Record-breaking rookie stays unfazed in 50-plus territory

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 23, 2012 - 11:58 PM

Blair Walsh is the first kicker in NFL history to hit nine field goals of at least 50 yards in a season. And he hasn't missed one yet.

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Blair Walsh (3) kicked a field goal in the third quarter.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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HOUSTON — Blair Walsh wasn't exactly sure how far out he was when he lined up for his first field goal Sunday. Going through his routine near the Texans midfield logo at Reliant Stadium, Walsh took his paces, loaded up his leg and showcased his power.

It wasn't until after his 56-yard field goal nestled high into the net beyond the uprights that holder Chris Kluwe gave him a look of amazement.

"He was like, 'You realize that was 56, right?' " Walsh said. "I thought it was maybe 53, 54. I didn't know. But I hit it really good."

That kick, which gave the Vikings a 10-3 lead early in the second quarter, matched Paul Edinger's team record for longest made field goal. It also gave Walsh a place in the NFL record books with nine field goals of 50 yards or longer, the most ever made in a single season. The previous mark of eight was set by Atlanta's Morten Andersen in 1995 and matched by Detroit's Jason Hanson (2008).

After Walsh's solid pregame showing Sunday, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer advised coach Leslie Frazier that the rookie kicker could be used any time the Vikings' offense crossed midfield.

"I felt pretty good when we had a chance to kick the 56-yarder based on what he had done in pregame," Frazier said.

Most impressive: Walsh is now 9-for-9 from 50 yards or beyond.

"This is the most locked into a zone I've ever been," the rookie said. "You always have to stay focused as a kicker. But right now, I think we're firing on all cylinders on our snaps and holds."

Foster falls ill

Texans running back Arian Foster was limited to 15 yards on 10 carries Sunday and took his final carry with 10:57 left in the third quarter. Foster was removed for good as a precaution after he experienced an irregular heartbeat.

"That is something that happened once before in practice," coach Gary Kubiak said.

Added Foster: "I'll be fine. I'll be OK. It's a very minor situation."

Third watch

The Vikings' dominance on third downs played a big role in their upset bid Sunday. The offense converted nine of 18 third downs while the defense held Houston to 1-for-11 on third-down conversions.

Cook returns

After missing six games with a broken bone in his right arm, cornerback Chris Cook was back starting Sunday. But he shared time with A.J. Jefferson in the Vikings' base defense, still working to get back into game shape.

"It was just his conditioning," Frazier said. "And knowing that game speed versus practice speed is different. So we wanted to make sure we bring him along but get him in at the right times."

How did Cook feel throughout? "A little winded here and there," Cook said. "But this was my first week back after two months off. So it was kind of expected."

Catching the breaks

Christian Ponder had good fortune on two of his most questionable throws Sunday. With 12:33 left, Ponder was nearly sacked by defensive end J.J. Watt, yet desperately flung a pass toward Toby Gerhart on the right sideline. With Gerhart falling down, linebacker Tim Dobbins could have easily turned that throw into an interception return for a touchdown but couldn't hold on.

Four plays earlier later, Ponder's attempt on third-and-13 to throw the ball out of bounds was thwarted when his arm was hit. Still, receiver Jerome Simpson bailed him out making an acrobatic 17-yard catch along the left sideline.

Look who it is

With the game in hand in the fourth quarter, the Vikings gave Adrian Peterson a break, allowing him to rest an abdomenal injury that bothered him throughout the week. That meant more work late for Gerhart, who ran eight times for 31 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown run with 4:44 left -- his first score this season.

Robison inactive

Defensive end Brian Robison was declared inactive as he battles a sprained right shoulder. Robison has a Grade 3 sprain of his acromioclavicular joint and wasn't able to make enough progress to get the green light.

Frazier said Robison "was close" and that he hoped to have the veteran end back for next week's high-stakes finale against the Packers.

Etc.

• Walsh's 32 field goals are three shy of team record for a season. Fuad Reveiz had 34 field goals in 1994. Gary Anderson kicked 35 in '98.

• The Vikings have improved their victory total by six over last year, matching the biggest one-season improvement in team history. In 1998, they went 15-1 after finishing the '97 season at 9-7.

• Antoine Winfield had his eighth sack with the Vikings and is now 1 1/2 shy of Joey Browner's team record for sacks by a defensive back.

• Houston's Andre Johnson became the fifth NFL player to make at least 100 catches in a season at least four times.

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