2 Minnesota VIKINGS

The Man returns, but will he have the weapons to repeat last year's magic?
September 05, 2010

ONE YEAR after leading the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game in his 19th season, Brett Favre surprised almost no one in returning for a 20th. It did take all manner of pomp and circumstance to finally get him to the Vikings' facility—a clandestine meeting with three teammates in Hattiesburg, Miss., a private jet, a slow-speed car chase—but the Vikings ultimately got their man.

"The leadership he brings elevates the entire building," says Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, who joined guard Steve Hutchinson and kicker Ryan Longwell on what might be called Operation Arm Twist, the mission to Hattiesburg on Aug. 17. "He excites everybody that has anything to do with football. He's back, and let's go try and win a championship."

Brad Childress, the Vikings' coach, put the unique pursuit of the quarterback icon this way: "It wasn't me wanting him back. We wanted him back."

Like last year, the courting of Favre was flashy but messy, with quarterbacks Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels once again booted to the sideline weeks before the season opener while Favre missed another training camp. A 6--0 start smoothed over bruised feelings in the locker room a year ago, and another quick start this season would likely do the same.

But the Vikings' road to the Super Bowl already looks more difficult, and not just because of what could be a killer October (at Jets, Dallas, at Green Bay, at New England). As Favre was riding into town, his receiving corps was taking two huge hits. Sidney Rice, who last season caught 83 passes for 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns, underwent hip surgery in August and could miss the first half of the season. And during Favre's first practice, second-year speedster Percy Harvin, who has been battling migraine headaches, was taken away in an ambulance after collapsing on the field. (While Harvin returned to practice the following week, the Vikings quickly signed Favre's former Green Bay teammate, receiver Javon Walker, for much-needed depth.) The Vikings also lost versatile third-down back Chester Taylor, who took his pass-catching ability and penchant for blitz pickup to Chicago as a free agent.

Beyond the hoopla of Favre's return, the question the Vikings will have to answer is, Can a 40-year-old quarterback who's coming off ankle surgery lead Minnesota to its first Super Bowl title? "People are going to break it down and say this is wrong, this is right, this is inspirational, this is whatever," Favre said. "Everyone is going to have their take on it."

Said Childress, "As [Favre] told the team, he's here for one reason and one reason only. You can say we're pushing it all into the middle of the table, but we do that every year. We feel like we have a good football team. We've got to be able to back it up."

Minnesota's defense should help. To the best front four in the NFL—Allen, Pat Williams, Kevin Williams, Ray Edwards—the Vikings added depth at defensive end in fourth-round pick Everson Griffen, who should find himself in the pass-rushing rotation as a rookie. The Vikes also brought in cornerback help, drafting Chris Cook in the second round and signing free-agent Lito Sheppard because of uncertainty about starter Cedric Griffin, who tore his ACL in the conference championship game.

Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, for one, isn't putting Minnesota's success or failure entirely on Favre. "If our defense improves, it should put us another step closer to winning a championship," he said of the unit that finished sixth in total defense last year. "Red zone defense, third-down defense, run defense, sacks—we want to improve on what we did a year ago. If we do, with the guys we have returning, we have a chance to have a special season."

Inside the noisy Metrodome in 2009, it was clear how much the Vikings' defense and offense fed off each other, an Allen sack leading to a Favre touchdown on the next series, and back again. Minnesota wants to recapture those moments and carry them into a new year, and Favre will be the catalyst. But in the encore that everybody saw coming, the outcome is anybody's guess. —D.H.

PROJECTED STARTERS

WITH 2009 STATS

COACH BRAD CHILDRESS

OFFENSE

2009 Rank: 5

QB BRETT FAVRE

G 16

ATT 531

COMP 363

PCT 68.4

YARDS 4,202

TD 33

INT 7

RATING 107.2

RB ADRIAN PETERSON

G 16

ATT 314

YARDS 1,383

AVG 4.4

REC 43

YARDS 436

AVG 10.1

TTD 18

FB NAUFAU TAHI

G 15

ATT 3

YARDS 5

AVG 1.7

REC 10

YARDS 67

AVG 6.7

TTD 1

WR PERCY HARVIN

G 15

REC 70

YARDS 790

TTD 8

WR BERNARD BERRIAN

G 16

REC 55

YARDS 618

TTD 4

TE VISANTHE SHIANCOE

G 16

REC 56

YARDS 566

TTD 11

LT BRYANT MCKINNIE

G 16

HT 6'8"

WT 335

LG STEVE HUTCHINSON

G 16

HT 6'5"

WT 313

C JOHN SULLIVAN

G 16

HT 6'4"

WT 301

RG ANTHONY HERRERA

G 14

HT 6'2"

WT 315

RT PHIL LOADHOLT

G 15

HT 6'8"

WT 343

DEFENSE

2009 Rank: 6

DE RAY EDWARDS

G 16

TACKLES 51

SACKS 8½

INT 0

DT PAT WILLIAMS

G 15

TACKLES 44

SACKS 2

INT 0

DT KEVIN WILLIAMS

G 16

TACKLES 30

SACKS 6

INT 0

DE JARED ALLEN

G 16

TACKLES 51

SACKS 14½

INT 1

LB BEN LEBER

G 16

TACKLES 46

SACKS 2½

INT 0

LB E.J. HENDERSON

G 12

TACKLES 83

SACKS 2

INT 0

LB CHAD GREENWAY

G 16

TACKLES 99

SACKS 0

INT 3

CB ANTOINE WINFIELD

G 10

TACKLES 55

SACKS 1

INT 1

FS MADIEU WILLIAMS

G 16

TACKLES 74

SACKS 0

INT 0

SS TYRELL JOHNSON

G 15

TACKLES 57

SACKS 0

INT 1

CB CEDRIC GRIFFIN

G 16

TACKLES 73

SACKS 0

INT 4

SPECIAL TEAMS

P CHRIS KLUWE

PUNTS 73

AVG 43.9

NET 37.8

K RYAN LONGWELL

FG 26--28

XP 54--55

POINTS 132

PR DARIUS REYNAUD

RET 30

AVG 10.3

TD 0

KR PERCY HARVIN

RET 42

AVG 27.5

TD 2

TTD: Total touchdowns

2010 SCHEDULE

2009 Record: 12--4

September

9 at New Orleans (T)

19 Miami

26 Detroit

October

3 BYE

11 at N.Y. Jets (M)

17 Dallas

24 at Green Bay

31 at New England

November

7 Arizona

14 at Chicago

21 Green Bay

28 at Washington

December

5 Buffalo l

12 N.Y. Giants

20 Chicago (M)

26 at Philadelphia

January

2 at Detroit

(M) Monday (T) Thursday

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL Rank: T14

Opponents' 2009 winning percentage: .504

Games against 2009 playoff teams: 8

ANALYSIS

It's drama from the get-go as the Vikes kick off with a rematch of the NFC title game, leaving Brett Favre little time to round into shape. Another playoff rematch, against the Cowboys, comes in Week 6, followed by Favre's return to Lambeau and a third road game in four weeks, against Tom Brady's Pats. Three home games from Weeks 13 through 15 will help as Minnesota jockeys for playoff position.

SPOTLIGHT

Adrian Peterson, Running back

FOR MUCH of the off-season, the Vikings' superstar tailback worked on ball security, a nagging issue in his three otherwise dynamic seasons. Peterson has fumbled 20 times in the regular season and did so twice in the Vikings' NFC title game loss to New Orleans; he also misconnected with Brett Favre on a handoff inside the Saints' 10 at the end of the second quarter. "Right there on the goal line, that cost us," Peterson says of that giveaway, which was officially ruled a Favre fumble. "Sometimes I get too loose with the ball."

Part of Peterson's fumbling is a function of his confrontational running style. He seeks out contact, throwing out forearms even as he races downfield. In his signature run of the 2009 season, against Cleveland in Week 1, Peterson broke five tackles in a 64-yard touchdown dash. Along the way, he dished two stiff-arms, including one in which he tossed Browns cornerback Eric Wright over the left sideline with the heel of his right hand.

Those flourishes, however, have sometimes been canceled out by the fumbles, and never more so than with a Super Bowl berth at stake in New Orleans. "To get that close and fall short was something to learn from," Peterson says. "It was motivation to pinpoint things I could work on." Like becoming more aware of the defenders around him while not changing his violent running style. "It's just keeping [the ball] high and tight," says Peterson. "In traffic, when guys are coming at me full speed and I'm making cuts, it's just being fully aware of that."

PHOTOJOHN BIEVERFOUR PLAY Favre's 2009 passer rating of 107.2 was the highest of his 19 seasons. PHOTOBOB ROSATO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)