MINNEAPOLIS — With just over six minutes left in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game against the Cardinals, Brad Childress looked like the captain of the Titanic.
His Vikings team was hurtling straight for an iceberg and there was seemingly nothing the head coach could do to steer the longboat away from a collision. Trailing 24-10 with 6:18 remaining, the Vikings had just turned the ball over on downs at Arizona 1-yard line after a fourth-and-goal pass to Jeff Dugan fell incomplete in the end zone. The stoic Childress was staring squarely at a 2-6 record and quite possibly the end of his time as Vikings head coach.
“I’d counted us out myself,” Brett Favre joked after the game. “What had we done to prove otherwise? Nothing.”
The fans had gone from angry to apathetic, likely wondering when pitchers and catchers were going to report to Twins spring training. Many had left. They even booed when the attendance was announced, seemingly ticked off that they had provided Vikings ownership yet another sell-out. At one point the fans grew so bored that they had to break out a variation on their non-stop “Fire Childress!” chants, opting to go with “Fire Chilly!” just to mix things up.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the iceberg.
After forcing the Cardinals to go three-and-out, Favre moved the offense 31 yards on two plays through the air before handing the ball off to Adrian Peterson who scored his second touchdown of the game.
The Vikings defense then stepped up again, forcing another three-and-out and leaving 2:24 for the offense to work with. That’s an eternity for Favre, who reached into his bag of experience as the PA system blasted “Don’t Stop Believing” and completed four straight passes, the last of which went to Visanthe Shiancoe for a touchdown. In just under two minutes, Favre had moved his team 87 yards and tied the game at 24.
Derek Anderson and the Cardinals offense had no chance at that point. With the Metrodome crowd whipped into a disbelieving frenzy, Jared Allen and Ray Edwards recorded the Vikings’ third and fourth sacks of the day to send the game to overtime.
Who WERE these guys?
It looked for all the world as if the 2009 Vikings had shown up to save the day. The defensive that had led the league in sacks last year was once again sacking the quarterback. The crowd was going nuts, Favre was on fire, Shank was catching touchdowns, and Percy Harvin couldn’t be stopped. And there was no sign of Randy Moss anywhere.
Overtime was a mere formality at that point.
Arizona won the toss and elected to receive, but Chad Greenway and Allen promptly collected Minnesota’s fifth and sixth sacks of the game to force yet another three-and-out for the shell-shocked Cardinals. Without skipping a beat, it took the Vikings six plays to move the ball 51 yards and into field goal position. Ryan Longwell provided the game-winning three-pointer to steer the boat clear of the icy danger that only minutes earlier had seemed unavoidable.
With their season literally hanging in the balance, the Vikings had rediscovered the formula that worked so well for them a year ago.
“If we lost, that would have basically been it for us,” Pat Williams said afterward. “So, everybody just calmed down and everybody started playing better.”
Allen echoed Williams’ assessment. “Honestly, if you lose this game things can come apart at the seams, and I’ve been on a team where we lost nine straight — and we were in first place going into our bye week — and you can just watch it unravel,” a smiling Allen said. “This team has a lot of character and a lot of heart and it showed. When we focus on playing football, we are pretty good.”
Several Vikings had big games. Favre set a career best with 446 yards passing. Harvin set a career best with 126 yards receiving. Bernard Berrian came out of nowhere to have his best game of the year with nine receptions and 89 yards. And the defense ended its three-game sack drought, the longest in the 50-year history of the franchise.
It’s unlikely anyone was more relieved than Childress, who lived to fight another week. “I think they came expecting to see an execution and it ended up a pretty good football game at the end,” he told reporters during his postgame press conference.
“I know you can’t win games like that all the time,” Favre summed up. “But it sure was exciting.”
Indeed it was too exciting for comfort. The Vikings played chicken with their season on Sunday — and won.