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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Wrapping up the game and the season from Lambeau early Sunday morning:
-Wrote my column about my primary observation, which is that if the Vikings had stuck with running the ball and the zone option, they may have been able to keep the game close. The Packers were on their heels during the first drive.
The Vikings' first eight plays were running plays. They marched easily down the field. Webb's first pass, on third-and-7, was an embarrassing ground ball. The Vikings settled for a field goal.
After the defense forced a quick three-and-out, the offense had a chance to dominate play and time of possession for all or most of the first quarter. Instead, the Vikings pretended they had a pocket passer. Webb threw two incompletions as the Vikings went three-and-out.
As they continued to steer away from the running game and rely on Webb in the pocket, the game got out of hand. I don't know if Webb could have won the game with his legs. But he lost it with his arm.
-When a baseball team loses in the playoffs, there's an air of sadness because the guys spend so much time together. When a football team loses in the playoffs, there is a sense of sadness because NFL players, especially those on good teams, give so much of themselves.
Everywhere you looked Saturday night, there was pain. John Sullivan had his right arm and shoulder heavily wrapped. Jared Allen was talking about offseason surgery to repair his shoulder. Antoine Winfield still had his broken hand wrapped. And everywhere were bruised, tired bodies. GM Rick Spielman walked around the lockerroom, thanking players, looking grim.
And careers are so short in the NFL that everyone knows the same group won't be back next year. Those NFL players who can play for a decade and earn big paychecks have good lives, as long as their bodies and brains and bank accounts hold up. But the sadness is real, because they don't know if they'll be back to the playoffs, or how many of them will be together even if they win a championship down the line.
-I think like most fans in this regard: I would be highly disappointed in Christian Ponder if he had any chance to play through the pain and passed. But he couldn't throw with any velocity in pregame warmups, and he had trouble even moving his right arm after the game.
We can critique his play and question his future, but I see no reason to question his toughness or character. I have no doubt that he desperately wanted to play.
-We have gotten to the point where Adrian Peterson can rush 22 times for 99 yards, a 4.5 average, and we can be disappointed. He's set quite the high bar.
-It was a lousy day of football. The Bengals and Texans were close to unwatchable. Webb's passing made the Packers game far less entertaining than it should have been. Sunday should be different. Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin and Russell Wilson might be, as a group, the three best rookie quarterbacks we've ever seen.
-I like the way the Packers play. I like their receiving depth. I like the fact that they found DuJuan Harris, a speed back, to exploit defenses spread out to cover their receivers. I like the way Aaron Rodgers plays with such intelligence and poise.
But I'm just not seeing the Packers as a Super Bowl champ this year. I don't like their defensive line, or their linebackers outside Clay Matthews. I think they're too dependent on Rodgers to beat a high-quality team. I'd pick the 49ers to beat them next week.
And if that happens, don't be surprised if Colin Kaepernick running the read option, just the way Webb did on that first drive tonight, isn't a big key.
-My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib. I'm running SundaySportsTalk on 1500ESPN with Tom Pelissero Sunday morning from 10-noon, and I'm on the station at 2:05 on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. I'm also on WJON at 7:15 a.m. every weekday morning.
I'll have a season wrap-up column in the Monday paper, in which I'll attempt to put this season into some kind of historical context. Thanks for reading.
Some numbers produced during what might have been the best football game I've seen in the Metrodome:
-Finished with 199 yards and the second-best rushing total in NFL history, 2,097 yards. Eric Dickerson retains the record of 2,105. Peterson was nine yards shy. ``I know Eric Dickerson is stoked,'' Peterson said with a smile.
-Set an NFL record for most rushing yards in December, with 861. Clinton Page of Devner had 672 in 2002.
-Set an NFL record for most rushing yards in any month. Chris Johnson of Tennessee had 800 in 2009. (Month not provided.)
-Tied an NFL record for most 150-plus yard rushing games in a season, with 7. He's tied with Earl Campbell, who did it in 1980.
-Set a team record for most rushing attempts in a game, with 34.
-Matt Kalil tied a record for most starts by a rookie tackle, at 16, with Todd Steussie.
-Blair Walsh tied an NFL record for most field goals made in a season by a rookie, with 35. Ali Haji-Sheikh of the Giants did it in 1983.
-Walsh finished the regular season with 141 points, most ever by a Vikings rookie and second among Vikings kickers all-time to Gary Anderson's 164 points in 1998.
-Walsh tied a team record for most field goals made in a season, with 35. Anderson had 35 in '98.
-Walsh set an NFL record for highest field-goal percentage in a season by a rookie, with 92.1. Richie Cunningham of Dallas had a 91.9 percent in 1997.
-Walsh set an NFL record for most 50-plus yard field goals made by a rookie in a season, with 10.
-Christian Ponder became only the sixth Vikings quarterback to start 16 games in a season. The others: Brett Favre, Daunte Culpepper (3 times), Warren Moon, Tommy Kramer, Fran Tarkenton.
Tale of two teams:
The Packers finished the season with 4,049 net yards passing. The Vikings had 2,751.
The Packers finished the season with 1,702 net yards passing. The Vikings had 2,634.
They wound up one game apart in the standings.
Yes, I do think Frazier is the coach of the year. The Colts tanked on purpose last year, and were rewarded with one of the most advanced rookie quarterbacks of all time. The Vikings won three games on merit, while winning just enough to lose a chance to draft Luck or Griffin, and improved by seven games.
I also think Peterson is the MVP. As much as I revere Peyton Manning, he took over a team that won a playoff game last year. He improved the offense dramatically but stepped into a great situation. Peterson was the dojminant figure on an offense with few alternatives, and he performed even better once Percy Harvin went out.
As frequent readers know, I don't champion locals unless I think they're deserving. I think Frazier and Peterson are deserving.
I'll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 a.m. and 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. tomorrow. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
The Vikings' 24-13 upset of San Francisco might have been their most impressive performance since they beat Dallas in the playoffs in 2009. Their upset of Philadelphia in Philadelphia in 2010 was surprising, but those Eagles turned out to be a very flawed team, and with the game being postponed by weather, it never felt like a normal game.
This was different. This was the Vikings beating the 49ers at their own game. Here's what stood out to me:
1. A young Vikings roster that I don't think is talented enough yet to play with the league's big boys took it to the 49ers. They ran the ball. Percy Harvin, as usual, took it to defensive backs. Christian Ponder played with poise. The defense stifled the 49ers' power running game and pressured Alex Smith.
This is the way Leslie Frazier wants to win, and Sunday marked the first time you could see his vision played out on an NFL field against a superior team.
2. Ponder has yet to throw an interception this season. I know, I know, he's had a few dropped, and the 49ers could have changed the game by holding onto Ponder's one terrible throw in the fourth quarter,
Good quarterbacks thrown interceptions, too, though, and good quarterbacks have apparent interceptions dropped. The numbers, in this case, are accurate. Ponder has been careful with the ball and has completed 70 percent of his passes. After 13 NFL starts, he looks about as good as the Vikings could have hoped at this stage of his career.
3. Randy Moss looked like he didn't want to get hit. He short-armed a high throw and didn't appear interested in another pass that whistled by his head. He played sparingly in the fourth quarter of a game where the 49ers were desperate for a deep threat.
After all this time, Moss is pretty much everything everybody has ever said he is. He's a great receiver. He's one of the most unique talents in NFL history. He's a pain in the butt. And he is untrustworthy.
4. Ponder held a weird postgame press conference. He sounded like he wanted to pretend to be mad at everyone who didn't pick the Vikings to win the Super Bowl. But he's such a nice, reasonable guy, that he couldn't maintain the fake anger and kept making jokes.
He did keep bringing up the Super Bowl. Make of that what you will. I do think that Ponder, Kyle Rudolph, John Sullivan, Matt Kalil and the other young offensive players believe they're building something here. The question, for me, is whether they will be ready to win big while Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin are still healthy and in their prime.
Even in a game we all know if violent, Peterson and Harvin are exceptions. They run with exceptional effort.
5. Chad Greenway is having an outstanding season. He's shown up in the pass rush and in pass coverage. He's been a strong performer against the running game for years, but the man does work at his craft and you can see improvement across the board this year.
6. Sportswriters and radio hosts pick games because picking games can make for interesting copy and fodder. But we really shouldn't. We don't know who's going to win. If we did, we'd all live in Vegas. In penthouses in Vegas.
We don't. I proved that again today. I thought the 49ers would win by about 10.
Please don't ever take the advice of a sportswriter when betting. Nothing good will come of it.
-Restaurant recommendation of the day: Lola's Pizzeria in Southwest Minneapolis, on Xerxes. Great food and atmosphere.
-Tailgated outside TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday. Nice atmosphere. Not as rowdy as some college campuses, but I think that's a good thing. People were friendly and calm, and the band sounded great.
-I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 tomorrow, and on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 a.m.
-Luckily for me, I'll be covering the Ryder Cup in Chicago this week. It's one of the few things I haven't done as a writer that I had always wanted to do. Next wish: The British Open at St. Andrews one of these years.
Jared Allen is playing in his ninth season in the NFL. He has been briefed on, and reminded of, the NFL's penchant for protecting quarterbacks. Whe he dove at Andrew Luck as Luck was running out of bounds, he gave a replacement official a chance to throw a flag, and the replacement official did.
The replacement official was, shockingly, right in this case.
Allen should have known better. He cost his team three points in a game that was decided by three points. The Vikings should expect more from one of their best, veteran players.
After the game, Allen told reporters, ``I guess you can't touch the quarterback.''
That's a silly thing to say. No, Jared, you can't touch the quarterback. Not in the head. Not after the whistle. And not when the NFL"s future superstar is running directly out of bounds.
Football is an emotional game, but a veteran player should be able to control himself in key situations. Allen didn't.
Other reasons for the Vikings' loss:
-I've been covering the Cover-2 defense since Tony Dungy brought it to Minnesota in 1992. I've seen it work as designed. Yesterday, it broke down when Reggie Wayne went right down the middle of the field from the slot and caught a 30-yard touchdown pass from Luck.
In the Cover-2, the middle linebacker is responsible for taking a deep drop on passing plays and covering the middle of the field, which is left open because each safety takes responsibility for one side.
But no defense, not even the Cover-2, should ask a linebacker to cover a wide receiver, and certainly not an elite wide receiver. If you're going to play Cover-2, the safeties have to be aware of where the best receivers are.
The core philosophy of the Cover-2 is to force offenses to settle for short passes, allowing defenders to play the eyes of the quarterback. The Cover-2 exists as a defense against the big play. Ask a linebacker to cover an elite receiver, and you're defeating the purpose of the scheme.
-If the Vikings hadn't dumped Ryan Longwell for Blair Walsh, they'd be 0-2.
-I thought it was strange when the Vikings, in the midst of an offseason that was all about slowly rebuilding, signed John Carlson to a five-year, $25-million deal. The thing is, that would have been a silly contract even if Carlson had played well. As it is, Carlson has zero catches through two games.
Why, again, did the Vikings invest heavily in an injury-prone backup tight end?
-I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Now that we've spent the offseason wringing our hands over player safety and bounties, we can leaves our consciences at the other end of the overstuffed couch and start concentrating on games.
My divisional picks for the 2012 NFL season:
This is too easy. The Patriots probably aren't quite as good as we think they are. Their offensive line has holes. Years of poor drafting has hurt their defense. But Tom Brady and Bill Belichick give them an edge over everyone else in the division.
The Jets probably aren't quite as bad as we've made them out to be. Because we spend so much time on the foibles of Rex Ryan and their quarterbacks, we tend to forget that this is an excellent defensive team with a strong offensive line. The Jets may not have the firepower to beat elite teams, but they are built to ground lesser teams into dust.
So: Patriots win it, with the Jets finishing second and contending for a playoff spot. The Bills are still fraudulent. The Dolphins are still mediocre.
The Ravens have become the class of this division and should win it again. They have key veterans like Ray Lewis and Matt Birk nearing the end of their careers, but Joe Flacco and the passing attack could offset that by getting better, and they were very close to beating the Patriots in the AFC title game last year.
I like the Ravens to win the division, but I don't believe they'll go to the Super Bowl. This is personal bias. I've been around three Vikings teams that lost in the championship game, and they were nothing less than depressed the following season.
The Bengals were surprisingly good last season and you would figure that Andy Dalton would keep improving, but I never trust this franchise, and I don't like the offensive line. I figure they tread water and make the playoffs, but I won't pick them to win the division or a playoff game.
The Steelers, to me, are the wild card. Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger win them a lot of credibility, and this is one of the best organizations in the game, but I don't like the vibe. Tomlin changed special teams coaches late in training camp and Mike Wallace held out.
The Browns remain the Browns.
So...Ravens, Bengals, Steelers, Browns.
The Houston Texans have been a trendy pick for a few years now, and they're trendy again, and they'll benefit from playing in a horrible division. They should have an easy road to the playoffs, but I'll have to see them beat an elite team in the playoffs before I'm going to be a believer.
Tennessee is mediocre. Jacksonville is awful. The Colts are rebuilding. It's good to be Gary Kubiak.
Peyton Manning is one of the smartest and most analytical athletes I've ever met, so picking the Broncos shouldn't surprise us. I figured he'd head to Miami to be near his second home and enjoy the weather, but Denver, it turns out, is perfect for him.
He's with a driven, quality organization. He has two underappreciated receivers in Decker and Thomas. He has a running game. He has a defense. He has a distinct home-field advantage. And he get to face mediocre competition in his division.
Nice pick, Peyton.
The Chargers remain the biggest tease in football and they no longer have one of the best overall rosters in the game.
The Raiders appear to be gaining sanity, but it's hard to place much faith in Carson Palmer at this stage of his career.
The Chiefs have captured Belichick's paranoia without emulating his expertise.
AFC champion: Denver. It might be risky to pick a guy with a bad neck, but I'm willing to bet on Manning's head.
Super Bowl champions almost always suffer a letdown.
The Cowboys have improved their pass coverage and could surprise in Tony Romo's latest make-or-break season.
The Eagles are loaded but dependent on a fragile quarterback.
The Redskins will be exciting but won't win as Robert Griffin learns the NFL.
Give the division to the Eagles. They should have addressed their defensive shortcomings. If they can keep Vick healthy, they could be nearly unstoppable on offense.
I don't know if I've ever seen as many dropped passes by a good team in a big game as the Packers had in their loss to the Giants. That was the Packers' Super Bowl to lose last year, and they lost it in shocking fashion.
They're still the class of the NFC.
The Bears should benefit from Mike Tice taking over the offense and Jay Cutler having a favored target in Brandon Marshall. Brian Urlacher's knee is a concern, but this is a strong team.
The Lions are talented. Are they mature enough to handle expectations? Probably enough so that they'll make the playoffs.
The Vikings admit they're embarking on a slow rebuilding project. Don't expect much from them this year. I'd pick 5-11 unless they can fully take advantage of a soft early schedule, in which case I'll pick 6-10.
This is a fascinating division. What will the Saints be like without their mastermind coach? Will the Falcons finally break through? Will Schiano's college act play in Tampa? Is Cam Newton ready to become one of the game's elite quarterbacks, which will mean adding victories to his already-gaudy stats?
I like the Falcons, a bunch of grinders, to grind through the regular season and win the division. I think the Saints fall off, and I see Newton making a big impact this season, leading his team to the playoffs.
The 49ers will dominate this division, but I believe Russell Wilson will be the surprise player of the year. The Seahawks are better than you think, just like their rookie quarterback. Seattle will make the playoffs.
The Cardinals and Rams will await relegation to the Big Ten.
NFC champ: Packers
Super Bowl champ: Aaron Rodgers beats Peyton Manning in a shootout.
If Jason Witten can't play, or play well, Romo will be missing his safety blanket when he needs it most. The Giants will be ready to play, and they're the better team. Giants 31, Cowboys 23.
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