Josh Freeman misfired on 33 of his 53 passes in his Vikings debut, a 23-7 loss to New York. (Elsa/Getty Images)
The dream for the Minnesota Vikings went something like this: Josh Freeman steps in as the starting quarterback on a Monday night in New York, dazzles after freeing himself from a toxic situation in Tampa Bay, and the Vikings' entire season clicks back on track.
The reality was far more pitiful.
Minnesota's call to rush Freeman onto the field backfired in spectacular fashion, aided by an absolutely mind-numbing display of playcalling, in a 23-7 loss to the Giants. Freeman, who signed just two weeks ago and was named the starter only a few days later, finished 20-of-53 -- a 37.7 completion percentage that was the worst showing by an NFL quarterback with more than 40 attempts since Eli Manning, Monday's victorious quarterback, posted a 36.6 mark in 2007.
"I definitely need time," Freeman said in his postgame press conference. "You come in with goals and expectations ... it's frustrating, it's disappointing, but at the same time, I see a lot of areas that are manageable and we can definitely get better at."
"His performance was up and down," said Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, painting an even rosier picture than he really needed to. "His numbers aren't the greatest, for sure."
Freeman was awful. And he never had a chance to succeed in this game, despite matching up with the league's 32nd-ranked defense.
When Freeman opted to sign with the Vikings, he justified that choice by saying that Minnesota gave him "an opportunity to pump the brakes" after his fall in Tampa Bay. "It's been a crazy couple of weeks," he added.
Surely, Freeman, three years removed from a breakthrough 2010 season, wanted to find a place he could battle for the starting job. Even he may not have expected it to happen so quickly, and the argument for patience in hindsight was on full display Monday.
Freeman consistently overshot his receivers -- that is, when he was not being blasted by the Giants' pass rush. Minnesota still asked him to throw more than 50 times, compared to just 13 rushes for Adrian Peterson. The Vikings' hands were forced a bit by a second-half deficit and their inability to spring Peterson (who finished with 28 yards), but if there ever was a game to ease a quarterback in and let him play it safe, this was it.
Instead, the Vikings continued their string of desperate moves: Signing Freeman, starting Freeman, then asking him to win them a game on the road. There was no logic behind at least the final two decisions, and Minnesota paid for them in the Meadowlands.
"They had a lot of people at the line of scrimmage and made it hard for us to get our run game going to take some of the pressure off the quarterback position," Frazier said. "We put together a good plan we thought would help him be successful in this ballgame, and it didn't work out."
For all the early frustrations, the Vikings still trailed by just three at halftime. Freeman nearly coughed up a pick-six to end their first possession of the third quarter. After the Giants fumbled the ensuing punt, he did throw an interception and followed it up moments later by nearly depositing another one into a defender's arms.
Add in a couple of special-teams miscues -- a fumble by Marcus Sherels inside the Minnesota 5-yard-line, another by defensive tackle (yes, defensive tackle) Sharrif Floyd on a kickoff return -- and the Vikings were a lost cause. Special teams actually accounted for their lone score of the night, too, with Sherels taking a punt back for an 86-yard score in the first half.
Which of course means that the Freeman-led offense generated nothing on the scoreboard itself. Freeman's interception killed Minnesota's best chance, on a drive inside the Giants' 25-yard-line, and it was perhaps his most inexplicable moment in a nightmarish outing. With pressure coming up the middle, Freeman tried to muscle one downfield to Kyle Rudolph. Instead, Antrel Rolle tipped the ball away and picked it off.
"As time moves on, we're going to develop that chemistry," Freeman said of his relationship with his new receivers. "A lot of those plays that were just a hair off are going to start hitting for us."
Minnesota really has no choice now but to stay the course with Freeman, at least for a bit. In signing him and handing him the reins to the offense, the Vikings made quite clear how they feel about Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel. Plus, let's be honest: This Vikings team simply is not very good. Neither Freeman nor Ponder nor Cassel nor Joe Webb nor Brett Favre was going to change that Monday. Freeman is capable of much more than he showed against the Giants, even if Minnesota ultimately has dug itself too deep a hole
Down the road, after Freeman has time to settle in as a Viking, learn the playbook and grow some rapport with his receivers, there might be a future with this marriage. At the very least, Freeman brings more to the table than the underachieving Ponder or aging Cassel.