Lurtsema's Reaction: Plugging the hole

The Vikings will be without Pat Williams, but former Vikings defensive lineman Bob Lurtsema believes Fred Evans offers them something that Pat Williams doesn't. See what Lurtsema things about that, about the quarterback situation, the big games to end the season and his memories of the 1998 NFC Championship.

VU: How big of a loss do you think Pat Williams will be, especially considering the running attacks of Atlanta and the New York Giants?

BL: Not as big as everybody thinks. Pat is a Pro Bowler and I'm not taking anything away from him, but it's almost like people are saying they only have 10 players now. They lost E.J. Henderson and that's a bigger loss, I think, than Pat Williams because of the playing time – E.J. played a lot more and the middle linebacker basically sets up everything. They've been lucky enough to have Ben Leber step in there and call the plays and have everything move on without a bump in the road. I've been watching Fred Evans work all year and he's made a lot of nice plays. He's had quite a few hurries and he's got a nice pass rush, so that's a plus more so than what Pat had. You're going to gain there a little bit. But you're going against the No. 2 runner in the National Football League. That could affect a couple things on short yardage possibly. It's going to dip a little bit, but some fans are thinking like they'll only have 10 players out there and Evans has got a good motor, too. And he's a smart kid. I like his technique, too. I've watch him real closely. Remember this: He's one of the guys that made a tackle on the big goal-line stand against the Bears. He is capable of making the big play.

VU: Given how well Tarvaris Jackson has played, are you in favor of the move to have him start this game even though Gus Frerotte says he's healthy enough to go?

BL: Jackson has a hot hand right now, so I have no problem with him going. It's easy to play when you're ahead 21-0. I'll never discredit what he's done. He's been spectacular, but I'd be ready to pull him if the pressure gets to be too much. He said over and over many times that he put too much pressure on himself, and I totally agree. Can he maintain that casual attitude come crunch time? This is a huge game for both the Falcons and the Vikings. I bought a T-shirt the other day that says, ‘In Gus we trust' at one of the Vikings shops. I do have a lot of faith in Gus. He's a veteran quarterback, and that can help in must-win situations. I do lean towards that.

VU: With the Cardinals last week, Falcons this week and Giants next week – all probable playoff teams – how important are these games for the Vikings' confidence?

BL: It's huge. Right now, if the Vikings have a quarterback playing at rating of 90 to 110, there's nobody in this conference that should beat them. There is no reason they shouldn't go to the Super Bowl. I bleed purple and everybody knows it, but they have a lot of great talent on this football team. In the locker room Friday, they were excited, they were happy, they were having fun. I mentioned a week or so ago that I thought Jim Hueber and Pat Morris (offensive line coaches) had their linemen rested. Even the offensive coaches, I was really confused in the first four or five weeks. I didn't know exactly what direction the Vikings were going. With Gus in there and now how Tarvaris is playing, it has kind of righted the ship. This is everything. This is the third year for Coach Childress and they're playing their best football in December. I can honestly say that with the talent they have and the way they're playing at quarterback, there is no reason they can't smoke Atlanta, take out the Giants and continue to win. I'm not blowing smoke for the Vikings fan; I really feel that way.

VU: What are your lasting memories of the 1998 NFC Championship game with the Falcons and how everything went down?

BL: I'll always say coaches are 60 or 65 percent of the game – I believe that. Coaches can make decisions and sometimes they can be in over their heads because there are so many things that are going on down on the field. The thing I remember about the 1998 game, other than Robert Smith running out of bounds, was the bass-akwards decision by Dennis Green to try to put up more points at the end of the first half and then kneeling at the end of the fourth quarter. The biggest thing I remember about that is Atlanta wanted to be within a touchdown at halftime and the Vikings gave them that big play to score just before the half. You take that lead going in because you get the ball coming out in the second half. Now you've got that lead and the ball after you've made all the adjustments and you're in great shape. I think it gave Atlanta momentum going in and gave them confidence coming back out. I think it would have been a 180 turn if the Vikings would have had that big of lead and the ball. I've been through many halftime talks, obviously, and it wouldn't have been the same. To kneel down in the fourth quarter, they should have flip-flopped the two decisions.

Bob Lurtsema registered 57 regular-season sacks and three in the playoffs during his 12-year career as a defensive lineman in the NFL, playing with the Baltimore Colts, New York Giants, Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks, and was the longtime publisher of Viking Update. He joins for a weekly Q & A session, and his monthly column appears in the magazine.

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