The Minnesota Vikings have become the NFL's Detroit Lions. Not this year's Lions, who go to 8-5 with a 34-28 win over the Vikes, but those lovable losers from 2001 to 2010.
Like those Detroit teams, the 2011 Vikings can't get out of their own way, are often coached incompetently, have a losing culture and find new ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. About the only difference I see is that, faced with a similar 21-0 deficit on the road, the Lions of yore would have folded the tent and lost by 40 or more. At least these Vikings made a game of it. But that says more about the paper Lions than it does about the Vikes.
The raw numbers are hard to believe. The Vikings had 425 net yards to Detroit's 280. They had 29 first downs to Detroit's 13. They rushed for 269 yards and only took five penalties (for 37 yards) compared to the Lions 10 for 76. But they also had six (six!) turnovers and gave Detroit 24 easy points.
Yes, there are some things that a Vikings fan can take solace from in this game – Joe Webb's courageous work in relief of a struggling Christian Ponder, Toby Gerhart's pounding running style and Jared Allen's non-stop effort – but a loss is still a loss, the Vikings are still a 2-11 football team and they are starting to resemble a squad that expects bad things to happen. That can be a difficult vibe to shake once it's taken root, and it has for this group of players. I can only hope the Vikings aren't sinking into a long spell of putridity – like the Lions of 2001-2010.
You can pin this loss largely on Ponder's poor decisions and four turnovers. But as we acknowledge that, I still question the decision to bench Ponder in favor of Webb. In this post by ESPN 1500's Tom Peliserro, Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier says the move was based on Ponder's play, not his health.
The move worked out and Webb played reasonably well, but if the whole point of playing Ponder is for him to gain experience and learn on the job, then stewing on the sidelines after being yanked (he looked pissed) isn't going to get that done. If he is going to be a successful NFL quarterback, he's got to be able to rally and overcome challenges – like games where he's thrown three interceptions. He didn't get that chance against Detroit. At least we learned Webb has made some progress from last year.