Earning Your Stripes

A couple of months ago, it seemed the Tarvaris Jackson era was a tragic mistake that would set the franchise back for a couple of years and potentially cut the head coaching career of Brad Childress short. But, as the Vikings keep winning with him at the wheel, not only has he silenced that talk, but he looks like a QB that has job security into the future.

It's funny what a little success can do for a player.

At midseason, there were reports going out nationwide that the Vikings had all but given up on QB Tarvaris Jackson, some going as far as to quote "unnamed team insiders" that Jackson was a failed experiment and that the Vikings would clearly go in a different direction in 2008.

For most of those who watched Jackson struggle through the first half of the season, that didn't seem like an idea too many were opposed to. He had seemingly regressed from his first game against the Falcons to get progressively worse with each ensuing week. That was compounded with injuries that knocked him out of action three times – once with a hamstring pull, another with a finger injury and a third with a concussion. The Vikings' QB situation looked like a roller coaster of interchangeable parts. While Brett Favre was going on his 17th season of never missing a game, it seemed like T-Jack couldn't hold up for more than a couple of games.

Then something strange happened. Jackson stayed healthy and the Vikings started winning. While T-Jack hasn't taken control of the offense and elevated it to a new level, he found ways to manage games and, in the process, win them.

His maturation as a quarterback has come in baby steps. He isn't being asked to carry the offense. He's being asked to minimize mistakes and make the Vikings an offense that can put up enough points to win. Much in the same way other young quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger were thrown into action on teams that were playoff bound and asked not to mess things up more than take the load of the offense on their own shoulders, Jackson has excelled at doing just that.

The numbers speak for themselves. While his passer rating is still pretty bleak at 69.6, seven of his 10 interceptions have come in two games – one game the Vikings won and the other that they lost in overtime only because a game-winning field goal attempt by Ryan Longwell hit the left upright and was mere inches from being good and giving the Vikings another win. He has completed more than 65 percent of his passes during the Vikings' winning streak, and with opponents stacking the box to stop the run, he has become much more of a factor in the offense.

But perhaps the only number that really matters is his win-loss total. In the 10 games he has started, the Vikings have an 8-2 record. In the four games he missed due to injury, the team is 0-4. The team has found a way to win without Adrian Peterson. It has found a way to win without Antoine Winfield. But it has yet to find a win without T-Jack.

For those who aren't big Jackson supporters, you're probably not going to want to hear this. The Vikings' interest in getting a quarterback in the offseason isn't going to be a front-burner issue. It's highly unlikely they're going to go fishing with the Browns for someone like Derek Anderson or make a big play for a veteran like Donovan McNabb, who seemed all but delivered to the Vikings a little more than a month ago. As it stands now, Jackson is the quarterback of the present and the future. The 2007 season was supposed to be a "make or break" season for Jackson. If he failed, not only would he likely kill his realistic chances of being a full-time, long-term starter, he also would be doing a lot to determining the head coaching future of Brad Childress. If T-Jack failed and the Vikings went 6-10 or 5-11, the heat would have been on Childress. Instead, the Vikings are just one win and a Saints loss from wrapping up a playoff spot Sunday.

Jackson still has his detractors and they can argue that the Vikings have won despite him rather than because of him. He has a long way to go to becoming a great quarterback – some would argue even an above-average quarterback – but he has the intangibles that can't be taught or learned. He has a rocket arm that can be harnessed and he has the speed to turn what would be sacks for a lot of quarterbacks into big gains.

In short, if you're not a T-Jack fan, you're not going to be happy any time soon. He has played well enough to earn keeping his starting job and, if the Vikings make any offseason move at quarterback, it will be to sign a veteran backup who is mindful that his job isn't to compete with Jackson, but simply to replace him if he gets injured. As difficult as it is for us to say, Jackson has earned his spot on the team and, if Childress repeats his pledge from last year that the Vikings aren't going to do anything in the offseason to address the quarterback position, he won't get as vehement an objection as he did last January when he said the same. T-Jack is the QB of the present and the future – not because Childress is stubborn and is force-feeding "his guy" to the NFL, but because Jackson deserves to keep the starting job. Period.

SATURDAY NOTES
* Antoine Winfield, Sidney Rice and Dontarrious Thomas were all listed as questionable for Sunday's game with the Redskins. In league vernacular, that means they are 50-50 chances to play. In reality, none of the three practiced Wednesday, Thursday or Friday and none are being viewed with confidence of being available Sunday. In a piece of good news, Tank Williams was upgraded to probable Friday.
* The Vikings will face yet another of the game's top tight ends this week in Chris Cooley and, to date, there has been something of a mixed bag of results. While the Vikings did a nice job of limiting perennial Pro Bowler Antonio Gates, they allowed two touchdowns to Donald Lee of the Packers, 96 yards to Tony Gonzalez and 86 yards to Jason Witten. It seems the Vikings have faced most of the top TEs in the league this season, including Alge Crumpler, L.J. Smith, Jeremy Shockey and Vernon Davis.
* Two Bears were fined for hits made in Monday night's game. Charles Tillman was fined $7,500 for what was deemed a horse-collar tackle in the second half, while Briggs was fined $5,000 for a hard hit on Jackson in the first half.

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