Thursday, September 17, 2009


Welcome to week two of the "I can't believe Brett freaking Favre is the Viking quarterback" season. What if my present self got into a DeLorean and spoke to my past self, telling him that Brett Favre at age 39 is the Vikings' starting quarterback? If you go back in time and say something that makes your past self jump off a bridge, do you create a paradox in the space-time continuum?

Week Two Games

Vikings-Lions Preview
Last year the Lions gave up 32.3 points per game and 404 yards per game (both ranked last in the league). Last week, the Lions gave up 45 points and 515 yards. Will Adrian Peterson top his 180 yard, three TD week one performance? Will Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, and Bernard Berrian be so wide open it will look like Favre has developed rapport with those guys?

Before we get too excited, the ’08 Lions lost to the Vikings by two and four points. Those suckers tend to play the Vikings tough. Happily, they tend to lose after playing the Vikings tough (one win against the Vikes from 2002-2008).

I’m more enthused about the Viking defense facing a terrible Lion offense featuring a rookie QB in his second start. I won’t be shocked if the offense underachieves against the Lions: I’ve seen that show. I will be surprised if Kevin Smith is able to pick up first downs via the run. I will be surprised if Matthew Stafford gets time to throw. If he does, I will be surprised if he’s able to pick apart the Viking defense.

I won’t be surprised if the Vikings struggle, and I’m staring off in despair around halftime. But I will be surprised if they actually lose the game.

Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe. I want to believe there is such a thing as “clutch.” But the way we talk about it makes very little sense.

You will sometimes hear people cite the 2008 Green Bay Packers’ record in games decided by four or fewer points: they were 0-7. But they beat the Vikings by five points. What’s the real difference between a four point game or a five point game? Little, but 0-7 sounds like a cleaner narrative than 1-7.

When I consider close games, I look at games decided by seven points or fewer. It’s not perfect (sometimes a late score distorts the competitiveness of a game), but it at least has logic: it’s a game close enough to be determined by one touchdown. You might rather consider games decided by a field goal or less. You could also make an argument for eight being the magic number. But separating four point wins from five points wins is just silly.

Quarterbacks get a lot of credit for clutch performances, but this week provided illustrations for the deeper context. The QB is typically dependent on the success of his teammates or failures of his opponent for his clutch performance. Aaron Rodgers threw a game-winning touchdown against the Bears, so he had a clutch performance; however, if instead of throwing his fourth interception, Jay Cutler followed Rodgers’ TD pass with a game-winning TD of his own, then he’s clutch, and Rodgers’ performance is lost in a loss. Tom Brady threw a game-winning touchdown against the Bills, but the Patriots may not have even got the ball back had Leodis McKelvin not fumbled on the previous kick return. I'm not saying we can't admire the play of these quarterbacks in the fourth quarter. I am saying we shouldn't be daft and pretend these quarterbacks will their team to victory. It's a team game.

I do believe in something like “clutch.” Some human beings handle pressure situations better than other human beings. And even when an opponent makes the mistake, a player or team still needs to make the plays to take advantage of that mistake (in an ’07 game between the Packers and Vikings, the Packers led by seven and just needed to run the clock out. A Packer RB fumbled, giving the Vikes an opportunity to win because of an opponent error. Do you think that Kelly Holcomb led the Vikings to a win with a “clutch” performance? No. No he did not). But I'm not sure. I have a feeling that Fyodor Dostoevsky couldn't quite believe in God, but also couldn't quite give up his belief in God (I may be projecting), and that internal tension is responsible for the incredible energy of his great novels (and for the polyphony that Bakhtin finds in his novels). That may reflect my feelings on clutch: there's no evidence for it, there's no statistical meaning in it, the way most people talk about it is stupid, and it is probably based more on random luck than anything. But I still sort of think it exists.

Fantasy Box (or, there are other worlds than this)
Peyton Manning is now my mystical adventure QB in both my fantasy leagues instead of just one. Before this trade, I felt like Jake in Stephen King’s The Wasteland, alive in one plane of existence while sensing that I was supposed to be dead in another plane of existence.

Mike Wallace
I hope the Pittsburgh WR lasts, because every time he catches the ball I can start shouting “Where’s Wallace?” like D’Angelo in The Wire.

Other Week Two Games
There are a lot of teams that struggled last week that really need a win this week, but a lot of them are facing tough week two matchups. There are a lot of interesting matchups: here are the ones I’ll be following most closely.

Bengals-Packers. In week one, the Packer defense looked great and the Packer offense did not (obviously every QB will be better with time to throw, but this isn’t the first time we’ve seen an early pass rush shake up and throw off Aaron Rodgers). I’m still curious (and frightened of) this Packer team, and want to see how they handle Cincinnati.

Saints-Eagles. I want to see what the Saints offense will do against a strong, talented defense, and I want to see what the Eagles defense will do against a dynamic, talented offense.

Seahawks-49ers. I think this game will be telling about the NFC West this year. I want to see if Matt Hasselbeck continues to be productive, and if Frank Gore will follow up last week's 22 carry, 30 yard performance with an actual game (but he still had two TDs, so fantasy owners--like me--are happy).

Baltimore-San Diego. There’s a trend here: like everybody else, I don’t know whether week one performances were fluky or indicative, and I want to see what the Charger offense is up to against the Ravens.

Colts-Dolphins. I’m in fantasy leagues with Viking fans, so it’s hard to get all the Vikings I like. I can, however, get Colts like mad: Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, and Joseph Addai will be in my Hazelweird lineup Monday night (Anthony Gonzalez and Donald Brown are on the bench). My Colts fascination makes much less sense since they won the Super Bowl in 2006. I used to feel an eerie connection to the Colts for their playoff struggles. Whether it was the George Costanza or the Viking fan in me, I was drawn to their failures and rooting for them to finally succeed. But I still root for them after they did.

Bernard Berrian: healthy (Vikings Now). I miss you, Bernard. I miss your scent. I miss your musk.

At Shutdown Corner, MJD discusses Roger Goodell’s autonomy on discipline issues.

Favre's Viking jersey is the top seller (Sports Illustrated).

Kevin Williams: kind of a good football player (Access Vikings).

At Sports Illustrated, Don Banks writes about the teams that passed on Peterson.

Oh, Friday: the day I treat myself to a pastry at the Grateful Bread. It's a sort of recognition that with the weekend, a sort of decadence has begun. While I generally eat pretty healthy (loads of fruits and vegetables), as a football spectator, I can only eat junk food.

Have a good weekend suckers. Except Lion, Bear, and Packer fans.


  1. I want Mike Wallace to stick around so I can make dated "60 Minutes" jokes until my friend the Steelers fan wants to pour a beer over my head.

  2. Birdman7:18 AM

    I think there is some evidence for clutch performances in sports, though for football it might be harder to prove. I remember a study on NBA players' free throw shooting in the regular season versus the playoffs. The players that were already great at free throws got a little better; those that weren't good got a little worse. Maybe it's not exactly "clutch" but it can show that people talented at a given task respond better to pressure than those less talented (in that situation).

  3. Don't forget that Kyle Orton led his team on an 87-yard, game-winning touchdown drive Sunday. At least that's how it might look in the papers.

  4. Anonymous12:06 PM

    Dostoevsky AND football? This is why this is my favorite Vikings (or football) blog out there.

  5. Anonymous12:08 PM

    I have a much easier time believing in the concept of choking than I have believing in the concept of the clutch performance, unless clutch performance is merely defined as not choking. There is a vast amount of data to support the theory that emotional distress negatively affects human performance, but hardly any to support the notion that subjecting a person to the stress of uncertainty will improve performance.

    Golf is probably the easiest widely watched competition to detect the prevalence of choking. The combination of an extremely complicated sequence of fine motor skills, it being non-reactive in execution, and a ton of time between actions, consistently leads to the gag reflex as the contest draws closer to the end.

    Yes, course conditions are usually more difficult on Sunday afternoon than they have been earlier in the tournament, but that doesn't account for the frequent phenomena of leaders on a Sunday afternoon utterly collapsing.