Vikings coach Leslie Frazier had a big smile on his face after seeing Sunday’s NFC North games because all the teams in the division now have at least two losses. Detroit and Chicago are 3-2, Green Bay is 2-2 and the Vikings are 1-3.
“This is good news because we are back in the race again,” Frazier said.
Frazier said this hours before the news came out Sunday night that the Vikings were signing quarterback Josh Freeman, recently released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Now all the media types who had the Vikings in real trouble after they started out 0-3 will have to reconsider the Vikings’ potential to win the North since they are just one loss behind the other teams in the division.
The Vikings are 0-2 in the division, but those two games were on the road, at Detroit and Chicago. They still have to play all their division rivals at home, and they also still must visit Green Bay.
“We’re 1-3 right now and we have a lot of football to be played,” Frazier said. “I’m hoping that that game we had last week in London, the win that we got, would be the momentum builder that we need and we can get going and put some wins together.
“It has been a tough start, but I like the way we finished the ballgame last week with a win, and hopefully that will propel us on to good things.”
Frazier admitted that the Vikings, who are last in the league in pass defense, must improve their secondary play if they are to repeat their playoff appearance from last year.
“No question,” he said. “We have to keep bringing the young guys along that are playing back there.”
After the bye week, Frazier expects to get Chris Cook and Jamarca Sanford back into the defensive backfield against Carolina on Sunday. And tight end Rhett Ellison might be back as well.
“It’ll be good to have two starters back that we missed, and hopefully that will help us get better,” Frazier said. “… [The secondary] has been up and down. We have to get better.”
Asked if there is any chance to get the retired Antoine Winfield back, Frazier had his doubts.
“I don’t see it,” he said. “You know, I can only coach the guys that we have out there, and they’re working as hard as they can to get better and they will get better, they are getting better.
“That’s one of the things about playing in the secondary, is you can’t hide those mistakes. They’re glaring in the secondary, when you make a mistake. We’re just coaching the guys that we have.”
QB still up in the air
Frazier was asked if the health of quarterback Christian Ponder is improving.
“Ponder is getting better,” he said. “We’ll see where he is this week with the rib injury and then we’ll make a determination as the week goes on, we’ll come back [Monday] and the doctors will take a look at him and we’ll go from there.”
But the signing of Freeman might indicate that Ponder’s injury might keep him out several more weeks. It’s not clear if Freeman would be ready after one week of practice, but Frazier said he was comfortable with Matt Cassel.
“[Cassel] did a very good job [against Pittsburgh]. He really helped us a lot in that ballgame,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons we signed him, his veteran experience.”
Meanwhile there was injury news for Frazier — on his son Corey, a starting cornerback for Rice and an Eden Prairie High School product.
“Very, very unfortunate. He tore his ACL the second game of the season,” Frazier said. “As a matter of fact we flew him up here and he had his surgery on Wednesday. He’s home here and we’re helping him go through his rehab. It’s tough your senior year to have an injury like that so I really felt bad for him. But his attitude is good, and he’s working hard to get it right.”
Opponents had edge
When the Gophers visit Northwestern on Oct. 19 following their bye week, it will be the first time since their season opener they have had two weeks to prepare for an opponent. Meanwhile the opposite has been the case for the Gophers lately.
“Michigan had two weeks to prepare for us, San Jose State had two weeks to prepare for us — this will be our first opportunity where we have a week under us,” Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said.
Claeys also said that it will be nice to have extra time to get healthy and prepare for a tough Northwestern squad.
Northwestern might be the best team the Gophers have faced based on its performance against Ohio State on Saturday.
“It’s a tremendous challenge in front of us with Northwestern. Pat [Fitzgerald] has done a good job establishing what he would like [the Wildcats] to be. We have that same type of rebuilding program here that we’re looking forward to doing.
“We’re banged up, that’s part of football,” Claeys said. “You know you have to deal with it. Martez Shabazz ended up going out with a separated shoulder and we have another one that got dinged. There’s a [player with a] concussion, I don’t know how serious that is until [Monday]. We’re down four or five kids in the secondary, but you know, as I said, that’s part of the game and we have to find a way to fight throw it.”
Game of inches
Looking back to the things that hurt the Gophers’ chances to do better at Michigan, Claeys noted the early fumble by Mitch Leidner, and he pointed to the “crucial times” the team was moving the ball and ended up with false start penalties.
“You give those up and it’s hard to get back at a time that we need to move the ball,” he said.
“Then obviously defensively we just didn’t play well on third down. They converted 10 of 13 on third down, and then if we just played better on third down we would have given the offense more possessions and [the Wolverines] would not have scored as many points as they did.”
Still, Claeys believes that, in trying to turn the program around, the Gophers aren’t far off. He pointed to a missed opportunity late when Leidner nearly hit Donovahn Jones for a deep touchdown.
“That’s one of those things where protection-wise the guy did slip through and made Mitch throw the ball a little quicker than he wanted to, and he threw it of his back foot and so we underthrew it,” Claeys said. “[If that’s completed] all of a sudden it’s a 28-20 ballgame late in the fourth quarter.
“That’s a big improvement over where we were a couple years ago.”
Regarding the condition of coach Jerry Kill, who missed Saturday’s game because of a seizure, Claeys said: “He’s at home doing fine, getting his rest and visiting with his doctors. Besides that, there’s not a lot left to say until he gets back, and I’m sure he’ll update everybody.”