Dan Wiederer began covering the Vikings in 2011, enthusiastically delivering insight on the team across the Star Tribune's print and digital products. Prior to joining the Access Vikings team, he spent seven seasons covering ACC basketball at The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer. He also covered the Chicago Bears in 2003 and 2004. Follow him on Twitter @StribDW.
Mark Craig has covered football and the NFL the past 20 years, including the Browns from 1991-95 and the Vikings and the NFL since 2003. Since 2008, Craig has served as one of the 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. He can be followed on Twitter at @markcraignfl.
CHICAGO -- It's gotten very ugly very quickly for the Vikings at Soldier Field.
So what else is new? They haven't won here since 2007, and a fifth consecutive loss at Chicago seems a certainty at this point.
Christian Ponder was sacked for a 9-yard loss on the first play. And things didn't get any better from there.
Adrian Peterson lost a fumble for the second time this season, giving the Bears a short field and a 7-3 lead that grew to 25-3 when a Ponder interception gave the Bears an even shorter field and a 13-yard touchdown pass from Jay Cutler to former Gophers tight end Matt Spaeth with 1:48 left in the half.
The Vikings did lead 3-0 when the offense turned a Chad Greenway fumble recovery into a four-play, 6-yard, um, march to a 40-yard Blair Walsh field goal.
Walsh also had a 30-yard field goal blocked -- only his second miss of the season -- while a 23-yard shanked punt by Chris Kluwe led to yet another short field and a 47-yard field goal by Robbie Gould.
The lowest of the first-half lowlights possibly came during the Bears' 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter. They converted three third downs, a fourth down and reached the 1-yard line on a questionable pass interference penalty on Antoine Winfield, who was covering Brandon Marshall in the end zone. Winfield was arguing for offensive pass interference because Marshall had his right arm extended, holding Winfield at a distance while the ball was in the air.
The Bears capped that humiliating drive with a 2-point conversion run by holder Adam Podlesh. Podlesh simply took the snap and ran untouched over the left side of the line. Ouch.
The Bears probably could have scored another touchdown late in the game -- after the Vikings' offense used up only 27 seconds on a three-and-out. But they didn't use their time outs and settled for a 39-yard field goal attempt, which Kevin Williams blocked.
Here are some first-half stats to chew on:
. The Vikings have more turnovers (1) than first downs in the first quarter.
. The Bears lead in first downs, 16-3.
. The Bears have converted 7 of 10 third downs and 1 of 1 fourth downs.
. The Vikings have only 92 yards.
. Peterson has 25 yards on seven carries.
. Ponder has a 33.9 passer rating, completing 8 of 17 passes for 70 yards and one pick.
Vikings safety Mistral Raymond and linebacker Jasper Brinkley each drew personal foul penalties within 2 minutes of each other during the fourth quarter of last weekend's 34-24 win over Detroit. It turns out those infractions will cost the duo a combined $28,875.
Raymond drew a 15-yard personal foul penalty for his late hit on Lions running back Mikel Leshoure, falling on top of Leshoure a moment after Kevin Williams had made the tackle. That hit will cost Raymond $7,875 as a result of a fine administered by the NFL.
Three snaps later, Brinkley delivered a helmet-to-helmet shot on Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson, a hit that will cost him $21,000. Johnson made a 25-yard reception on the play and the Lions were also awarded 2 yards on a half-the-distance to-the-goal penalty. Brinkley's fine, the league said, was assessed due to "helmet-to-helmet contact with a defenseless player."
In a 40-minute session with print reporters Wednesday morning, Vikings general manager delivered what amounted to a casual “state of the team” address. Spielman discussed everything from Adrian Peterson’s incredible recovery to the Vikings’ potential playoff push to the contract situations of receiver Percy Harvin and head coach Leslie Frazier. Here are some Spielman highlights from that session, in the first of three parts.
On what he saw in Peterson heading into the 2007 NFL Draft …
“You knew the unique skill set that you saw scouting him. There was no question about that. And then the more we spent time around him at the combine and we had him here for a top-30 visit, as talented as he was, he had all those extra elements that came with the talent to make him potentially be something unique in this league. Because you see a lot of guys who are more than talented enough to excel at this level but that ancillary thing -- the drive to be successful, the drive to be the best, the drive to win a championship -- all those things came out when we interviewed him. I don't know how those rumors got out about his collar bone before the draft. But we were very fortunate that he did slip to No. 7 because he was, at the time, the No. 1 player on our board that year. To get the opportunity to get someone with that skill set and that mental makeup we were very fortunate.”
On what Peterson has shown in rushing for more than 1,100 yards in his first 10 backs after major ACL and MCL rehab …
“The biggest thing was, I knew when we spoke to him and the injury occurred, the first thing that came out of his mouth was 'I'm going to get better than I was before this injury.' No one ever envisioned that. But that's what makes Adrian so unique and so special. He put in his mind that he was going to come back and not only come back but be better than he was before the injury. As we go through this last part of the season and how he's performed so far, he seems to be getting better and better each week. I think over the last two or three weeks he is a better player than he was before the injury. … I think he sets a great example of what he did this off-season and how determined he was. I think that filters down. But I also know physically he's probably unique in how he was able to come back
On how a 2012 Vikings team with such low outside expectations is now in a playoff chase …
“I think coming into this season, no one had high expectations for this football team. But I know internally we had very high expectations for ourselves. I think every year you go into training camp you better have high expectations for your football team or why are you in this? Why do you want to play the games? But I think the one thing you've got to credit, I think you have to credit the coaching staff because we knew we were going to have a young team. We knew we were going to have a lot of first and second year players playing for us. I think you have to credit the veteran leadership on this team –the Jared Allens, the Antoine Winfields, the Kevin Williams of the world – knowing they are going to bring these young guys along as well. So I think it's a combination of things, and we've done some good things this season, but I know there's some room that we still [can get better]. And Leslie has talked about it, we still need to improve and we still need to get better. And I still think, what I said in the beginning of the season was you want to see and evaluate each week kind of where you are at. And you are going to have some setbacks, you are going to have some growing pains. We've gone through some of that. But are the guys continuing to progress? Are we a better team in Week 1? Are we a better team Week 5? Are we a better team Week 10? Are we going to be even a better team at the end of the season? And that's kind of what you are hoping to see as we go through this thing. But we still have a ways to go to get better. We still need to get improvement. That's the attitude you have to have, I think.”
On whether he was tempted to wheel and deal before the Week 8 trade deadline passed …
“No, I think our philosophy and my philosophy that I believe in is that you continue to build this through the draft. We're looking forward -- I know our scouts are coming down to our final couple weeks here on the fall scouting. Our scouts are coming in in December, we're getting ready to start our meetings for the draft. Every year, this is the time of year your stomach starts to get excited because you know what's coming up here -- not only during the season, but what's coming up this offseason. With the systems that we have in place and some of the stuff we’ve implemented over the last two years and last year, I'm very excited about continuing and getting ready to improve this roster.”
Players and coaches teased rookie Jarius Wright all week about whether he'd be ready for his NFL debut after sittiing idle as a game-day inactive for the first nine games of his NFL career.
Wright, who was active only because veteran Percy Harvin is out with a badly sprained left ankle, answered them on his second regular-season snap as a professional, beating a weak zone defense for a 54-yard reception to the Lions' 1-yard line. Two plays later, Wright was uncovered when he caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from Ponder to give the Vikings a 7-0 lead with 7:52 left in the first quarter.
Ponder, who entered the game in a four-game funk that was problem No. 1 of many in the team's 1-3 slump, completed his first six passes for 57 yards and a touchdown en route to leading the Vikings to a 13-3 halftime lead at Mall of America Field.
Wright, a fourth-round draft pick, had three catches for 65 yards.Ponder has completed 13 of 18 passes for 102 yards, one touchdown and no turnovers. He completed passes to eight receivers, including himself. He caught a batted ball and was tackled for a 15-yard loss.
Meanwhile, the defense entered the game having not forced a turnover in nine quarters. But linebacker Chad Greenway's interception in tight coverage on tight end Brandon Pettigrew in Lions territory set up a 48-yard Blair Walsh field goal with 5:41 left in the first quarter.
Jason Hanson made it a 10-3 game with a 41-yard field goal with 11:07 left in the half. Kevin Williams stopped that drive with an 11-yard sack on third-and-five. But the key snap for the Vikings came the play before when cornerback Antoine Winfield knifed in off the left side of the offense to tackle running back Mikel Leshoure for a 2-yard loss on second-and-three.
The Vikings stretched the lead back to 10 points, 13-3, on a 23-yard field goal by Walsh with 4:41 left in the half. On the drive, Ponder showed no signs of the knee injury that's been dogging him. He followed a 15-yard run by Adrian Peterson with a 20-yard scramble into Lions territory.
In his 12-year career, outside linebacker Matt Blair was named to six straight Pro Bowls, was an all-Pro once. He played in two Super Bowls.
In honor of that career the Vikings will induct Blair into the team’s Ring of Honor at halftime of Thursday’s game with Tampa Bay at Mall of America Field.
But when Vikings coach Leslie Frazier introduced Blair to reporters Monday, his main message was thanking Blair for helping the team win this year. Seems Frazier likes to have former Vikings standouts talk to the team before training camp starts. Last year it was Jim Marshall, this year Blair.
“He talked to players about visualizing success,” Frazier said of Blair. “And he talked to them about not getting caught up in the past, but just focusing on the moment. And that really was something that was a part of our approach with our team. And so, without me even talking to him about what direction I wanted to take our team in that first meeting, it was so apropos to listen to him talk about success and visualizing success.’’
Blair’s message was about players putting all their emphasis on preparation so that execution becomes nearly second nature. “It takes your entire heart to make it happen,” Blair said.
Blair related a story about a game against the St. Louis Cardinals during his rookie season. He made a few mistakes covering Cards tight end Jackie Smith and was benched. But coach Bud Grant put him back on the field to start the second half. “After the game Bud was asked ‘What did Matt Blair bring to the game?’ And Bud said, ‘Lack of experience.’ From that day on I decided I need to do a little bit more. And that’s what it’s all about.”
When asked what his induction into the Ring of Honor meant, Blair got a bit emotional.
“It’s very humbling to be put in with great players – the Tarkentons, the Ellers, the Carters, the Marshalls, the Grants, those guys are just legendary.’’
One of the highlights of Sunday’s defensive effort, according to Frazier, was the pressure the team was able to get from the front four without having to resort to blitzing. It was encouraging, even though the injury-plagued Arizona offensive line has struggled.
“I don’t know if we’ve done it that effectively without blitzing,” said Frazier of the Vikings seven-sack effort. Of those, a career-high three came from end Brian Robison, two from end Jared Allen and one from tackle Kevin Williams. “In the past we probably would have mixed in a little more pressure than we did (Sunday). That was our goal, to go into this game and be able to generate a pass rush without having to bring five or six guys, and our D-line stepped up to the challenge. They dominated just like we hoped they would and really took a lot of pressure off our secondary.”
Through Sunday’s games the Vikings ranked third in the NFC with 22 sacks, with Allen tied for eighth individually with six.
Frazier said not having to blitz allowed the rest of the defense to concentrate on slowing receiver Larry Fitzgerald, Jr., who wound up with four catches.
ON SECOND THOUGHT…
Frazier admitted that he probably would do things differently if he had the final moments of Sunday’s first half to do over.
The Vikings decided to go for a field goal rather than take a knee late in the half. The result was a Christian Ponder interception. The Cardinals missed a field goal as the first half expired.
“Looking back on it, it probably wasn’t the wisest thing to do,” Frazier said. “We probably could have went in at the half and taken that 14-7 lead and say, ‘Hey, let’s just start the second half.’ ‘’
SMITH STAYS AGGRESSIVE
Vikings safety Harrison Smith is learning how to play aggressively without going over the line and incurring the fines he’s had to deal with this season.
“Sometimes when you get fined as often as he’s gotten fined in these first seven games, it can tip your emotions and make you start playing a little tentatively,” Frazier said. “That hasn’t been the case with him. He’s been aggressive. He’s still in tune with everything we’re trying to get done. He doesn’t seem to be sidetracked by anything that happened. … He’s a bright guy, and very, very athletic. But his maturity, not letting stuff hang onto him that can be negative, it’s impressive.”
Smith turned his first career interception into his first touchdown Sunday, a score that gave the Vikings a 21-7 lead early in the third quarter.
“That’s just how I’ve always tried to be on and off the field,” Smith said. “Just learn from your mistakes, but at the end of the day, I’m not going to try to slow down my play or play softer. I’m just going to try and play within the rules and play at a high tempo.”
NOT HIS CALL
Frazier was asked if the short turn-around time between Sunday’s victory and Thursday’s game with Tampa Bay put players at further risk for injury.
He was definitely not going there.
“Touchy area, there,” he said. “That’s a bigger call than coach Frazier standing here at the podium. We do what we’re told to do. We got a game on Thursday night, we’ve got to get prepared to play that game.”
Still, the short time to prepare will make this a different week. The players had the day off Monday. The team will get one full practice in Tuesday, then have the traditional walk-through on Wednesday. The coaches have to get the team ready to play while at the same time allowing players to get over the bumps and bruises of Sunday’s game.
“You have to really be smart in your preparation of how you’re going to get it done without overtaxing them mentally, but yet getting them where they need to be physically to go out and play,” Frazier said.
--Running back Adrian Peterson’s sore ankle came out of Sunday’s game OK. Frazier said Peterson was sore, but less so than he was a week ago. It remains to be seen how much Peterson will practice this week.
--Vikings tight end John Carlson, who left Sunday’s game with concussion-like symptoms, probably will not play Thursday, Frazier said. “We will have to take him through the protocol over the next few days, and in a short week, we don’t expect him make it,” he said. Other than that, there were various bumps and bruises, but nothing Frazier said would keep a player out of the game.
The players had Monday off. But the team was required to post an injury report given the proximity to the game. So, had the Vikings practiced today, Peterson (ankle), Allen (groin), CB Antoine Winfield (knee) Carlson (concussion) and T Matt Kalil (low back) would not have participated; S Mistral Raymond (ankle) and Smith (calf) would have had limited participation; and S Robert Blanton (hamstring), LB Marvin Mitchell (calf), QB Christian Ponder (knee), RB Matt Asiata (knee) and DT Fred Evans (knee) would have fully participated.
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