Reaction to the Action

The special teams had a bad day all around, as Gary Anderson missed a field goal and had an extra point blocked, but the biggest play of all, in my mind, was the very first of the game.

I just got ready for a great 2001 NFL opener and a sure Minnesota Vikings win because I thought the Carolina Panthers were one of the weakest teams the Vikings would face outside the tough NFC Central. I watched President George W. Bush flip the coin — and then 17 seconds into the game the Vikes are down 7-0 as Steve Smith runs the opening kickoff back 93 yards for a Panthers score. That popped my bubble, big-time.

And the Vikings players had to be affected, even though they denied it. It was an unbelievable early turning point. I mean, after all, first play of the season, at home, against a lesser opponent — now that is just not the way to start. I always enjoy watching special teams, as they are made up of players who truly are the warriors of the NFL. As I checked out their alignment on the opening kickoff, I noticed a few players seemed a tad further behind the 30-yard line than normal when Mitch Burger made his contact. Then, when Smith made that great run, there was definitely a gap in that general area, which, as a professional, he took advantage of. But add a missed field goal, a blocked extra point (which ended Gary Anderson's extra points streak at 236, having not missed since 1995), and five turnovers — well, it does make it tough to win.

I've always said it takes good performances — and not necessarily great performances — from all three units to be a consistent winner. That didn't happen against Carolina, although I sure wouldn't hold my head too low as a player, as there were some positive things accomplished out there.

The defense is much improved over the last few years, very aggressive, and they will outright win some games for the Vikings this year. I have to give Carolina an A+ on a flea-flicker call that was such a back-breaker in the third quarter, a 43-yarder to Muhsin Muhammad that set up the go-ahead Carolina touchdown. As for the offense, the line played very well. It seemed to allow Daunte Culpepper enough throwing time most of the day.

The Vikings players hate to lose, and when I say something positive to them in the locker room after a loss they usually jump my case and say winning is the only thing, etc., etc. I can live with that. But when they say a season-opening kickoff return doesn't affect them, I find that rather hard to believe because it is such a tempo-setter. It's way too early to make any judgements, as only one regular-season game has been played, but if there was ever a bigger one-play wake-up call this early in the season, I have not seen it. VU

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