Leslie Frazier may have something to prove to the Bills
Last January must have proven an emotional ride for mild-mannered Vikings' interim head coach Leslie Frazier.
On Jan. 3, the Purple crushed the Giants 44-7 to cap a 12-4 season and a perfect home record; four days later, Frazier was interviewed by this Sunday's opponent, the Buffalo Bills, to become their next head coach.
Two days later, Frazier interviewed with the Seattle Seahawks for their head coaching job; on Jan. 11, the Seahawks officially lured Pete Carroll away from USC, making Frazier 0-for-6 in his NFL career head coaching interviews.
Within a week, the Vikings stomped the Cowboys 34-3 in the Divisional playoff round, ascending to the NFC title game; three days later, Frazier dropped to 0-7 in his head coaching pursuit, as the Bills surprisingly hired Chan Gailey, who hadn't been an NFL head since leading Dallas to an 18-14 mark (not including two playoff losses) over the course of two measured, late '90's seasons in Big D.
Four days later, the Vikings, of course, lost the NFC Championship in overtime to eventual Super Bowl winner New Orleans.
This weekend, Frazier gets the chance to show 2-9 Buffalo what they could have had.
What was perhaps most notable following the Vikings' non-sexy win over Washington in Frazier's debut was the overt degree of composure for this erratic, 4-7 bunch. For just the second time this season, the Vikings committed three or fewer penalties -- three -- and for the first time this year they coughed up zero turnovers (also marking the first time this season that Brett Favre hadn't been charged with a turnover). Taking into account the made-up stat of "Purnovers" (penalties + turnovers), the Purple tallied a mark of just three in the win. In their previous ten games, that total had reached at least a six-count in every game; on seven occasions, that tally had been at eight or more. In four games, that total had reached double-digits.
The Bills may be tied for the league's second-worst record and surely lack the Purple's degree of off-field drama and national attention, but their season has proven no less wacky. Buffalo began the year by losing eight straight before winning back-to-back contest in Week's 10 and 11. They had the fine opportunity to extend that streak to three straight before receiver Stevie Johnson dropped a sure touchdown pass in an eventual 19-16 overtime home loss to Pittsburgh, eliciting what may be the most bizarre tweet of this NFL season.
Neither overtime nor close losses are foreign to the Bills in 2010. Of their nine defeats, seven have come within 10 points or fewer. Moreover, their last four losses have all come by three point deficits, three of which occurred in OT.
Buffalo indeed sports a respectable offense, scoring 20.8 points per game, good for 20th in
the league. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and Johnson have become a legit aerial threat, connecting for nine scores in Fitzpatrick's nine games at the helm since taking over for discarded starter Trent Edwards back in Week 3; in three games this season, Fitzpatrick has tossed for three or more scores. In addition, running back Fred Jackson is a potent threat from the backfield, as evidenced by his 4.4 yards per carry, 26 receptions and seven TD's.
But the Bills have been oft-hamstrung by a league-worst, porous run defense that has allowed opponents to ground for 200-plus rushing yards on five occasions this season. Adrian Peterson's availability (sprained right ankle) will likely come down to a game-time decision, meaning the Vikings may again look to rookie Toby Gerhart to carry the rush attack. Gerhart offered a solid, 22-carry, 76-yard performance (with 2 catches) in the Purple's win over the Redskins last weekend, so -- given Buffalo's ratty run-D -- he may be called upon again to bruise through the line with three, four and five yards grunts.
Following the Vikings' perfect Dome mark of last season, they're 3-2 at home this year, and Sunday's contest marks the onset of a three-game home stretch. For those still tuned in, a run to 5-7 seems likely, with the Purple running a pass-efficient, ground-heavy style game plan, with or without A.P. (and a potential host of other personnel losses). Buffalo will likely present a pass-heavy second half to play catch-up, but the Bills may leave Minneapolis wondering if they missed out on their biggest grab back in January.
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