by Thomas U. Tuttle
Wasn’t that a pleasant surprise we experienced last Monday night in Purple Land?
While I was boarding an airplane bound for Minneapolis that evening, a friend noted that we would arrive at half-time of the Minnesota Vikings season opener, with time to catch the second half at the airport Ike’s, a great spot for the beef sandwich and occasional ballgame.
I declined. I’ve been watching the Twins make their unexpected move toward the playoffs and the Vikes, with a sorry preseason that featured not much of ANYTHING, hardly seemed worth the delay in getting to my front door after the Nephews Wedding Road Trip.
We all know that the preseason doesn’t mean much, and practice game records don’t amount to a hill of beans (remember Detroit’s 2008 4-0 preseason turning into a winless Lions, 0-16 regular season?… and some of their meaningless wins were impressive, just ask former head coach Rod Marinelli).
But you would like to show SOMETHING in August, besides injuries, unlikely rookies, and washed up offensive lineman. “We’re still evaluating some of these young guys,” coach Mike Zimmer said a few weeks ago, before the Seattle Seahawks and a second tune-up contest.
Yes, that was apparent. And the second year quarterback, short-arm and shorty-pass slingin’ Sammy Bradford, threw a total of seven balls in that game – completing five for his usual small yardage. “We didn’t have nearly as many negative yardage plays…” said Zimmer after Seattle. And that’s the good news? Fewer moves backward?
With the entire defense still trying to find itself (particularly the secondary), the offensive line (hugely problematic in 2016) still a work in progress, things looked pretty questionable for the Purple faithful… and then, POW!, right to the New Orleans Saints chops!
It was a solid win, a great triumph on the Monday Night Football stage and something to build on. And it was, of course, a revealing breakthrough for Sam Bradford. The inaugural NFC Offensive Player of the Week shredded the Saints like jerk chicken, going 27-32 passing for 346 yards with 3 TDs, no interceptions and a unprecedented (for Sam) 143.0 passer rating.
And, of course more importantly, his contributions led to a convincing 29-19 win. Playing behind five new starters on the offensive line and rookie starters at center and running back, Bradford led the Vikings to 470 yards of total offense while converting 9 of 14 3rd-down conversions without a turnover.
Yes, it was “just” New Orleans and no one can be certain how good they are or exactly how much of a test this was. But it is a huge win at home coming out of the gate, critical for this young team. And Slingin’ Sammy stretched the field with his passing while exuding veteran leadership enroute to the victory.
Forget the preseason, the Vikes are now underway with a “W.” Now, about those Twins…