As bad as the Vikings’ loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was Thursday night, the loss could take on even more impact today because, if things go as the boys in Vegas believe they will, the Vikings will lose ground to all three of their NFC North rivals by the middle of this afternoon.
Chicago, which came into action this week with a half-game lead on the Vikings, head into Carolina to play the reeling Panthers, who, at 1-5, have been accused of having players checking out mentally. If Cam Newton seemed depressed at his post-game press conference last week, what will happen if the Bears defense plays like it has in its first six games – allowing just 78 points, with only 71 of those points attributable to the Bears defense. With Carolina on the verge of falling off the map and potentially trading running back DeAngelo Williams to anyone willing to take on his contract, the chances of the Bears improving to 6-1 and opening a 1½-game lead over the Vikings seems almost inevitable.
Up in Green Bay at noon, the Jacksonville Jaguars come to town. The double dose of bad news for Vikings is based on two basic offensive injury-related matters. First, Maurice Jones-Drew won’t play. Second, Blaine Gabbert will. The Packers could win this by 20-plus and in the process would tie the Vikings at 5-3 with identical records in the division and the conference. All early advantages the Vikings had over the Packers would be erased and the second half of the season will start at the same footing the start of the regular season had when everyone was 0-0.
The Vikings’ opponent next week, the Seattle Seahawks, heads into Detroit, where the 2-4 Lions are coming off their bye week with bad intentions. Drop this game at home and the Lions’ season may be over before it’s even halfway through. If there is such a thing as a must-win in October, this would be it for the Lions. They play their next two games on the road – at Jacksonville and the Vikings – in a scheduling anomaly that has crippled Detroit. By the time they will have played nine games, six of them were on the road. If they can come out of this next three-game stretch at 4-5, they will do so with five of their final seven games at home and still able to have some control over their own destiny. A loss to Seattle would be a crippling blow, but if Detroit takes care of its business at home, they will be at 3-4 by mid-afternoon.
At a time when the Vikings had a chance to prove a point to the entire league with a win Thursday that would have improved them to 6-2 on the season, as bad as Thursday was, today might by pulling off the scab too early. Advantages the Vikings had in terms of conference record could be all but eliminated.
Some may have been a bit confused about the placement of Chris Cook on the injured reserve list after with the phrase “designated to return” following the I.R. announcement. Under new rules collectively bargained by owners and players, each team can assign one player to the injured reserve list with the potential of bringing him back. The rule was instituted this year to give teams the flexibility to assign a player with an injury early in the season that could require several weeks of rehab time to return. It was a calculated move on the part of the Vikings to designate Cook for return. While he may not be available for the majority of the regular season, if the Vikings make the playoffs, Cook would be eligible to return. One shouldn’t imagine that Cook will be able to play with a cast at cornerback. Anyone who gets hurt at this point that isn’t designated for a season-ending injury will likely have to be kept on the 53-man roster even if he doesn’t play.
The Jacksonville Jaguars made their designated-for-return pick this week as well, but didn’t make it running back Jones-Drew, unquestionably their best player. They put the tag on linebacker Daryl Smith. They may anticipate Jones-Drew can return, but if they place him on I.R. the return designation has already been used up. Seeing as the Jags will likely be 1-6 after this week, the franchise might not want to bring either of them back.
In another Cook-related note, in three years, he has played in just 20 games and made 16 starts. In his first two seasons, he played in only six games each – suffering two meniscus injuries as a rookie and having a domestic violence arrest taking him away from the team. Cook held up well as the Vikings No. 1 cornerback against players like Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald and his loss will be significant. Josh Robinson becomes the proverbial “next man up” as the Vikings look to replace Cook … again.
The trade deadline is Tuesday. Unlike other sports, where the trade deadline is a big deal, in the NFL, it hasn’t been nearly as big a deal. But, prior to this year, the trade deadline came the Tuesday after Week 6. With the deadline backed up two weeks, the only teams that will likely view themselves as already out of the money would be Cleveland, Jacksonville and Carolina. Kansas City should be included in that group at 1-5, but, with a win over Oakland and if things fall right with the Chargers and Broncos, the Chiefs could finish the week at 2-5 and just one game out of first place.
There seems to be a radical reaction to the NFL’s fining of teams for violations of injury-reporting protocol. You can tell the teams (or head coaches) that opt to spit in the face of the league’s policy on reporting injuries. On the Week 8 injury reports, five teams had 16 or more players listed, ranging from probable to out, with questionable being the buzz phrase. There’s Cleveland (22 of 53 players listed), New England (20 players, 11 listed as questionable), Arizona (18), Oakland (17) and the Jets (16).
Former Vikings running back Michael Bennett was sentenced to spend the next 15 months in prison after pleading guilty Friday to committing fraud. Bennett pleaded guilty to wire fraud in connection with filing false tax returns in other people’s names and then stealing their identities to cash tax refund checks. At his sentencing, Bennett, who played 10 years in the NFL, claimed “financial desperation” as his reason why he committed the wire fraud. Bennett, who was a first-round draft pick of the Vikings in 2001, finished his career in 2010 with the Raiders and was estimated to have made more than $15 million during his NFL career. Former Raiders teammate William Joseph also pleaded guilty in the same fraud scheme and is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 9.
From the “Oh, How the Mighty Have Fallen Department” comes this: Tarvaris Jackson was the starting quarterback for Seattle most of last season, but it seemed clear the team was going in a different direction when it signed free agent Matt Flynn to a lucrative contract and drafted Russell Wilson last April. Not only did head coach Pete Carroll decide to bench Flynn, he traded Jackson to the Buffalo Bills. Not only has Jackson not panned out as a legitimate player in the mix to be the starter (or even the No. 2 guy) with the Bills, his main role with the team has been to run the scout team in practice – something Jackson had never done in his career with the Vikings and Seahawks.
With the East Coast bracing for the arrival of Hurricane Sandy on Monday or Tuesday, the Week 8 games likely won’t be impacted but the rare North Atlantic U.S. hurricane could carve a significant path in the NFL. With power outages expected from the high winds and rain, the damage is expected to impact an area that includes the Eagles, Steelers, Patriots, Jets, Bills, Ravens, Giants and Redskins, Week 9 could have a significant impact if the Weather Channel is right. The most impacted team might be the Patriots, who are supposed to be kicking back on their bye week, but, if projections are accurate, it’s unlikely the team planes for the Patriots or Cardinals will be able to make a transatlantic flight from London on Monday.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.