Every week before the purpleJOURNAL Podcast I send out an agenda to the shows co-hosts Joe Oberle and Luke Braun and while we try to avoid talking about the same topics week to week (especially when the team is winning because we typically end up saying the same things with a little bit of the previous game/win sprinkled in). But, it’s been hard to avoid that as the number one topic this season has been the quarterback position, namely in Vikings 12th string QB Case Keenum and the week to week “Will he/won’t he” situation that has existed while the team refuses to name Keenum the starter for the rest of the season. With Sam Bradford’s condition being a question mark earlier in the season (so much so that he actually played for a bit against the Bears and looked like he was drugged up or in no condition to play, or both (it’s probably both)) and then Teddy Bridgewater returning from his disastrous knee injury and being called “The future of the franchise” by the … Franchise, it’s not surprising that some people overlooked Keenum or thought of him as the temporary replacement. So, say what you will about the “logic” behind not naming him the starter for the rest of the way (some say it motivates him or that he just plays better when his career/life is on the line, etc.), but it’s become clearer and clearer these past few weeks as Keenum has become more comfortable with the players around him and the playbook inside his brains that he may not only be the starter for the rest of the season but the quarterback that the Vikings have been looking for really since Dante Culpepper also was felled by a knee injury. That line of reasoning was bolstered yesterday when Case Keenum was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Month for the month of November, a distinction that is extra amazing is it comes after Everson Griffen was named NFC Player of the Month in October, and really shows how talented, deep and special this Vikings team really is.
It’s also pretty amazing as Keenum only played three games in November, as the Vikings had their Bye in November. According to Vikings.com:
- Keenum completed 69 of 97 passes (71.1 percent) for 866 yards and threw seven touchdowns against two interceptions for a passer rating of 114.0 in three games (all wins).
- The offseason free-agent signee improved to 7-2 as a starter with Minnesota as the Vikings closed the month by winning their seventh in a row on Thanksgiving.
- Keenum completed 21 of 30 passes for 282 yards with two touchdowns and added a 9-yard rushing score in the Vikings 30-23 win over the Lions.
- Just four days earlier, he completed 27 of 38 passes for 280 yards with a touchdown (passer rating of 100.8) in a 24-7 win against the Rams.
- Keenum opened the month by completing 21 of 29 passes and throwing four touchdowns to pace a 38-30 victory in Washington on Nov. 12.
Also according to Vikings.com, it’s only the fourth time in franchise history that the Vikings have had back-to-back NFC Player of the Month awards in subsequent months. The first of which occurred in 1994 after linebacker Jack Del Rio and cornerback Anthony Parker both won NFC Defensive Player of the Month awards. The second happened in 1997 when defensive lineman John Randle was followed by wide receiver Jake Reed and the third happened in 1999 with receiver Cris Carter and again with John Randle.
I was around 10 in 1994 so I don’t really recall much about those teams outside of the fact that my dad LOVED Jack Del Rio. Apparently, that team went 10-6 and won the NFC North (back when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were part of the division and weren’t terrible but in that division, they didn’t stand a chance going 6-10 on the season). The Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions were all a game behind the Vikings, finishing 9-7 with the Bears making the playoffs as a Wild Card. The Vikings actually met the Bears in the first round of those playoffs and got stomped, 35-18, despite the fact that they beat them both times in the regular season (go figure).
The ’97 squad, the year before they drafted Randy Moss, were a 9-7 in another tough year in the NFC North. The Packers won the division by going 13-3 the same year that they were 11.5 point favorites in the Super Bowl and Brett Favre was the MVP (for a second and last time (he was robbed in 2009)), they also were one of only two teams in NFL history to beat seven different teams that ended up making the playoffs during the regular season. The Vikings actually ended up making the playoffs as well and ended up a game away from facing the Packers in the NFC Championship (Can you imagine?). They beat the New York Giants in the Wild Card Round 23-22 and then fell to the 49ers, 38-22. That loss solidified their draft position for the next season, a year in which they drafted Randy Moss 21st overall.
The 1999 Vikings had gigantic expectations after their 1998 season was completely forgettable and not something any Vikings fan ever thinks about, over and over again, every single day while avoiding watching movies like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective because the narrative about the kicker blowing it hits too close to home. Yep, nothing to see there. In reality, the Vikings (and their fans) did have high expectations coming off of a heartbreaking loss to the Falcons at the Metrodome and essentially having the same team. However, the team benched Randall Cunningham after they started the season 2-4 and while Jeff George did right the ship (because all you had to do was bomb it to Moss), by going 8-2 the rest of the way, it was clear that the magic from ’98 was mostly gone. While clearly not as bad as the 2010 season the Vikings had with a reluctant Favre, it had the same feel. They did make the playoffs despite losing the division to the Bucs (who went 11-5), while the Bears and Pack both went 8-8 and the Bears went 6-10. They faced the Cowboys in the first round of the playoffs and won, 27-10 at home but fell to the emerging “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams who beat them 49-37.
With this seasons’ Vikings 9-2 going into the home stretch where they really are facing two playoff (perhaps potential (say that five times fast!)) teams the next two weeks in the (7-4) Atlanta Falcons and the (8-3) Carolina Panthers. Those teams both represented the NFC in the Super Bowl the past two years and while starting out slow this season seem to be getting it together and will be a great test for this Vikings team and really prove to the rest of the league that not only are the Vikings the real deal, they may be one of the best Vikings teams of my lifetime (I’m 33 and I realize by framing it that it sounds like I’m implying that ESPN.com is going to have headlines like “Vikings top Panthers, Are Best Team Since Some Fat Ass in Minnesota was Born w/ Jaundice”… Which I am). It’s a really big deal that Keenum won that award and while I was initially skeptical of his ability to win, he’s actually a lot like Jeff George (not in the way they play, at all, George was a statute with a cannon) in that he’s replacing a QB who had a good to great previous year as a journeyman back-up who really just had to get the ball out to the best wide receiver duo in the league in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs vs. Cris Carter and Randy Moss. Let’s just hope that the Vikings have a better outcome in the post-season. Really, while John Randall was a great player, the Vikings had nowhere near the type of defense that this current team does and because of that this team feels nigh-immune to the sort of typical Vikings moments in which they blow something routine and everyone’s hearts just implode.
So, congrats to Keenum for this as it’s got to mean a lot to him after starting out his career with some really bad teams. This is a guy who shattered basically every main record in Division 1 football, which while people claim is based on the style of offense they played, is a big deal. But let’s take that criticism/justification to its logical conclusion for a minute. It means that Keenum can excel in the right type of offense and with the right type of players surrounding him. Sound familiar?