatever you can to help Tarvaris and help the team, but you want to be the guy out there that's facing the bullets."
Continuing around the NFC North on the first day of the offseason for all four teams:
- Chicago defensive line coach Brick Haley appears to be leaving for a job at Louisiana State, according to Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times. Haley's departure would open the door for the Bears to add former Detroit coach Rod Marinelli to the staff.
- Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal confirms a report that Green Bay has fired defensive coordinator Bob Sanders.
- Among the possibilities for Sanders' replacement, according to Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, is Packers assistant head coach/linebacker Winston Moss. Other candidates include former San Francisco coach Mike Nolan and interim St. Louis coach Jim Haslett.
- The Lions likely will interview Minnesota defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and Miami assistant head coach Todd Bowles for their head coaching job this week, according to Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com. It's also possible they will meet with Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.
- Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press was disappointed in the answers former Lions president/general manager Matt Millen gave Saturday on NBC: "Detroit deserves a detailed explanation for what went so horribly wrong from those who perpetrated the deed. Simply saying that you're responsible for the disaster doesn't make you accountable. That requires serving a penance. If Millen truly seeks atonement, he must delve deeper into those additional "reasons" of which he spoke."
|G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images|
|His performance in the Vikings 26-14 wild-card loss to the Eagles might have chased Tarvaris Jackson out of Minnesota.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
MINNEAPOLIS -- This has to stop.
The madness must end.
It's time to move on.
The Minnesota Vikings have held themselves hostage to a quarterback experiment for two full NFL seasons. They can't afford to make it a third.
It would have been difficult to watch Sunday's 26-14 loss to Philadelphia and see quarterback Tarvaris Jackson for anything other than what he has always been: A physically talented passer who might or might not develop into an NFL-caliber quarterback.
On Sunday, Jackson's performance indicated the latter. He threw a horrible interception that Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel returned for a touchdown. And, he rarely looked downfield while throwing six consecutive incompletions when the Vikings shifted to catch-up mode and could no longer present the illusion of a running game.
Jackson flashed some bright moments in 2008, most notably in a four-touchdown game Dec. 14 at Arizona. But his performance Sunday -- including a 42.8 completion percentage and a 45.4 passer rating -- suggested he is a risk the Vikings can no longer afford to take.
Asked how difficult a decision he faces on Jackson's future, coach Brad Childress said: "You know what? There are decisions all across the board. Some are tougher than others. Just suffice it to say we'll evaluate the whole roster and won't make any decisions right this second."
Childress enters the fourth year of a five-year contract in 2009. He has already erred once by counting on Jackson as his unquestioned starter this season. Backup Gus Frerotte saved the Vikings' season by winning eight of his 11 starts; that Jackson lost four of his six starts only clarified the difference in the Vikings' offense with a seasoned veteran behind center.
Jackson has displayed enough potential to merit a return in some capacity next season. But bringing him back as the unchallenged starter, as many around the organization expect will happen, could spell the end of Childress' tenure in Minnesota. But if he plans to pursue a new starter this offseason, Childress wasn't letting on in the immediate aftermath Sunday.
Perhaps the most revealing segment of the game came after Eagles tailback Brian Westbrook took a screen pass 71 yards for a touchdown, giving Philadelphia a 23-14 lead with 6:37 remaining. Although they trailed by nine points, the Vikings took the field with two of the most explosive players in the NFL this season and were by no means were out of the game.
Tailback Adrian Peterson led the NFL with 20 runs of at least 20 yards, while receiver Bernard Berrian averaged 20.1 yards per catch -- the highest average for any receiver with at least 35 receptions this season.
Jackson, however, threw six consecutive incompletions over the next two series. In other words, during the one competitive stretch of the game when the Eagles knew the Vikings would throw, Jackson was utterly ineffective.
According to video analysis by ESPN Stats & Information, 10 of Jackson's 15 completions traveled less than 5 yards in the air -- hardly the kind of downfield competence a team needs when trying to make up a deficit.
Childress acknowledged the Vikings need to improve in "must-throw situations" but did not point the finger directly at Jackson.
"That's all around playing," Childress said. "That's from quarterback, offensive line, backs. That's why we practice two-minute football. We're not Oklahoma, where we're in the wishbone and we come back out and we're in the wishbone again. We've got to be able to move it that way as well."
Other than the Oklahoma reference, that's almost the exact sentiment Childress expressed after the 2007 season, when a late surge of competence convinced him Jackson was ready to take the next step. The Vikings need a better passing offense, not just one that can throw when teams are expecting heavy doses of Peterson. Did Jackson give any reason to suggest he is ready to lift his team to that point next season?
Surprisingly, two k
ey offensive players thought that he did. Or at least, that's what they said when asked to answer in a public forum Sunday. Berrian, who caught five of his seven touchdowns from Frerotte during the regular season and produced all four of his 100-yard games with him as well, said: "You have to start where you left off next season.
"You can't just throw a guy out," Berrian added. "He finished very strong. He took the benching very well. He showed a lot of character, came back and had some really great games. I think it just shows the character of the coaching staff and the rest of the players that we should have faith in him."
Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, meanwhile, said there is no doubt in his mind who should start in 2009.
"In the offseason, I'm not going to be thinking about any other quarterbacks," Shiancoe said. "Me personally, I feel like that's our man. I don't feel any changes should be made. That's my opinion. It's up to the coach. But that's how I feel."
For his part, Jackson chose his words carefully. He has experienced how quickly an NFL job can be taken away, and he watched Frerotte simmer after losing his job. Frerotte would seem unlikely to return next season, but Jackson knows there are no guarantees for him, either.
"I'm not going to get into that," Jackson said. "I'm just going to take this year for what it is worth and reflect back on this season.
Indeed, Childress said Sunday was not the time to make pronouncements about his 2009 starting lineup. He has invested three years and much of his professional reputation in developing Jackson into a competent starter. Owner Zygi Wilf declined comment Sunday but appears solidly in Childress' corner this winter. Yet it's hard to imagine Wilf tolerating another offseason mistake at the most crucial position in the game.
Soon, we'll know what Childress values more: Pride or professional survival.
MINNEAPOLIS -- We railed pretty hard Sunday night on Minnesota coach Brad Childress' decision to turn down a holding penalty in the first quarter of the Vikings' 26-14 loss to Philadelphia. So it's only fair that we give you Childress' explanation for the decision, which allowed the Eagles to kick a relatively routine 43-yard goal.
To reset the stage: The Eagles were called for holding on a third-and-9 play at the Vikings' 26. A 10-yard holding penalty would have forced them into a third-and-19 situation at the 36-yard line. If the Eagles re-played the down, they were faced with the possibility of a 53-yard field goal attempt if they were unable to gain any yards.
Childress, however, turned down the penalty and took the result of the play: An incomplete pass. Childress said he opted not to push the Eagles further back because his "special teams guy" -- presumably special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro -- said placekicker David Akers would make it from 53 yards.
For the record, Akers was 2 of 5 during the regular season on kicks of 50 or more yards.
"We kind of have an idea where [Akers] can knock it in from," said Childress, an Eagles assistant from 1999-2005.
Pressed further on the subject, Childress said:
"The point is they would have played the down again. You're basically giving something to get something, and nothing says that you're going to stop them for zero yards and it's going to be a -yard attempt."
Childress was asked about the possibility of his defense making a play on third-and-19. In other words, why didn't he think his defense could hold the Eagles to less than 10 yards on that play, forcing Akers to kick a longer field goal?
"It's glass half-full, glass half-empty," Childress said. "I'm not sure where that drive started [the Vikings' 27-yard line], but they were moving the football and we just wanted to get the ball out of their hands and get their offense off the field."
At best, Childress' explanation is unconventional and not representative of a coach who has much faith in his defense. At worst, it's a cover story for a more egregious mistake: Losing track of the game situation.
I lean toward the former. I think Childress chose a near-automatic field goal over the possibility of a big play on third-and-19. I just think that decision gives far too much credit to the Eagles offense and not enough faith in his own defense.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota's season ended Sunday evening much the way it began: With questions at the quarterback position and a series of mistakes that called into question how prepared the team was for the playoffs.
Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson misfired on 18 of his first 29 passes, had an interception returned for a touchdown and hardly appeared to be the Vikings' quarterback of the future. Coach Brad Childress -- who returned Jackson to the starting lineup even after backup Gus Frerotte won eight of 11 starts -- committed a first-quarter game management gaffe. And fittingly, the Vikings solidified the loss when center Matt Birk's shotgun snap hit Jackson in the shin, resulting in a fumble late in the fourth quarter.
Philadelphia played a strong game, especially considering the rowdy Metrodome crowd. But 10 of the Eagles' 26 points came courtesy of Jackson's interception and Childress' gaffe. The Vikings will watch film of this game and wonder why they weren't sharper for their first home playoff game in eight seasons.
Simply put, the Vikings had far too many cases of players appearing out of position or otherwise uncertain what to do. Where was the coverage on DeSean Jackson's two long punt returns, of 62 and 30 yards? Why was Adrian Peterson on the sideline for most of the fourth quarter?
Unfortunately for them, the Vikings will have an entire offseason to answer those questions.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota's offense has gained a grand total of 43 net yards in three possessions in the second half, and time is running out.
The Vikings haven't displayed a ton of faith in quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, and his two biggest completions of the half have come on tight end screens to Jim Kleinsasser. Otherwise, he's looked far from sharp in the biggest second half of his career.
The Vikings are taking over at their 19-yard line and might not have too many more chances to grab control of this game. We're going to focus in here on the last eight minutes and we'll be with you shortly after the game.
MINNEAPOLIS -- This is the type of non-scoring drive that can help a team win playoff games.
Philadelphia just moved the ball out from its 5-yard line to yard line to the Vikings' 43-yard line before punting. Although they didn't score, the Eagles held on to the ball for nearly seven minutes and shifted the field position battle back into their favor.
Instead of taking over near midfield, the Vikings now have possession at their 10-yard line. We'll see if this turnaround ends up having an impact on what is now a two-point game.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Some halftime observations from the Metrodome:
- Minnesota did a nice job rebounding from Asante Samuel's interception return. Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson collected himself and led a 64-yard drive, culminating in Adrian Peterson's three-yard scoring run. The Vikings have the ball to start the second half after deferring the opening kickoff, and are in decent shape considering the mistakes they've made.
- Among those mistakes: Giving the Eagles another possession at the end of the half. The Vikings took over with 1:10 remaining, and Philadelphia had only one timeout. Perched at the 13-yard line, coach Brad Childress made the understandable decision to run the clock out. But an incomplete short pass on second down stopped the clock, allowing the Eagles to get the ball back with 29 seconds left. Philadelphia didn't score, but those are the kinds of exchanges that often decide playoff games.
- The Vikings have given up 37 rushing yards with nose tackle Pat Williams sitting out, at times using a three-man defensive line. The Eagles have thrown 19 passes against only nine runs, minimizing the loss of Williams.
- Receiver Bernard Berrian's juggling 27-yard reception converted a third down and set up Peterson's second touchdown. That play, coming at the Vikings' low moment following Samuel's score, might be most responsible for keeping the Vikings in the game.
- Still waiting for an explanation on why Childress turned down that holding penalty in the first quarter.
I suppose it's possible that receiver Sidney Rice broke toward the sideline late or ran his pattern too deep. But it sure looked like Jackson telegraphed the sideline throw. Samuel easily detected it and raced 44 yards for a touchdown. The play gave the Eagles a 16-7 lead and totally deflated this Metrodome crowd.
It's one of the few rookie-like throws Jackson has made since returning to the starting lineup. But needless to say, it couldn't have come at a worse time for Minnesota.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota safety Darren Sharper is having his right ankle looked at after leaving the game twice in a three-play span.
Sharper's been replaced by rookie Tyrell Johnson, who was a part-time starter earlier this season but has been working on special teams for most of the past two months.
You never know who is responsible for coverage, but Johnson was the safety help on a 34-yard pass to receiver DeSean Jackson that put Philadelphia in scoring position.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Adrian Peterson likes to speak of his game in these terms: Famine, famine, feast. That's pretty much what's happened here in the early going at the Metrodome.
Peterson gained 10 yards on his first six carries, but just broke away for a 40-yard touchdown run to give the Vikings a 7-6 lead with 11:05 left in the second quarter.
Peterson already has had an interesting game, having absorbed a brutal hit on his neck from Philadelphia safety Brian Dawkins. That play knocked him out of the game for a series, but he turned a beautiful cutback move on the Eagles defense and then sprinted toward the left pylon for the score.
For those keeping track, it was the longest touchdown run in Vikings postseason history.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Just one person's opinion, but so far Minnesota doesn't look like a playoff team.
Chris Kluwe's 17-yard punt is just the latest example of a team that is struggling to keep its composure here in the early going. The Vikings have also:
- Twice snapped the ball with one second left on the play clock because of confusion getting the play and personnel into the game. The second was on a failed third-down play. (If you watched closely, you could see coach Brad Childress screaming at offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell on the sideline).
- Watched four members of the punt coverage team collide and all of them missed Eagles punt returner DeSean Jackson, who raced 62 yards to set up the Eagles' field goal.
- Inexplicably turned down a holding penalty prior to David Akers' 43-yard field goal. Need we say more?
- Taken a defensive timeout to correct a substitution mistake.
MINNEAPOLIS -- We just had our first "Huh?" moment here at the Metrodome and we're not even close to the end of the first quarter.
Vikings coach Brad Childress turned down a holding penalty that, in effect, gave Philadelphia an easy field goal to open the scoring in this wild-card playoff game. Childress declined the penalty on third-and-9 from the 26, instead taking the result of the play -- an incomplete pass.
So rather than pushing the Eagles out of field goal range and forcing a third-and-19 from the 36-yard line, Childress gave David Akers a chance from 43 yards. There is absolutely no strategic explanation that I can think of for not accepting the penalty. Childress freezes sometimes in game-management situations, and I think this was one of them.
So it's 3-0 here with 6:44 remaining in the first quarter.
MINNEAPOLIS -- A few final thoughts before kickoff here at the Metrodome:
- To answer the question we posed earlier, this is a pretty rowdy pregame crowd. The Vikings have even take a page out of the Minnesota Twins' book and provided a "Homer Hanky" to each fan.
- It's about 10 degrees outside the Metrodome but a comfortable 65 degrees inside. Take that, Miami.
- I'm sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with NFC East colleague Matt Mosley. If y'all have anything you need me to tell him, let me know. Of if you want to follow this game from an NFC Beast perspective, click here.