Pelissero: Vikings' runaway provides glimpses of what might have been
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Somewhere, in some parallel universe, this is how the Minnesota Vikings' season played out from the beginning.
Tarvaris Jackson battles through his mistakes at quarterback, Brett Favre having never been talked into returning. Sidney Rice soars over double coverage for sensational touchdowns, having never undergone hip surgery. The defensive line forces turnovers and covers flaws in the secondary, having never gone into hibernation for half the season.
The Vikings blow out the inferior Buffalo Bills 38-14 at the Metrodome, looking every bit like an outfit peaking toward a playoff berth -- regardless of who's under center.
"Of course, I've thought about it," Jackson said of what the season might have been like if he'd been the starter all along.
"Since Day 1, I wanted to be the starting quarterback of this team, but obviously, it didn't work like that and I understand the game. Even with certain plays, I see Brett make the play -- I'm like, 'I would have probably made that play. I wonder if I would have made that throw.' Stuff like that. So, you kind of play everything through your head. I've played it over and over in my head, the season, all of this stuff."
At 5-7, the quantum event is a moot point now. Bashing these bad Bills did little more than confirm the Vikings have enough talent to run away from the NFL's bottom-feeders even without the likes of Favre, Percy Harvin, Steve Hutchinson and Ray Edwards.
That Jackson kept the wheels on the DeLorean -- 15-of-22 passing for 187 yards with two touchdown passes, three interceptions and an 85.0 passer rating -- after Favre's early ouster probably said more about Rice, Adrian Peterson and a defense that forced five turnovers than the 27-year-old quarterback's progress in 1¾ seasons on the bench.
"It's all about growing and maturing," tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said. "Tarvaris has come a long way when it comes to his mind-frame and from what I see -- grown-ass man out there, man. Grown-ass man. Like, it's no space for kids out here, man, and once you realize that, something snaps. You're around the beasts -- you might as well be a beast your damn self."
Really, this was Jackson as he always been: enough good plays to tantalize, enough awful ones to torment and enough physical talent to elevate those around him once in awhile, mostly when the pressure's off. It certainly wasn't the lights-out performance needed for Leslie Frazier to disturb the good vibes in his 2-0 start as interim coach by letting a quarterback controversy fester.
If anything, Rice's two sprawling touchdown grabs and Peterson's stellar day on a sprained ankle -- 16 carries for 107 yards and three touchdowns -- provided reminders of how little the quarterback had to do at times last season to keep this offense rolling.
Buffalo knocked out Favre with a shoulder injury on the opening series, racked up four takeaways, returned one of Jackson's interceptions for a touchdown and still got pasted by 24 points on its way to 2-10.
"We've been a good team that, when negative things have happened, we've overcome in them in the past," Frazier said. "But this year, we've struggled with some of that. (Sunday) and last week (in a win at Washington) as well, we looked like what most people expected going into this season."
Reality may return over the next 21 days. Three consecutive matchups against NFC front-runners -- the New York Giants (8-4) and Chicago Bears (9-3) at home, then the Philadelphia Eagles (8-4) on the road -- will go a long way toward determining whether anything really has changed in Frazier's audition.
At least for one day, though, there was a glimpse of the other side. Jackson's entrance cheered, Rice's acrobatics sublime and Jared Allen unstoppable at the edge in a victory as large as the margin of the Vikings' four previous victories combined.
Somewhere, in that parallel universe, it was a win that might have set the stage for a four-game pennant race, rather than four games for deciding who will lead the path into an alternate future.
"We feel like we have to have Coach's back," Jackson said. "He's a good coach. He's giving us an opportunity, so we are just going to go out there and fight hard for him."