BL: Chris Hovan really played well last Sunday. I thought he got back to the basics of what made him so good at Boston College, and that was just his quickness. If you noticed, he was getting off the ball so fast. I think he was actually jumping the count. Sometimes, when you're with a particular team for five years, like Chris was, he pretty much knows what the count is as far as the quarterback goes. So when you're going against something like that, it's not bad for a quarterback to go on a five- or six-count. That will slow down the defensive linemen. Having played that position, once you have no idea when that ball is going to be snapped, it takes away a little bit of your aggressiveness. The way he got off the ball, it was so disruptive. Actually, they were double-teaming him. The scheme Tampa had originally shown, their overs were turning into unders in certain formations and vice versa, so they ended up double-teaming Hovan more than what I thought they should have. I thought Anthony McFarland would be the man to go after. But you have to give him credit, Chris got off good. But here's the deal for everyone out there reading this: He hustled his butt off, and it's absolutely amazing when you're hustling your fanny off what the end results will usually give you. I never saw Hovan hustle that much when he was here. He got to the point where the ability they saw at Boston College, he performed to last Sunday. It's amazing what you get when you really try.
VU: It was more than just Hovan obviously. Their whole defensive line had a good game. What do you think went wrong with the offensive line? Was it just that people are underestimating how much this team is going to miss Birk?
BL: You can never replace an All-Pro like Matt Birk. At center with the Vikings, he makes the majority of the calls from the defensive alignment to who the players might block if they're going to exchange responsibilities, so it's quite a thinking process. Not that Cory Withrow couldn't handle that part of it, but when you think too much, all of the sudden you start to catch the blows instead of deliver them. They weren't really rooting anybody out. They were playing the game on the offensive side of the line of scrimmage, and you can't do that. They were catching blows a lot more often than they were delivering the blows. Sometimes they were getting back there as fast as Daunte was. The two guards and the center, there was really quite a collapse there, and I think more so on the right side.
VU: Do you think the early pressure applied was the main reason for Culpepper's turnovers or do you think he was just too up for this game?
BL: Too up for the game? Too many writers are picking up on that. The first hit that you take, that's when the next three hours turns into heaven. We've mentioned that on the publication side of this. You might as well go out there and play the first play. On the first play, everybody is pumped up. You watch the Baltimore Ravens and they had the intensity level I couldn't believe Sunday night for an entire half. But as far as Daunte being over-pumped or over-hyped, not at all. If you look at his stats, they dropped some passes on him and they still had an opportunity to win. The interceptions, the last one you can throw away and the one with Moe Williams, that was one of those things that's going to happen. I just think that Daunte had that game that you always worry about having during the season.
VU: Do you think things just snowballed on them or do you think that maybe this team isn't as good as people thought originally?
BL: The team is as good as they think they are, and it's still good that Randy Moss isn't around. I wasn't overly impressed with the 3.1-yard average they had rushing during the preseason. They were pulling the regulars out a lot. I'm so much in the old school, I say you still have to be in shape and play the regulars more. Too many people worry about people getting hurt. They blow it way out of proportion. But you've got to be concerned about your running game. Early in the second quarter, you get that running game going and you get your offense in sync. They never got in sync and that was because of their running game. Whether that's because of Daunte trying to take all the responsibility of the game and put it on his shoulders, that could happen. I know they're concerned about their running game, and you have to be. You have a rookie (Marcus Johnson), you lost your All-Pro and you switch Chris Liwienski to a different position.
VU: How about the defensive play? How long has it been since you've seen the Vikings have a defense this good?
BL: It's kind of fun to see Pat Williams literally annihilate the running back (Carnell Williams). It was fun to see that Cadillac turn into a Chevy. To have Darren Sharper pick one off like that, not so much the pickoff – he jumped the route and you don't see that too often throughout the league – but it really makes for a nice play, and I haven't seen that here in Minnesota for quite a while. Some of the sticks that he had, there was some hitting going on out there. Their defense played well enough to win. I always like to see a couple more sacks – they only had two – but their blitzes were outstanding. Early in the game, I thought the linemen and the linebackers were on the same page on many, many occasions, and the end result was tremendous.
VU: Have you talked to Zygi Wilf lately? What kind of a vibe do you get from him and what he feels needs to be accomplished, either on or off the field?
BL: I actually felt sorry for Zygi from the standpoint of having your father come in and it's your first game since you bought the franchise. We all know about his passion for it, and then for him to lose a game that could have been won 15 different ways, I know how upset he was. I went up to his brother Mark in the locker room. Mark gave me a nice grin, but I could tell he was hurting as well. I just said, ‘Hey, this game will drive you crazy.' Basically, it was the first game of something he bought and I felt bad for him. He should call the officials, too, on the one where Jermaine Wiggins was called for interference. Maybe that would make Zygi feel better.
VU: The defense obviously played very well, but where I thought they struggled is when they got them into third-and-long situations they didn't get off the field often enough in those situations. What did you see there that they could improve on?
BL: On the third-and-long, the Bucs converted 47 percent, and they are going to convert them at times. There were no mental mistakes from the defensive backs, but they gave a little too much separation. They are going to complete third-down plays on you, but when you lose you dwell on the negative. Take away that 71-yarder (a run by Williams at the end of the game) and the game is 17-13. There is no reason to address that problem right now because I think they stayed within the framework of a normal good game for a defense. You can cut them down, but when you lose and it's so close, then those third-down plays draw a lot more criticism than they normally should.