While the conventional wisdom is that the Vikings have little to nothing to play for in the final two weeks other than wrapping up a monumentally disappointing season, defensive end Jared Allen has a goal in mind – setting the NFL's all-time single-season sack record of 22.5 set by Michael Strahan of the Giants in 2001.
He is already climbing the charts. He is currently tied for 20th all-time with 17.5 sacks. With one more (if he passes Philadelphia's Jason Babin), he would move into a tie for 12th all-time. If he gets two more, he would be tied for eighth. Three more in his final two games would tie him with NFL legend Lawrence Taylor. With four more, he would pass former Viking Chris Doleman and trail only Mark Gastineau of the Jets (22 in 1984) and Strahan's 22.5.
Just as running backs dream of 2,000-yard rushing seasons and quarterbacks set their sights on 5,000 passing yards, sacks are how pass-rushing defensive ends are measured and Allen said it's something he sets as a goal every season. This time, that record is within striking distance, but Allen said he's not going to change what he does just to try to get the record.
"I think about it all through the offseason – every year you try to get it," Allen said. "I've been close and it's a goal, but I'm not going to go out of character. If I get in the midst of trying to win games, that's great. If I don't, it's not going to be a failed season. I'm going to go give it my all these next two weeks and see how close I can get."
Reaching that record, much like reaching other lofty statistical goals, requires a lot of consistency and the ability to string sacks together. Dating back to last season, Allen had a streak of 11 straight games with a sack, breaking a longstanding record of eight shared by Jim Marshall in 1969 and Carl Eller in the 1975-76 seasons. His 12 games with a sack this year broke the mark of 11 set by Alan Page in 1976. Even with the big seasons from the Purple People Eaters of Vikings lore, none of them came close to Strahan's record, which has Allen marveling at what he has been able to accomplish through 14 games.
"That number is huge," Allen said. "You have to be consistent. Just to get the number I've got to has been phenomenal. Usually sacks are streaky. To be able to put it consistently together (is tough). I've never had that many games in a row with sacks and I've never had this many sacks (in a season) in my career. For me, it's all been surreal, it's all been fun. I'm getting close. We'll see what happens. My main focus is to get the lead back from Babin. He came out of nowhere – he came out (in the draft) in the same class as me and he's went from 12 to 18. So I have to get my lead back. That's my first focus – to lead the league in sacks – so let's see what happens."
Head coach Leslie Frazier said the Vikings might move Allen around to create favorable matchups in the final two games to help him get the team or NFL record, but, for his part, Allen said he isn't altering his game in order to set the record. Rather, he is more focused on the sacks that got away, not the 17.5 he has been credited with.
"I'm not doing anything different," Allen said. "I'm not changing anything. I've been thinking about (the record) since I came into the league. So, it's been one of those things where you go out, do what you can do and try to make things happen. I reflect back and look at some sacks I missed – I missed one against Detroit when I had (Matthew Stafford) in my arms and I got close a couple of times last week (against Drew Brees) and he shifted out. You can go back and second guess throughout the season."
Allen's pursuit of the record has been a bright spot in an otherwise dismal season for the Vikings. He has maintained his enthusiasm and his fire despite knowing that his team is merely playing out the final few games and then moving out of the way for those competing for a championship. A first-time father this fall, Allen said he has taken stock of his life and believes that there are more important things to look upon when it comes to putting the awful 2011 season into perspective.
"It's tough, but I think you have to focus on the positives," Allen said. "We're blessed to have a great job, I've got a great family and I'm healthy. You know what? It could be a lot worse. If wins or losses defined me, I'd be a pretty crappy human being."
Allen and his teammates realize that all the Vikings are playing for now is pride and trying to avoid posting the worst record in franchise history. He isn't dwelling on the past. Instead, he's looking forward and, if he can get the sack record and the Vikings beat Washington and Chicago, all the better.
"At this point, I think there's no use in griping or anything like that," Allen said. "It's not like it's Week 6, 7 or 8 and we could still do something about it. It is what it is and we just have to go out and try to win two games and move forward."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Allen: Chasing the sacks record is ‘surreal'
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