MINNEAPOLIS — Chad Greenway didn’t look tired in the Minnesota Vikings’ dressing room Sunday night, and with good reason.
The former Iowa Hawkeyes linebacker shared his team’s tackles lead in the Vikings’ 36-10 pounding of the Chicago Bears in the Metrodome. But that number was five. His average had been 7.6 stops per game.
There was no shirking of duties. Minnesota only had to make 37 tackles compared to the Bears’ 66, and the Chicago offense was on the field for only 19 minutes.
The Vikings’ offense, piloted by Brett Favre, had several sustained drives and controlled the contest between two NFC North teams headed in totally different directions. The Bears are 4-7 and sinking. Minnesota is 10-1 and in possession of that certain look that defines a machine-like team.
“As an offense, we’re firing on all cylinders,” Greenway said.
But the defense isn’t exactly purple chopped liver. Chicago had two yards of offense in the second-half. Two yards!
Minnesota began the day third in the NFL in run defense, and sharpened its status there by limiting the Bears to 43 rushing yards. The Vikings had 31 first-downs, Chicago eight.
“It’s never about statistics,” said Greenway. “It’s more staying within the scheme.
“It’s been a great year, and we’re trying to build on it every week.”
The two-time, first-team All-Big Ten player is in his fourth NFL season, long enough to know times like these are fleeting and to be savored. His own story as a pro got off to a horrific start in August 2006 when he tore the ACL in his left knee in the first quarter of his first preseason game on the Vikings’ kickoff return team.
Here was the team’s first-round draft pick, unable to play a down in his first regular-season. Then, how could he have envisioned a future in which he was doing fine linebacking for a team near the head of the NFL class? Did he have doubts?
“Every day that year, I’ll tell you that much,” Greenway said. “You didn’t know what your future held, being a first-round pick and having all those expectations.
“So in ‘07 you get a year under your belt and sort of grow on it from there and get better, and ‘08 was a great year. You just try to continue to build.”
Last season, the offense was one-dimensional with the sensational Adrian Peterson at running back accompanying a passing game that was substandard by NFL norms. Enter Favre.
Minnesota threw on 48 of its 82 plays Sunday. Favre was brought in to be a so-called game-manager. He’s managing it, all right. He passed for 256 of his 392 yards and all three of his touchdowns in the first-half as the Vikings built a 24-7 lead.
“I didn’t come here just to hand off,” Favre said after the game. “I love to play.”
But, this wasn’t the scenario he or anyone else foresaw when he joined the Vikings in August. For one thing, you give Peterson the ball. For another, it wasn’t clear if Minnesota had many players who could do much damage as pass-catchers.
Ha. Third-year pro receiver Sidney Rice is blowing up, as they say. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe caught his eighth TD pass of the season Sunday, tying a franchise-record for his position. And rookie Percy Harvin of Florida was the steal of the 2009 NFL draft as the 22nd pick.
Harvin had six catches for 101 yards and a touchdown, and had two carries for 45 yards. He is a blur, but he may become as much receiver as athlete. He caught balls in heavy traffic against the Bears.
“Percy’s on his way to a league of his own,” said Favre. That’s quite a thing for a 19-year veteran to say about a rookie.
“At the rate he’s going,” Favre said, “he can be a dominant force in a lot of ways. . . . The guy’s legit.”
The Bears played to stop the run. They contained Peterson to 85 yards and two fumbles in 25 carries, but their commitment to stopping the star gave Favre many other areas to use.
Still, who in the world saw Favre with 24 TD throws and just three interceptions through 11 games?
“He’s unbelievable,” Greenway said. “The things he’s seen, none of us have ever seen. He has a level of calm in important situations, third-down situations.”
So Greenway is on a 10-1 team. But he can act like he’s been there before.
“I was on teams at Iowa that were 11-2, 10-2,” he said. “They’re not used to that up here with the Gophers.”