Favre's receivers regroup after loss
With the Minnesota Vikings needing a boost from a big play, Brett Favre unleashed a pass deep down the middle of the field in the direction of his streaking receiver.
It's a throw he made countless times last season, and it usually ended with the 6-foot-4 Sidney Rice leaping over a smaller cornerback and hauling it in for a big gain.
This time, however, Rice was watching the game, still on crutches after hip surgery in August. The 6-foot-1 Bernard Berrian doesn't have the same jump-ball ability, and the pass was easily intercepted by Miami defensive back Jason Allen. It was one of three interceptions Favre threw in a 14-10 loss Sunday that dropped the Vikings to 0-2.
Injuries and departures have robbed the Vikings of the cohesion they had in the passing game last season, which is the single biggest reason the team is still winless on the season.
''We go to bat with who we've got, me included,'' Favre said after the game.
Rice, who emerged as a Pro Bowl receiver in Favre's first year in Minnesota, will be out for at least another month while he rehabs his right hip.
Favre's second-favorite target, Percy Harvin, barely practiced in the preseason because of migraine headaches and aggravated his strained right hip on Sunday. Coach Brad Childress said an MRI revealed no structural damage, but it is still not known if Harvin will be able to play this week in a suddenly crucial game against the Detroit Lions.
''We can't make excuses,'' Favre said. ''There will be what-ifs or shoulda, coulda, wouldas. That's part of it. You go down swinging and you win swinging. If we don't make it, we don't make it.''
That leaves Favre with three healthy receivers - Berrian, Greg Lewis and Greg Camarillo - on the roster. They have combined to catch seven passes for 89 yards in two games. Camarillo was acquired in a trade with Miami before the third preseason game and is still learning the offense, but none of those three players has shown the ability to separate from coverage consistently yet this season.
''I personally am apologizing to all true Vikings fans,'' Lewis tweeted after the game. ''Offensively we didn't get the job done. We have to be better. Stick wit us.''
Last year six Vikings caught at least 43 passes from Favre, including Rice, Harvin and Berrian, who combined for 198 receptions. Running back Chester Taylor caught 44 passes as Favre's safety valve on third downs, but he left in the offseason for more money with the Chicago Bears.
It's all added up to the Vikings ranking 24th in the NFL in passing offense through the first two weeks after ranking eighth a year ago. They also rank 30th with 9.5 points per game after finishing second in scoring offense last year.
''There's still a lot of work to be done,'' Berrian said Monday. ''We're still close. There's a lot of things we see good on the field. There's a lot of things that are bad on the field, but it's all working negatively now.''
Another one of Favre's interceptions came when he threw a ball to Berrian's back shoulder on a fade route near the goal line. Berrian thought Favre was going to loft the ball to the corner of the end zone and Allen took the ball away.
''The plays aren't working out for us right now,'' Berrian said. ''Last year we made a lot of big plays. This year, the plays, we're just not making them.''
A lot of the blame is falling on Berrian's shoulders. He is in his seventh season and third with Minnesota after signing a six-year, $42 million deal in 2008. After an impressive first year with the Vikings, Berrian has struggled some with injuries and has been criticized by fans for his lack of production.
When asked if he thought he was getting too much of the blame, Berrian said, ''Definitely.''
''We're running basically the same plays,'' Harvin said. ''It's just sometimes when you have a 6-5 receiver you can just throw it up to him whether he's covered or not, and he can make a play.
''From that standpoint, we won't be able to fix that or find another receiver to replace him. We just have to come up with different schemes to try and get people open.''
Then again, maybe they can replace Rice.
Suspended San Diego Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson came to an agreement with the NFL that stipulates if Jackson signs a contract with San Diego and is traded by 4 p.m. EDT Wednesday, he will be placed on the Commissioner Exempt list for three games, retroactive to Game 2. That means he would be able to play in his new team's fifth game. The Vikings' fifth game is against Dallas on Oct. 17.
Childress declined to comment on Jackson, but Berrian said the 6-5 Jackson would be a welcome addition.
''Vincent Jackson is a great player. It's always going to help,'' Berrian said. ''The few we've got here, we've been doing a great job.''