Say this for the New York Giants: They have a real way of overshadowing the teams that beat them.
In Week 15, all the talk after a loss to Carolina was of Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s rail-splitting ride on the crazy train. And then came the team’s 49-17 defeat Sunday night at Minnesota. Forget that the Vikings sewed up a spot in the playoffs, or that the Giants already were eliminated from postseason contention before this truly abominable performance. This time, it was all about the crumbling status of longtime New York coach Tom Coughlin, a two-time Super Bowl winner with the club.
Could Coughlin be more fired? It hardly seems so.
But this was par for the course for the Giants, who’ve coughed up more late leads this season than any team in recent memory. As it was for the 10-5 Vikings, who simply have to be one of the most overshadowed and overlooked teams in recent NFL history.
In the NFC alone, the 2015 campaign has been about the nearly unrelenting surge of the Carolina Panthers; they made it to 14-0 before finally falling Sunday afternoon in Atlanta. It has been about the hotter-than-hell Arizona Cardinals, who are 13-2 – and looking very much like the most complete team in the league – after a 38-8 takedown of the Green Bay Packers. And it’s always about the Seattle Seahawks, only 9-6 yet in the playoff mix and duly respected as the conference’s two-time-defending champs.
The Vikings? They just keep hammering away. With one regular-season game to go – in Green Bay – they’re now tied with the Packers atop the NFC North. Sunday’s game will have major stakes as second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Minnesota’s purple haze of invisibility clash with the great Aaron Rodgers and green-and-gold royalty.
“I’m looking forward to my guys preparing this week and having the same intensity and same focus next week,” Bridgewater said.
Maybe these guys are afterthoughts, but they’ve been off-the-charts good the last two weeks in blasting the Chicago Bears and the Giants by a combined score of 87-34. Minnesota’s defense sacked Eli Manning four times and jolted him with three interceptions, including a pick-six by Harrison Smith and a swipe-and-return by Captain Munnerlyn that set up a four-yard touchdown drive. Adrian Peterson had 104 yards and a TD on the ground and wrested the NFL rushing lead from Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin.
Bridgewater, meanwhile – well, only a fool would take him lightly at this point. He’s no Rodgers. Carolina’s Cam Newton, Arizona’s Carson Palmer and Seattle’s Russell Wilson all are better players, too. That’s just reality. Yet Bridgewater put on a caretaker’s clinic, especially on third downs, against the clueless Giants.
A crafty third-and-8 completion to Jarius Wright set up the team’s first touchdown, a gorgeous 28-yard strike down the right seam to tight end Kyle Rudolph in the second quarter. Nearing halftime, Bridgewater rifled a 21-yard pass to Wright on third down from midfield, setting up a long Blair Walsh field goal for a 19-3 lead.
On the opening drive of the second half, Bridgewater rolled right and delivered a pea in traffic to Rudolph for a 25-yard gain that set up another score. The final play of the third quarter was a Fran Tarkenton special: On third-and-8 from the New York 16, Bridgewater took a deep drop, rolled almost all the way to the left sideline, reversed course, maintained textbook downfield vision while rolling nearly all the way to the right sideline, cut upfield and then to his left and picked up the first down. It was a scramble-of-the-season play that led to another touchdown.
But, hey, Bridgewater is no Pro Bowler. The Vikings have only one of those: Peterson. The Panthers have 10 players on the NFC’s Pro Bowl roster; the Cardinals seven; the Seahawks seven; the Packers three. You won’t find an AFC playoff contender with one measly Pro Bowler, either.
And you’ll have to excuse the Vikings if they don’t give a damn.
“We knew what this game meant tonight,” Peterson said, “and we came out and played physical and put ourselves in position to take the title next week.”
Boom – that’s a fact. Would the beasts of the NFC dare be callous enough to disregard an 11-5 champ of the North?
Coughlin uttered five perfect words after his team’s latest debacle that couldn’t have summed up the danger posed by this Vikes squad any better: “I didn’t see it coming.”
OK, so he wasn’t talking about the Vikes when he said that. Awash in a purple haze, Coughlin was spilling truth about his sorry Giants. But why should anyone care about the G-Men right now? The V-Men are far better, not to mention more interesting. They just might have a little something for the Packers on Sunday, and for any of the big-shot teams that encounter them down the line.