There has been plenty of speculation as to why the Vikings went from 11-5 and playing in the NFC title game to 5-11 and firing their head coach in less than one year. Some have said Dennis Green lost control of the team. Others say Randy Moss led a revolt that resulted in dissension within the team. Others have blamed the schedule. Still others have blamed the salary cap.
While any of these contentions can make a good argument, there is one simple reason why the Vikings didn't compete more than they did this season — injuries.
For a team that was painfully thin to begin with because of the salary cap, the incredible rash of injuries that hit the team left a numbing effect on those that remained by the time the season ended.
There wasn't a position spared in the carnage. It doesn't matter what team is analyzed, whether it's the Vikings or Packers or Rams or Steelers or Panthers. Take this many injuries at so many key positions and you can get a better grasp as to why the Vikings finished with double-digit losses and why it may well be much more of an aberration it appears at face value.
Here is a position-by-position breakdown of the injuries that afflicted the Vikings this season. Individually, they could hurt any team. Combined, they were devastating.
QUARTERBACK — Starter Daunte Culpepper was having a solid season despite playing behind a patchwork offensive line, but late in Week 11, with the Vikings trying to get over .500 and back in the playoff hunt against Chicago, his knee locked up and made him stationary in the fourth quarter as the Vikings tried to defeat the Bears. He was lost for the season the following week against Pittsburgh. His replacement, Todd Bouman, lasted just two games before a thumb injury knocked him out — forcing Spergon Wynn to complete the season with two starts.
The Vikings finished the season with three different quarterbacks who threw 89 or more passes. Only one other team in the NFL had that dubious honor — the 2-14 Detroit Lions.
RUNNING BACK — Rookie Michael Bennett was starting to show signs of being a quality NFL running back when he was injured vs. Detroit in Week 6. He would miss a month of action and, while he did come on late in the season, he missed so much time he finished the season with just 172 rushes. Five other teams didn't have a rusher carry more than 172 times, but three of them — Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia — had a pair of rushers carry more than 100 times. The second-leading rusher on the Vikings was Daunte Culpepper, who had 71 carries. The only teams that had a leading rusher with fewer carries than Bennett and no other 100-yard rushers were the Lions and Carolina Panthers, who finished with a combined record of 3-29.
FULLBACK — Green had said prior to the start of the season that Jim Kleinsasser would be a Pro Bowl fullback in the mold of Mike Alstott, a player who could be a devastating blocker, a receiver who could catch 50 passes and an occasional ball carrier. Instead, Kleinsasser fought ankle injuries most of the season. After being injured in the 10th game of the season vs. the Giants, he played in just one of the final six games and saw action for merely a half in that game.
WIDE RECEIVER — The only position relatively unscathed by injury, Randy Moss fought off ankle problems much of the season and Cris Carter had ankle, hip and rib injuries that slowed him — but those didn't take either player out of the lineup. However, with so many injuries elsewhere, the Vikings had to count on Moss, Carter and tight end Byron Chamberlain to be their primary receivers. The three of them caught 212 passes. Only two other teams had two wide receivers and a tight end each catch more than 57 passes — 7-9 Tennessee and 3-13 Buffalo.
TIGHT END — Chamberlain became the first Vikings tight end since Steve Jordan to catch 50 passes in a season, but he didn't do it without injury. Despite not missing an entire game due to a painful knee injury that would cause the knee to lock up on him, Chamberlain was injured in the 10th game of the year vs. the Giants and missed parts of the final seven games when the injury would flare up and force him to the sidelines.
OFFENSIVE LINE — The season began with the release of Todd Steussie, which was expected to put pressure on Korey Stringer to become the unquestioned leader of a makeshift offensive line. However, after the second day of training camp, as has been well chronicled, Stringer died, leaving a void in the hearts of the Vikings, as well as the on-field loss of an All-Pro.
Even the projected replacements were a mixed bag. Tackle Brad Badger missed all or part of seven games with a turf toe injury. Guard Corbin Lacina battled injuries and missed part of seven games — being deactivated for five of those games. Guard David Dixon missed two games with injuries and temporarily lost his starting job upon his return. Even backups Everett Lindsay and Calvin Collins went down, leaving the Vikings with a patchwork offensive line that never had the same starting five players in a game two weeks in a row after the third game of the season.
That lack of cohesion showed up in the stats. The Vikings managed just 10 touchdown runs this season and, of the nine teams in the NFL with fewer — Atlanta, Buffalo, Carolina, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, New Orleans and Philadelphia — only the Eagles were a playoff team. The Vikings also had Culpepper as their leading rushing touchdown scorer. The only other teams to have a QB lead their team in rushing TDs were Carolina and San Francisco.
DEFENSIVE LINE — The team had to make up for the release of John Randle and allowing Tony Williams to leave via free agency, but, once again, the young crop of defenders didn't pick up the needed slack. Michael Boireau missed the entire season, Willie Howard played in just five games, Fred Robbins battled injuries throughout the season, Shawn Worthen was inactive for all but two games and even backup Winfield Garnett missed time with injuries — forcing the team to pick up Stalin Colinet in an effort to get some experience back on the defensive front.
The result of the Vikings' revolving door on the defensive front was shown in two areas — allowing 2,299 yards rushing and 21 rushing touchdowns. Only Carolina (1-15) allowed more rushing yards (2,301), and nobody allowed more than Minnesota's 21 rushing TDs.
LINEBACKERS — With so few people at one position, you might think the linebacker corps could have been spared, but it wasn't. Kailee Wong played through knee and back injuries the second half of the season, Ed McDaniel was finally forced out of the lineup in the 13th game because of shoulder stingers and Lemanski Hall lost his job because of an ankle injury to Patrick Chukwurah. Hall regained a starting gig when injuries on the defensive line forced the team to move Chukwurah up front to try to create a pass rush.
SECONDARY — It all began with Robert Griffith, the team's dominant defensive player, who broke his leg on the opening kickoff of Week 2. His loss led to a revolving door at this position too. Henry Jones was brought in to replace Griffith but eventually was released. Robert Tate played most of the year with a shoulder injury that didn't allow him to make tackles, and he was eventually demoted from the starting lineup. As the season went on, Eric Kelly lost a starting job, so did Orlando Thomas and Kenny Wright and Don Morgan. One bright spot was signing Dale Carter, but a hamstring injury slowed him late in the year and Tyrone Carter was injured and knocked out of the final two games after winning a starting job.
It's unlikely any rash of injuries that hit this unit could possibly repeat itself, since nine different players started in the four secondary positions — by far the most of any team in the NFL.
SPECIAL TEAMS — How can you get special teams injuries? The Vikings did. Both Griffith and Kleinsasser suffered their initial injuries playing on special teams, and Mitch Berger broke a bone in his neck, requiring him to be put on injured reserve. In the return game, both Troy Walters and Nate Jacquet lost their return duties because of injuries.
Perhaps the place where the special teams were most exposed was in the kicker position, a sign indicative of both injuries to the offense and defense. Gary Anderson scored just 74 points all season and attempted just 18 field goals in 16 games. The only team with fewer kicker points was 6-10 Cincinnati. On the flip side, the Vikings allowed opposition kickers to score 138 points, including 38 field goals attempts in the same span. Only one team allowed more kicker points than the Vikings — 6-10 Indianapolis.
When you look at the teams viewed as disappointments this season, the Vikings are joined by Denver, Indianapolis, Tennessee and New Orleans. Injuries played a part in all of their less-than-expected results, but no team had more injuries to key personnel than the Vikings did. Take Kurt Warner away for the final month of the season, lose Marshall Faulk for a month, have Orlando Pace die in the preseason, have multiple injuries on the defensive line and lose Aeneas Williams in the secondary. The Rams would be with the Vikings watching the playoffs instead of playing.
Most NFL players don't like to make excuses for a poor season, but if a case needed to be made for one, the Vikings and their injury list would be a valid excuse. VU
Injuries A Sore Spot Of 2001
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