Raise your hand if you thought Audie Cole would lead tomorrow's Vikings notebook. No, he's not yet eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But the rookie seventh-round draft pick sure did turn some heads tonight. ...
It didn’t take Cole very long to count the number of interceptions he’s returned for touchdowns in his 23 years on this earth.
"Counting tonight?" he asked. "Two."
Even a hot start by quarterback Christian Ponder and the Vikings’ offense was overshadowed by Cole, the big, athletic linebacker who had pick-six returns of 20 and 30 yards on back-to-back plays -- just 13 seconds apart -- late in the fourth quarter of Friday night’s 36-14 preseason victory over the Buffalo Bills at Mall of America Field.
After the game, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier indicated that Cole, a rookie seventh-round draft pick taken 210th overall, has increased his chances of making the 53-man roster on a team desperate for depth at linebacker.
"He seems to be one of those guys who maybe is someone who just has a knack for making the big play," Frazier said. "His first play as a pro last week [in San Francisco], he gets a sack. And now he has two touchdowns in one game. That’s rare, even in a preseason game."
On the first touchdown, Bills quarterback Tyler Thigpen tried to throw the ball over Cole’s head. Big problem, since Cole stands an Urlacher-esque 6-foot-5. Cole weaved through traffic and reached the ball over the goal line. The play was reviewed and upheld.
"Everybody on the sideline said I should have run it straight in," Cole said. "But I didn’t know. I don’t touch the ball usually, so I tried to make some moves."
The second time Cole reached the end zone, after jumping a route and picking off Brad Smith, most of his teammates joined him there in celebration.
"Oh, man," Frazier said. "What Audie did tonight was a big deal."
Ponder efficient, explosive
Ponder wants a 75 percent completion percentage on first and second downs this season. Friday night, he met that lofty goal and then some.
Playing only three possessions, Ponder was both efficient and explosive while throwing the ball on first and second down. He completed 8 of 10 passes (80 percent) to seven different receivers for 128 yards, four first downs and a touchdown. His night was then done with the Vikings leading 10-0 early in the second quarter.
Ponder was accurate throwing the short, middle and long ball. His completions went to three wideouts (Percy Harvin 1-21; Jerome Simpson 2-37; Michael Jenkins 1-35), two tight ends (Rhett Ellison 1-8; Kyle Rudolph 1-7), a fullback (Jerome Felton 1-1 TD) and a running back (Toby Gerhart 1-19).
One of the incompletions was a flea-flicker that he wisely threw away when Simpson was covered.
Run defense responds
The Vikings’ run defense -- or lack thereof -- was a hot topic of discussion after the 49ers ran for 260 yards in beating the Vikings 17-6 in last week’s preseason opener. That won’t be the case this week as the Vikings’ first-team defense swarmed the Bills’ running game from the get-go on Friday.
With tackle Kevin Williams, end Jared Allen and cornerback Antoine Winfield back in the lineup, the Vikings held Buffalo to minus-6 yards on four carries in the first quarter. Starters on both sides of the ball began exiting the field after the first quarter.
"Jared came up to me on the sideline during the game and reminded me, `See the difference [in the run defense] when the first unit is in there," Frazier said. "We have guys who know how to stop the run. We just have to bring the other guys along."
Rudolph, Cook hurt
Tight end Kyle Rudolph and cornerback Chris Cook both left the field after being shaken up on hard hits early in the second quarter. Frazier said both exhibited concussion-like symptoms and will be further evaluated this week. They’ll have to pass a concussion test before returning to action.
Backup quarterback Joe Webb had only a 61.2 passer rating, but his value goes beyond the forward pass. He also had a 41-yard run when his protection broke down on third-and-eight. It kept the drive alive and led to a field goal. It also was the Vikings’ second-longest play behind a 48-yard reception by Emmanuel Arceneaux.
The Vikings’ starting interior offensive line struggled against Buffalo’s vaunted defensive line. Bills tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams each had a sack in the first five snaps of the game.