Many of the Vikings players have spent the past month and a half discussing how important it was for the team to get off to a fast start. With a tough opening schedule, there were plenty of people that had their doubts about whether the Vikings could achieve that goal. It is clear after two games that they haven't.
In the opener against Green Bay, the Vikings weren't overmatched, but allowed huge plays – a pass, run and punt return of more than 55 yards – that led to 21 of the Packers' 24 points. Even so, the Vikings had the ball with two minutes to play and a chance to win the game. That hope ended on a Tarvaris Jackson interception in the final minute.
Sunday's loss to the Colts was even harder to accept. Entering the game as a home underdog, the Vikings got off to a strong start and appeared to have the game well in hand. No team in almost two years had shut out Peyton Manning and the Colts in the first half of any of their games. Not only did the Vikings do that, but they kept the Colts off the board until late in the third quarter, building a 15-0 lead.
But there were more than a few problems along the way. The conservative Vikings offense again sputtered in the passing game – failing to get a single completion to either Bernard Berrian or Sidney Rice. The team got into scoring position often, but when it needed a big play, they were nonexistent. The fans weren't shy about letting the team know their dissatisfaction, as poor scheming and execution led to five field goals. Even though the Vikings were scoring points with regularity, the offense was getting repeatedly booed by fans as they left the field and the kicking unit came on to notch another three points.
If the Vikings had a strong veteran backup, there could be a huge quarterback controversy going on. But, Gus Frerotte came to the Vikings knowing that, barring injury, Jackson will remain the Vikings starter. The question now becomes this: When does that patience run out?
Brad Childress has effectively tied his NFL coaching legacy together with Jackson. Not wanting to potentially shatter his confidence, the team showed Brad Johnson the door following the 2006 season so Jackson would be aware that the starting job was his and his alone. While he had some moments in 2007 and finished with a record of 8-4 as a starter, he did nothing to distinguish himself and, of those eight wins, there wasn't a single one that you could point to and say Jackson was the reason the Vikings won that game. Those who saw yesterday's game can attest that Peyton Manning was largely responsible for the Colts comeback – making big throws at big times to get the Colts back into the game and eventually winning it.
It would seem that Childress is the only person that fully believes in Jackson as a viable NFL quarterback. He has made sure that any legitimate competition to his starting job has been removed and replaced by guys like Kelly Holcomb and Brooks Bollinger that found ways to play with lesser results than Jackson when given the chance. Frerotte has yet to see action, but if you were listening to the Vikings fans at the Metrodome yesterday, you could bet there would have been a thunderous ovation had he come off the bench. But, why would he? The Vikings never trailed in the game until there were just three seconds left to play.
The problem lies somewhere between Jackson and Childress. There were players on both sides of the ball taking the blame for the loss – the defense for not being able to stop Manning in the fourth quarter and the offense for not punching it in. But at his post-game press conference, all Childress seemed interested in discussing was Jackson not losing his confidence. It's clear he has already lost the confidence of the fans. Can it be too much longer before the same happens in the locker room? This was supposed to be Jackson's breakout season. Through two games, he has had single-digit passing yards in the first half of both games. He is what many prognosticators said he is – the reason they find it hard to pick the Vikings to be a Super Bowl team.
For the sake of honesty, the Vikings were underdogs in both games that they played. That isn't always going to be the case. However, it sets a bad precedent. Losing can become as contagious as winning. Through two weeks, there are only four teams in the NFC that have started the year 0-2. Of those, the Rams and Lions haven't been a shock, but many have been surprised to see the Vikings and Seattle among the ranks of the winless. Over in the AFC, it's been much more shocking, where 10-win teams from 2007 like Cleveland, San Diego and Jacksonville have all got off to 0-2 starts. It isn't the end of the world for any of them and, by the time the season ends, don't be surprised to see two if not all three of those teams in the thick of contention for a playoff spot – whether as a division winner or a wild card. The same can be said for the Vikings, but this tail spin has to stop sometime and games coming up with Carolina and Tennessee – two of the remaining unbeaten teams in the league – doesn't make the next couple of weeks look any easier than the first couple.
Commentary: Jackson losing confidence of fans
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