Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.
Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.
Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.
Washington has a 24-14 halftime lead over the Vikings at the Metrodome, scoring TDs on drives of 77, 78 and 80 yards.
The good: Vikings rookie Cordarrelle Patterson caught his first NFL TD pass, a 2-yarder from Christian Ponder.
The bad: The Vikings were unable to slow down Robert Griffin III (three touchdown passes) or RB Alfred Morris (88 rushing yards).
The ugly: The Vikings are so banged-up that they weren’t able to find 46 healthy players to dress. They were one short.
Griffin is 16-for-21 for 179 yards and has a 140.7 passer rating. Ponder is 10 of 13 for 85 yards, but had an interception on the opening drive, leading to a Washington field goal.
Adrian Peterson has 44 rushing yards on seven carries, including an 18-yard TD run.
It's a quick turnaround this week for the Vikings following a 27-23 loss to the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on Sunday. They return home to face the Redskins on Thursday in attempt to snap a four-game losing streak and avoid the first 1-8 start in franchise history. Here's your first look at the week ahead:
1) Can the secondary perform an encore?
While Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo threw for 337 yards, he had 90 yards on the game-winning drive when the Vikings opted not to send pressure. With that said, the unit had a solid performance despite injuries to defensive back Chris Cook and starting safeties Harrison Smith and Jamarca Sanford before the game.
The secondary even dealt with the loss of defensive back Xavier Rhodes in the game with a left leg injury and finished the game with just four corners. A.J. Jefferson made a great play on the interception with 4:35 left in the game that the offense couldn't capitalize on, leading to the Cowboys' game-winning touchdown drive.
The Vikings have three days to prepare and recuperate for the Redskins and quarterback Robert Griffin III. The health status of Cook, Rhodes and Sanford will likely be the biggest storyline leading up to the game behind the season-long debate. Griffin's going through a sophomore slump with the same amount of touchdowns, nine, as fumbles and interceptions, but he’s still a duel threat quarterback that’s capable of posting 350 yards of total offense alone.
2) Who will be the starting and backup quarterbacks?
Yes, the Cowboys have the worst total defense in the NFL, and yes, quarterback Christian Ponder didn’t move the chains on a 3-and-out with 2:51 left in the game that could’ve sealed the win, but he played well enough to start again Thursday. In a short week, it’s difficult to make a quarterback change when there aren’t as many days to prepare for the opponent.
It seems as if quarterback Matt Cassel isn’t an option to start now given how he won’t be a potential future quarterback for the organization. The other option, quarterback Josh Freeman, was inactive Sunday as he returned to the field last week following concussion-like symptoms in his first start against the Giants on Oct. 21. Do you make Freeman the starter, or even the backup, on a short week or go with the same look for the third consecutive week (Ponder starting, Cassel as the backup)?
3) Is the offensive line streak all but over?
The Vikings offensive line will likely see a starting lineup change for the first time in two seasons. Right tackle Phil Loadholt left Sunday’s game because of a concussion, and Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said he doesn’t expect him to play Thursday.
That would snap 25 consecutive games (including playoffs) without a lineup change for the offensive line that dates back to the start of last season. J’Marcus Webb replaced Loadholt in the third quarter and was beaten by Cowboys defensive end George Selvie, who stripped the ball out of Ponder’s hand in the end zone resulting in a defensive touchdown. Webb will be one of two options, along with backup center Joe Berger, to fill Loadholt’s void and end an impressive feat.
Best Quote From The Game
“I didn’t know it was a flag. The play was over with and I didn’t know it was a flag.” - Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant on his 15-yard penalty for removing his helmet on the field.
It’s known as “The Emmitt Rule” because former Cowboys running back and Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith constantly ripped off his helmet after scoring a touchdown. The rule was introduced in 1997.
Right before Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams stepped to the podium to talk to reporters Thursday, he chatted with defensive end Brian Robison and safety Jamarca Sanford. Williams said he didn’t single them out before he spoke to the media, but his message to them was one for the entire defense: stick to the plan.
“We’re still building the foundation to win football games and we want this to be the model of the NFL,” Williams said in his opening statement. “To be that, you have to build a firm foundation. You have to go through, sometimes, some growing pains, which we are right now. You don’t want it, but to build something solid, sometimes you have to go with that.”
Williams stressed the defense has to continue practicing hard and focusing on details despite the lack of results. In his second year as the defensive coordinator, Williams’ defensive hasn’t had the same success as it did last season. The Vikings are 30th in the NFL in total defense this season, allowing 401.6 yards a game. Last year they were 17th in total defense (350).
The issue has particularly been with the 29th ranked secondary. The Vikings give up 287.9 passing yards a game. Williams said the secondary shouldn’t work outside of the defensive structure.
”Sometimes when you’re maybe not getting interceptions or playing as well as you think you should, you’re thinking, ‘I need to do more. I need to go over here and make up for someone else,’” Williams said. “My message is, don’t do that. Be more detailed and if we tackle better, if we run to the ball more, if we execute assignments better, the results will be better. That’s one thing that we continue to reinforce."
The unit has seven interceptions this season but none in three October games. The last interception the Vikings had was against the Steelers in their only win this season on Sept. 22 in London.
Josh Freeman’s debut as Vikings quarterback was an utter failure.
Freeman was under pressure most of the night, but was missing receivers all night, and threw a crucial interception as the Vikings lost to the Giants 23-7 on Monday in the Meadowlands.
Freeman was 20-for-53 for 190 yards and no touchdowns and a 40.6 passer rating as the Vikings fell to 1-5.
Adrian Peterson had the sixth-lowest rushing total of his NFL career with only 28 yards on 13 carries.
Eli Manning passed for 200 yards and a touchdown for the Giants.
Key player: Marcus Sherels
The Vikings return man and backup cornerback scored the second touchdown of his career on an 86-yard punt return in the first half.
But in the third quarter, Sherels missed an interception chance and, on the following play, fumbled the ball away on a punt return although he was untouched, setting up a Giants touchdown.
Sherels’ punt return was the third longest in team history, behind a 98-yarder by Charlie West in 1968 and a 91-yarder by Nate Burleson in 2004. It gave the Vikings a 7-3 lead. Sherels has two career punt return TDs, tying the team record held by David Palmer and Mewelde Moore.
But Sherels’ fumble was costly. The Giants led 10-7 in the third quarter, and Sherels fielded Steve Weatherford’s kick at his own 10. He stumbled ahead to the 13, but lost the ball when he hit the ground, untouched, and the Giants eventually recovered the bouncing ball at the 3. Peyton Hillis scored two plays later on a 1-yard run.
The Giants have a 10-7 halftime lead over the Vikings thanks to a 24-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Rueben Randle midway through the second quarter.
The Good: Marcus Sherels’ 86-yard punt return for a touchdown gave the Vikings a 7-3 lead late in the first quarter. It was the 13th punt return touchdown in Vikings history. Sherels tied David Palmer and Mewelde Moore in the team record books for most career punt return TDs, with his second. The 86-yarder was the third longest in team history. Charlie West had a 98-yarder in 1968 and Nate Burleson had a 91-yarder in 2004. It was the third punt return for a TD against the Giants this season.
The bad: Vikings rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes had a rough first half. The Giants should have scored a touchdown on their first possession, but Manning overthrew Hakeem Nicks in the end zone from the 28-yard line. Rhodes got a late break on the play, and was clearly beaten. The Giants settled for a field goal and a 3-0 lead. The nine-minute, 36-second drive was the longest drive by time in the NFL this season.
Rhodes was called for pass interference on a third-down play to keep a Giants drive alive in the second quarter. Randle scored on the next play, beating Chris Cook.
The ugly: Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has 9 yards on eight carries, and quarterback Josh Freeman is 7 of 16 for 74 yards.
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