TO ALL THOSE commentators claiming the Vikings' season is going down the crapper, whom for the past month I have steadfastly refused to join: Got room for one more over there? My newly found pessimism isn't based on the injuries to quarterback Brad Johnson and centers Jeff Christy and Scott Dill, although those are certainly problems of the first order. No, it's the defense's persistent inability to make basic plays at key moments that suggests the playoffs might indeed be a pipe dream or a brief adventure at best.
Consider two crucial downs in the third quarter of the 49ers' methodical 28-17 victory. On a third and one, three Viking linebackers had a shot at not-so-fleet-footed fullback William Floyd as he headed toward the sideline, but Ed McDaniel overran the play in the backfield, Pete Bercich took a bad angle and was easily outrun, and Dixon Edwards let one unsustained knock from backup fullback Marc Edwards take him out. Nine yards and a first down. One play later, John Randle, he of the no sacks for four straight games, flattened reserve guard Rod Milstead and thus had quarterback Steve Young dead to rights. And missed him. Young stepped up to find Floyd wide open for a 31-yard gain down to the Vikings' 5 yard line, and the nail-in-the-coffin touchdown soon followed.
So, after being dominated two straight weeks by West Coast offenses, the Vikes now face the Barry Sanders offense. Take it head on, fellas. Stack that line of scrimmage and send every able-bodied defender hurtling toward number 20. Make quarterback Scott Mitchell beat you. After all, he's one adversary who sometimes shares your appetite for self-destruction.