The Viking offensive line, much improved over last year after adding rookie left tackle Matt Kalil and moving Charlie Johnson from left tackle to left guard, hasn't gotten near the credit it deserves for its great blocking for Adrian Peterson.
"I think we continue to improve," said center John Sullivan, healthy this year after being injured most of last season. "We have the same goal this weekend. Obviously we're going out there playing to win. But we need to keep getting better, and that's going to be the same thing all the way through the end of the season."
Sullivan, who ranks among the NFL's best centers, said that blocking for Peterson is awesome.
"He's the best running back in the NFL, and we take a lot of pride in being able to run the football," Sullivan said, "and it's nice because it really helps us win games. It's what our offense is built around, so it's an absolute pleasure blocking for a back like that."
What is the key to being successful blocking for Peterson? "I'd say we try to be physical. We always talk about [being] physical, smart, and disciplined," Sullivan said. "We don't want to take penalties, but if we're going to have a penalty, we want to make sure it's when we're playing fast and hard.
"We want to go out there and impose our will on defenses, and that's not the easiest task week in and week out in the NFL, because the defenses you play are very good. But that's our goal, that's the mantra that's set forth for us by our coaching staff, specifically [offensive line] coach [Jeff] Davidson, and we try to live up to that."
Sullivan said the linemen block the same for Peterson as they do for the team's other backs.
"We take pride in those numbers [by Peterson], but at the same time the season is about wins," Sullivan said. "We'll try to win these games. Rushing the ball helps us do that, and when the season is over, we'll look back at all those numbers. But for now the only one that matters is the one we have in the win column."
Another unsung blocker is fullback Jerome Felton, whom Peterson and coach Leslie Frazier singled out this week as playing a key role in Peterson's success.
"We've gone back a little with our two-back runs, and they have proven beneficial," Frazier said. "Adrian has done a nice job of following his blocks, and Jerome has done a good of seeking out linebackers and safeties and doing his part."
Improvement the key
Sullivan said the successful NFL teams are those that improve every week, as the Vikings have.
"No team is the same in Week 16 as they are in Week 1," he said. "You're either getting better or you're getting worse. Very rarely do teams stay flat. I think we continue to improve, and that's the goal."
Sullivan said Sunday's opponent, the Houston Texans, "have a really good team, a lot of great defensive players. J.J. Watt, Antonio Smith, Shawn Cody, they are all playing well right now, so it's going to be a big challenge."
Asked about quarterback Christian Ponder, Sullivan said: "We've got eight wins. He's our quarterback. He's our leader. When it comes down to it, you know we need him to be out there playing well and leading us. He's been a big part of all of our wins."
Some free-agent surprises
There has been a lot of recent free-agent action with former Twins. Torii Hunter got a lot of press for tweeting about the Angels signing Josh Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million contract. But Hunter said this week that he merely was trying to make a joke. On WFMB-AM radio in Illinois, Hunter said, "I wasn't upset at all. Josh Hamilton ... is a good friend of mine."
There was a steady stretch when the Twins had Drew Butera basically serving as Carl Pavano's personal catcher. But those two players will not be back next season. The Twins will not offer arbitration to Butera, so the defensive standout will not return for a fourth season. And even though Pavano would come back for a lot lower salary, the Twins have no interest in re-signing him.
The Twins had wanted to bring back pitcher Francisco Liriano, but weren't going to come close to the $14 million over two years that the Pittsburgh Pirates gave him.
And it was a major surprise that there wasn't a bigger market for former Twins catcher A.J. Pierzynski, coming off a banner year for the White Sox with a career-high 27 home runs and .278 average. Pierzynski wound up signing a one-year contract with Texas.
• Thunder coach Scott Brooks, on what he thinks of the Timberwolves’
• Ryan Harris,
chances of making the playoffs after the Wolves beat his team 99-93 on Thursday: "They are definitely a playoff team. They are playing well now, and once they get [Ricky] Rubio playing like he did last year, they will be even more difficult to beat."Former Hopkins standout Royce White is close to returning to the Houston Rockets. According to sources in the Houston media, the No. 1 draft pick will begin working out at team facilities in some capacity Monday after a long absence over how to treat his anxiety disorder.Gophers football coach Jerry Kill can take credit for getting two teams into a bowl game, having recruited 75 percent of the players on the Northern Illinois team that will face Florida State in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1.Houston defensive coordinator Wade Phillips on Jared Allen, the great Vikings defensive end: "[The Houston staff] coached the Pro Bowl last year. .... He almost broke the sack record last year. He is that kind of player. I know our offense will have their hands full with him." Nikola Pekovic, who scored 24 points and added 10 rebounds against the Thunder, is averaging 22.5 points on 55.8-percent shooting [58 of 104] in his past six games. The Thunder game was his sixth in a row with 18-plus points, the longest such stretch of his career. Tyus Jones, the Apple Valley basketball standout, started to have problems with back spasms two weeks ago, and the back continues to trouble him, said his father, Rob. The junior guard is day-to-day. the former Cretin-Derham Hall High School star, is a starting guard for the Texans after playing with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Denver Broncos.