As the year ends and a bitterly disappointing season for the Vikings and Viking fans comes to a close, here’s a look at what caused the collapse of the team’s season.
1) Playoff hangover: The team never seemed to recover from last year’s NFC title game loss at New Orleans. Despite outgaining the Saints by a significant margin, the Purple made several mistakes and lost the game in overtime while several controversial calls went against them. Players and coaches were still talking about last year after the regular season started and the team struggled to win games.
2) Key injuries/missing pieces: Sidney Rice’s surprise surgery just weeks before the regular season began derailed the receiving corps and took out the team’s top passing option. The Vikes had no time to react to his loss and struggled without a No. 1 receiver. Percy Harvin missed much of training camp with migraines, and Brett Favre delayed his offseason surgery long enough to miss camp before deciding to play one final season. The result was that three of the Vikings’ best offensive players missed most or all of training camp and the passing game never recovered.
3) The NFL’s free agents policy for the top 4 teams from the year before: The NFL decided that the top four finishers from the previous season could only sign free agents to REPLACE someone they had lost in free agency. Despite having some needs, the policy made it almost impossible to upgrade the team and fill a few weak spots.
4) The inability to win close games: The Vikings lost tight game after tight game early in the season. Opening with a five-point loss at New Orleans, they returned home and lost by four against the Dolphins, lost at the Jets when Favre threw an interception for a TD (they were down by two at the time) with seconds left, lost by four at Green Bay when they had two bad calls on scoring plays go against them (which cost them eight points), lost by 10 at New England when the Pats scored a clinching TD with 2 minutes to go, and so it went. In many of these games, the Vikings had great chances to win and blew them with bad coaching decisions (Brad Childress cost them in both the Miami and New England games by passing on early FGs when they would have taken the lead and cost them later in the game, especially Miami) or just didn’t make plays when they had the chance – Favre missed Harvin on what would have been a huge play at the end of the Jets game when they had a chance to drive for a winning score, then threw the interception on the next play. In the Patriots game, the Vikes appeared to have the Pats stopped on third-and-12 when Asher Allen missed a tackle and the Pats drove for the clinching score.
5) Distractions/Dissension: The majority of players never seemed to like Childress and when things went bad, they went sour quickly. Favre’s waffling, injuries, and the Jenn Sterger allegations provided a lot for the media to talk about off the field. The Metrodome roof collapse was a fitting end to the Vikings’ home season.
6) Under-performance by key players: Many of the Vikings seemed to believe they were the best team in the NFL coming into the season and played like they would win games by just showing up. The defensive line was not up to the level of dominance of past years, with very few sacks and getting softer against the run. Kevin Williams was AWOL much of the season, as was Jared Allen. Pat Williams appears to have gotten too old to be a dominant player any more. Brett Favre was almost as bad as the offensive line. Bernard Berrian had one good game this season; and so on.
7) Tough schedule: The Vikings had a soft schedule last year, which helped them get off to a 10-1 start. This year, the schedule was very difficult, especially the road games. The Vikings will end the season with at least five of the eight road games being against playoff teams; six if the Packers make the playoffs. The home schedule was much easier, yet the Vikings managed to lose four home games (two away from the Metrodome).
8) The offensive line/blocking scheme: This is likely the biggest reason for the team’s failure this season. Horrible in pass protection, this unit did improve somewhat in run blocking this season. The Vikings line is big and slow. They don’t move people off the line of scrimmage and teams easily get around them with basic line stunts or just plain beat the them down after down. Some people criticize the zone blocking scheme, but it’s clear that the O-line is not as talented as it was in ’08 before Matt Birk left. Special mention here to Bryant McKinnie, who somehow made the Pro Bowl in 2009, but has never lived up to expectations as a run blocker and seems to be sleepwalking a lot of the time. Injuries late in the year turned this unit into a disaster.
9) The secondary: This unit looked to be improving this season. Cedric Griffin played great early, Antoine Winfield was healthy again and the safeties seemed to be playing better. Nope. Griffin got hurt early, so did promising rookie Chris Cook and it was a revolving door at corner opposite Winfield. Opposing teams took that door repeatedly for gains. As far as the safeties go, the Vikings just don’t have anyone who makes plays when they have a chance at the safety position.
10) Coaching: Strategy and tactics aside, the Vikings were not ready to start the season. The team looked lethargic and disorganized most of the year. The players are too talented and expectations were much too high for a fall of this magnitude. Viking fans expected so much more.
John Nunes has been a Vikings fan since 1969. Upon seeing the purple uniforms, the horns on the helmets and the snow on the ground in a televised game, he instantly became a Vikings fan. Nunes has lived his entire life in Northern California, currently residing in Oakland.