Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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I'm not sure I've ever seen a finishing flurry quite like the one in the Vikings' 29-25 loss to the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.
It's remarkable how hard the Vikings hsve played in the weeks since it seemed their season was doomed. What I'll explore in my Monday column is why it took so long for this coaching staff to put its best players on the field. With Matt Cassel at quarterback, Cordarrelle Patterson starting at receiver and Xavier Rhodes starting at corner, this is a competent team, a team that could be at or near .500 and theoretically in the playoff race if those players had started earlier this season.
This was a Vikings team that made all those dramatic plays with its backup quarterback, backup running back, and a lot of backup defenders on the field.
We'll have extensive coverage in the Monday paper and on startribune.com, complete with videos.
We'll also update Adrian Peterson's health as soon as possible after the game, Indications now are that he has a sprained ankle and nothing more. It will be interesting to see whether Leslie Frazier plays him next week, or lets Toby Gerhart have a start.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Awaiting the start of the Gophers game at Michigan State's Spartan Stadium.
This would be the Gophers' biggest win of the season, if they could pull it off.
I believe their performance last week, in a loss against Wisonsin, was their most impressive performance of the season. Beating a very good Michigan State team on the road would be more impressive.
In fact, beating Michigan State would give the Gophers their most impressive six-game stretch in the modern era.
Glen Mason's best seasons did not include a six-game stretch in the Big Ten schedule this impressive. The 2003 loss to Michigan interrupted an impressive stretch. If the Gophers win today, they will have gone 5-1 in a key six-game stretch with their only loss coming against a very good Wisconsin team.
I'd argue the Gophers' loss to Wisconsin marked their best performance this season, given the quality of the opponent.
A victory today would trump that.
I'll be in studio Sunday morning for Sunday Sports Talk, 10-noon on 1500ESPN before heading to the Metrodome for Vikings-Bears. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
There are rational reasons for starting Christian Ponder on Sunday.
I'm just not sure the Vikings are employing any of them.
Here are possible behind-the-scenes explanations for starting Ponder, or at least not starting Josh Freeman:
1. If Freeman has looked lost in practice. It would be hard for an NFL head coach to believe that a quarterback who has trouble running the offense or completing passes in practice would be able to do so in games, especially on the road.
2. The Vikings have decided to tank the rest of the season to obtain the highest possible draft choices. I could see the front office wishing for this outcome, but Leslie Frazier is incapable of trying to lose a game. A coach would tank only if he was assured of coming back next year, and there's no way the Vikings can be making assurances to their head coach given the ineptitude of this team.
3. The Vikings' offensive coaches don't know what they're doing.
Starting Freeman is the most logical decision, but if he's not ready to start, then it's tough to figure out why the Vikings wouldn't start Matt Cassel. Cassel has given the Vikings their best-quarterbacked game of the season, against Pittsburgh, and would give them their best chance to win on Sunday at Green Bay.
I can't think of a good reason for starting Ponder. Worse, the feeling in the Vikings' lockerroom is that starting Ponder is an embarrassment.
Frazier has done much to build trust and respect in the Vikings' lockerroom. He's sabotating his credibility by starting Ponder when everyone knows Ponder's career is effectively over in Minnesota.
For all of their problems, the Vikings have continued to play hard even as their season has slipped away. It's tough to put your body on the line when your bosses keep handling the most important position on the team so poorly.
I'll be on 1500ESPN at noon with Judd&Dubay to discuss this, the Wolves, the Wild, and the Gophers.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier has been getting beaten up from all sides this week.
If you want to criticize his hiring of coordinators, or clock management, fire away.
If you're really going to keep picking on him for the way he has handled his quarterbacks, you're so far off base you must be related to Nick Punto.
Freeman and his bosses were fully invested in giving Chrisitan Ponder every chance to be their quarterback for the next five years. He failed. He failed miserably. If anyone was going to give Ponder every benefit of the doubt, it was Frazier and GM Rick Spielman. If they gave up on him, you know he's not capable of running an NFL offense.
Frazier switched to Matt Cassel at the right time, when Ponder's rib injury created a natural opening to try out the backup, and Cassel played pretty well in beating Pittsburgh.
Then, when the Vikings had the chance to pick up a talented quarterback without sacrificing a draft pick, they signed Josh Freeman, and got him ready to play as quickly as possible.
Freeman played horribly on Monday night. He showed some poise in the pocket and generally threw toward the correct receiver. He just couldn't hit the broad side of Phil Loadholt with one of his passes. As Frazier noted, Freeman's mechanics are horrible, which led to him throwing too high or too long.
The result was terrible. That doesn't mean the decision was terrible.
In fact, the decision was purely logical. So is the decision to keep Freeman as the starting quarterback.
The Vikings know exactly what Ponder is. They know exactly what Cassel is. As poorly as he played on Monday, there is still a chance that Freeman could revive his career.
In his second year in the NFL, Freeman threw 25 touchdown passes and six interceptions. The talent is there. He has the ability to avoid turnovers under the right circumstances. He has a lot of work to do, but the Vikings are right to invest in a growth stock.
Blame Frazier for the Vikings' record, but not for his quarterback decisions.
I'll be on 1500ESPN today at noon today after doing interviews in the Vikings' lockerroom. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Doug Mientkiewicz wanted to add one thing to our conversation that was the basis of today's column: ``My biggest regret in baseball is that we didn't win a World Series when I was with the Twins. We thought we would.''
On to today's Local Power Ranking of the seven local revenue sports, which have shifted since the last time I did them:
1. Gopher men's hockey
This team is skilled enough to win the national title. Is it tough enough?
2. Minnesota Wild
I'm quite impressed with the way Mike Yeo has melded incoming stars, holdover veterans and promising youngsters. He's gone from hot seat to coach of the year candidate in my book. Ryan Suter has played brilliantly ever since his first two, quite nervous, weeks in a Wild uni.
3. Minnesota Vikings
Didn't like seeing a team in a passing league lose its only dynamic receiver and best cornerback, but Rick Spielman has a chance to make his plan work. If he can complement Greg Jennings with another quality receiver or two (I vote for Cal's Keenan Allen and one more free-agent pickup), the offense could be better, and if he can use the draft to land a couple of defensive starters, the defense could be more talented.
His plan will only be as good as his execution.
4. Gopher basketball
I'm rooting for Minnesota facing VCU in the first round. Tubby vs. Shaka Smart. Tubby vs. the man who should replace him. Bring it on, please.
5. Minnesota Twins
I'm encouraged by a handful of individuals in spring camp, but not by the pitching staff, and the pitching staff will determine this team's fate.
6. Minnesota Timberwolves
I love the way Ricky Rubio has played, knowing the season is lost and his teammates aren't good enough.
7. Gopher football
Jerry Kill is 4-12 in the Big Ten. Facts are so annoying.
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