What We Learned: Colts-Vikings
MINNEAPOLIS -- Five things we learned from the Colts' 18-15 Houdini-act-of-a-win over the Vikings at the Metrodome on Sunday ...
1. Never, ever, ever, ever count Peyton Manning out ... and we mean never. I'm still not sure how Indianapolis escaped this Teflon-roofed boom box of a football stadium with its first victory of the season, and I watched the entire thing unfold before my eyes. I have no business even pointing out the Colts had no business winning this game. That's just too obvious.
It all comes down to the Vikings' grievous mistake of letting Manning and the injury-depleted Colts offense hang around all day, until No. 18 finally found just enough of his weapons and made just enough plays to send Minnesota off the field in a state of disbelief. Score one for the old Manning magic, which didn't look like a sentence I'd be writing for most of the day, or at least until the Colts scored late in the third quarter to cut into the Vikings' 15-0 lead.
"I don't believe in ugly wins,'' Manning said. "All wins are sweet, and they're hard to come by. I know the Vikings feel just as sick as we felt last week in the locker room. A couple plays here and there and we're feeling sick in this locker room. It feels good to get the win, because obviously 0-2 wouldn't have been good.''
The Colts got outrushed 180-25 by the Vikings, and still won. They played without center Jeff Saturday (knee), tight end Dallas Clark (knee) and the recently released defensive tackle Ed Johnson -- and still won. They lost offensive left tackle Tony Ugoh (groin) in the second quarter, and safety Bob Sanders (ankle) in the fourth quarter -- and still won. They played most of the game with a patchwork offensive line missing four projected starters, with two rookies in the lineup, and, well, you know the rest. They still won.
Because Manning simply refused to lose, leading Indy on three scoring drives in the final 19 minutes, the last of which culminated with Adam Vinatieri's game-winning 47-yard field goal with three seconds remaining. Manning got intercepted twice by Minnesota, sacked twice, and roughed up another half-dozen times by the Vikings' pass rush. But they didn't knock the big guy -- or his team -- completely out, and in the end the Vikings paid for that generosity. I guess there's a reason why Manning has never lost two consecutive September games in any of his 11 NFL seasons.
Maybe what I'll remember about this game was that it was of the few times where I thought the Colts' vaunted offense looked anemic for most of the day. I saw Reggie Wayne drop a perfectly thrown potential TD pass. I saw Joseph Addai run into brick walls all day, finishing with an embarrassing 20 yards on 15 attempts. I saw Indy's first 11 snaps generate a whopping 15 total yards. I even saw Vinatieri shank a 30-yard field goal effort, when he almost never misses in a dome.
But I also saw Manning wind up going 26 of 42 for 311 yards, with his only touchdown pass coming at the perfect time, a 32-yard strike to Wayne with 5:54 remaining, followed by a game-tying Dominic Rhodes two-point conversion run. A week after Manning looked rusty from his action-less preseason and rehabilitation from knee surgery, he once again came through when it mattered the most.
You'd think the Vikings -- and the rest of us -- would have learned by now.
2. Minnesota is afraid to put the game in Tarvaris Jackson's hands. The Vikings can talk all they want about the progress and development of their third-year quarterback, but let's face facts. When the game could have been put beyond the Colts' reach in Sunday's second half, Minnesota played not to lose rather than to win. And it did so because it still doesn't trust its passing game.
Up 15-7 with just under eight minutes remaining, the Vikings had a 3rd-and-5 at the Colts' 31. A first down there and you give yourself a great shot to both grab at least an 11-point lead and further milk the clock in the process. With Adrian Peterson out after getting the call on the previous four plays, the Vikings eschewed a safe pass and ran Chester Taylor for a 1-yard pickup.
Why? Because there is no truly safe pass in Minnesota's playbook. At least not when Jackson throws it. He has yet to develop the consistency needed to make the Vikings anything but a one-dimensional offense, with that dimension being Peterson's other-worldly rushing skills.
Oh, and by the way, Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell wound up missing a 48-yard goal try wide left on that drive -- his only miss on six field goal attempts Sunday -- and the Colts drove for a game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion shortly thereafter.
"Because we were actually gashing them with the run,'' said Jackson, when asked why the Vikings turned so conservative when the game was there for the taking. "Whatever is productive; why not keep running the football? If it's not broke, why fix it?''
But it is broke, because as talented as Peterson is, you're not often going to beat the Colts kicking five field goals. For most of the game, Indy put eight men in the box in order to stop Peterson, who still ran 29 times for a game-best 160 yards. The Colts were daring Jackson to beat them with his arm, and he didn't rise to the challenge.
Afterward, Jackson admitted he heard the crescendo of boos that washed over him in the third and fourth quarters. How could he not? Vikings fans don't believe in Jackson yet, and even head coach Brad Childress was queried whether or not he is considering any change at quarterback for next week's game against the visiting Carolina Panthers (2-0)?
"He is definitely our quarterback next week,'' Childress said. But I couldn't help but notice he didn't make any promises longer than seven days down the road.
3. The Vikings aren't the team to beat in the NFC North, the Packers are. Minnesota's roster upgrade cost it $60 million in guarantees this offseason, but that doesn't mean the Vikings were able to buy themselves front-runner status where it matters most: On the field. After two weeks, Minnesota looks like the same basic team that we saw in 2007.
The Vikings can really run the ball, and stop the run. But they can't throw it, and they can't stop people from throwing it. Stop me if you've heard this before.
Defensive end Jared Allen (one sack against the Colts, with two quarterback hits), safety Madieu Williams and receiver Bernard Berrian were the Vikings' headline acquisitions this offseason, but they haven't changed the fundamental makeup of this team.
The Vikings clearly lack killer instinct and the ability to jump on opponents when they're down. They're inconsistent on offense to the point of distraction, and their inability to exert their will when the game is hanging in the balance leaves them forever lacking in terms of a winning-confidence level.
"We've got 14 more (games to go),'' Jackson said Sunday. "A lot of people say that you go 0-2 and you're pretty much out of it, but that's not true at all. You go back to last year and you see the Giants went 0-2, and you know you still have life.''
But counting on some team to make a Giants-like comeback isn't realistic. Just three Super Bowl winners have started 0-2 since the playoffs expanded to 12 teams in 1990, with New York being the latest. The reality in Minnesota is this: The Vikings have lost twice in less than a week, and are already two games behind first-place Green Bay. Chicago is 1-1 and was able to beat the Colts on the road. That leaves Minnesota and the dismal Detroit Lions fighting it out for last place in the division.
And that was not the return on their investment the Vikings had in mind with that $60 million in guaranteed money.
4. Bernard Berrian isn't going to make much of an impact in Minnesota. Through his first two games as a Viking, the ex-Bears receiver has three catches for 38 yards, all of which came in last Monday night's loss at Green Bay. Berrian was held without a reception on Sunday.
Maybe it has as much to do with Jackson as anything, but it seems to me like all the Vikings ask Berrian to do is to run basic fly patterns, and little else. I don't see much creative effort to get him the ball, and it doesn't seem like Jackson's game is ready to utilize him.
For some, Berrian's role is a reminder of what the Vikings hoped for, but never got from former first-round pick Troy Williamson. He was supposed to be a speedster who could stretch the field and open up the offense. But it never happened that way during Williamson's Vikings tenure, and he only made things all the worse by having some of worst hands in recent NFL memory. So far, Berrian looks like Williamson with better hands.
5. Marvin Harrison isn't all the way back. After missing all but five games last year due a knee problem, the Colts veteran receiver didn't look like himself last week against the Bears, even though he managed eight catches for 76 yards (with one key fumble lost).
But after watching him Sunday against the Vikings, it seemed he was an afterthought in the Colts' offensive game plan. Harrison caught just one pass against Minnesota, for 16 yards. Manning fed a team-high nine passes for 137 yards to receiver Anthony Gonzalez, and Wayne chipped in with five catches for 93 yards and the game-tying 32-yard touchdown.
Not long ago, no quarterback and receiver had more of a connection than Manning and Harrison, who seemed to know each other's next move by instinct. That kind of timing is obviously lacking right now, and it could be that Harrison's injury last year and Manning's knee surgery this summer has had a significant toll on their on-field chemistry.