Mess of a success? Johnson lends calm to Purple's surge
There are many reasons the Vikings shouldn't be winning, but their backup QB is bringing his method to the madness.
Jim Souhan, Star Tribune
Last update: November 22, 2005 at 7:18 AM
GREEN BAY, WIS. - Your Vikings, like downtown Manhattan, Dali paintings and Aunt Ethel's hot dish, are a glorious mess.
The Vikings are playing their 37-year-old backup quarterback nobody wanted as a starter last offseason -- yet Brad Johnson is 3-0 in must-win November games for the Purple.
Their offensive line is like that old Abbott & Costello baseball routine -- Who's at guard, What's at center and I Don't Know is at tackle -- yet that line made a joke out of the Packers defense in the second half.
Who, What and I Don't Know cleared the way for the back coach Mike Tice keeps hiding in the equipment room -- Mewelde Moore, who rushed for 122 yards, and might even get the ball again next week.
The Vikings receivers, without Randy Moss to antagonize the Packers, are about as exciting as C-SPAN, but they made enough plays to outscore Brett Favre, with Koren Robinson setting up the game-winning field goal when the Packers left him as uncovered as Pamela Anderson in a home video.
The defense, the weakness of this franchise since Tony Dungy left a decade ago, scored another touchdown, this one a 51-yard interception return by rookie cornerback Dovonte Edwards.
The Vikings are 3-0 in November. They're a glorious mess much like their coach, Tice, who strode onto the Lambeau Field sidelines looking like an extra from the movie "Grease."
Either that, or with his black jacket accessorizing his usual all-black attire, Tice was paying homage to the real man in black -- Johnny Cash.
And now Tice seems to be trying to dance right out of his own personal ring of fire.
On Oct. 30, the Vikings lost Daunte Culpepper because of a season-ending knee injury during an embarrassing loss at Carolina, seemingly ending their ability to compete in the NFC North.
After their 20-17 victory over the Packers on Monday night, the Vikes remain two games behind the Bears, but now the top two teams in the division are racing instead of treading water.
A loss to Green Bay would have ended all but the silliest of hopes, but Tice, when he wasn't wasting timeouts and waving players onto the field like a hyperventilating third base coach, actually learned from his past.
When the Vikings made their final, winning drive, Tice refused to give Favre time for one of his patented Lambeau Field, Vikings-thwarting comebacks. Tice ordered his offense to take its time until Johnson's 35-yard pass to Robinson moved the ball to the Packer 6-yard line with 39 seconds remaining.
That's when Tice did exactly the right thing -- directing Johnson to take a knee on three consecutive plays, running the clock down to three seconds, and watching Paul Edinger win a game with a field goal for the third time in his 10 games in horns.
The Johnson-led Vikings are a triumph of guile over style, an ugly, hang-on-by-your-fingernails squad that is actually justifying the franchise's offseason blueprint -- winning with a ball-control offense and a sound defense.
It is difficult to comprehend such an amateurish organization making such a mature run. The Vikings ownership group again sat in the press box, again violating every basic rule of such edifices by cheering like parents at a Little League game.
This victory came two days after the Vikings issued a 77-page code of conduct that I could sum up in one sentence -- don't do anything illegal, or overly stupid.
And yet since Johnson took over, the Vikings have looked mature when it counts.
Johnson has won his past five starts as a Viking -- the first two of the 1998 season, before he broke his leg and ceded his position to Randall Cunningham -- and the three since Culpepper's injury.
Johnson is 65-44 as an NFL starter, and most of those victories have come for teams that didn't want him for long.
Yes, the 2005 Vikings are a mess of bad publicity, disorganization and desperation, except behind center, where suddenly everything looks cool.
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on KSTP AM 1500. Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ [email protected]