Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Packers game a turning point; Winfield has broken hand

Posted by: Kent Youngblood under On the road, Vikings, AFC, NFC, Packers, Leslie Frazier, Vikings injury report, Vikings players, Adrian Peterson, Antoine Winfield, Brian Robison, Chad Greenway, Jared Allen, Leslie Frazier, Ryan Longwell Updated: December 24, 2012 - 3:07 PM

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier can point to the moment he felt his team coming together, the game in which he felt everybody arriving on the same page, the day he felt the Vikings were becoming a cohesive team.

Interestingly, it did not come in a victory.

With a win-and-in game with Green Bay at Mall of America Field fast approaching, Frazier pointed to the Vikings loss in Green Bay Dec. 2 as that vital moment.

Really? A game in which the Vikings lost in large part because of two Red Zone interceptions by quarterback Christian Ponder?

Yes.

“That game helped us in some ways,” Frazier said at his Monday press conference. “We found out a lot about ourselves on the road and I told our players after that game that I thought that, more than any point in our season, we had played as a team. I really felt like we were coming together at the right time. I’m sure when they heard me say that they were like, ‘What’s he talking about? We just lost to our rivals on the road.’ But I saw something in our team in that game that made me believe we had a chance to really take off.”

The Vikings have not list since that day, winning three straight, including road wins at St. Louis Dec. 16 and the big upset in Houston Sunday.

“Green Bay the first time was sort of like, ‘Wow, we’re really good, we’ve just got to figure out how to navigate those last two quarters and find a way to get a tough win,’ ‘’ linebacker Chad Greenway said. “I think these last two road games for us have been an indication that maybe we’re starting to figure out how to play together for four quarters and put it all out there. That doesn’t mean we’re going to get a win this weekend just because that happens. It just means that, hopefully, we can remain consistent, keep doing that. And realize that when we play our kind of football and don’t make mistakes, that we’re pretty good.”

That Green Bay game was also the point at which it became clear what had to happen over the final quarter of the season for the Vikings to make the playoffs.  Namely, win. That was the week that both defensive end Jared Allen and owner Zygi Wilf talked with the team. Their message was simple: The team had to win the final four games.

“We kind of knew where things were and how important this final month of the season would be,” Frazier said. “But then you’ve still got to go out and play well. You have to prepare properly. And to our players’ credit and our coaches, they’ve done a great job of doing just that.”

 Injury update

A magnetic resonance imaging test done Monday morning showed that cornerback Antoine Winfield finished Sunday’s game with a small hand fracture. He was able to finish the game and is expected to play Sunday with a soft cast on the hand.

The Vikings hope defensive end Brian Robison, who missed Sunday’s game with a sprained right shoulder, will be available this week. “We’ll have to take it day-to-day with him,” Frazier said, “just to see what he’s able to do when he gets back to practice Wednesday.”  Robison did some things in practice Friday, but was still in too much pain to play against Houston.  “We weren’t sure if he’d be able to go out and protect himself,” Frazier said of the decision to sit Robison. “He needs to be able to tackle someone or, if someone is pushing up against him, he can protect himself. If he can do that, then he’ll be ready to go.”

Meanwhile, running back Adrian Peterson is still experiencing soreness with his abdominal issue and could be limited this week.

 

Stepping up

For the first nine games, rookie receiver Jarius Wright was inactive. In the last six games he has caught 19 passes for 220 yards and a touchdown. Sunday in Houston he had five catches. Three of those plays resulted in first downs for the Vikings. Monday Frazier talked about the strides Wright has taken.

“He’s just taken off as he’s gotten more confident with what he’s doing and what we’re asking him to do,” Frazier said. “The game he had yesterday was a big-time game. He ran good routes, got yards after the catch for us. He’s a young guy we have high hopes for.”

 

 Schedule almost set

The Vikings’ final two opponents for 2013 will be set following Sunday’s game.

They will play each team in the NFC East and AFC North next season.

The Vikings’ home games will be against Philadelphia, Washington, Cleveland, the NFC South team that finishes in the same position as the Vikings (currently New Orleans), Green Bay, Detroit and Chicago.  The Sept. 29 game in London against Pittsburgh also counts as a home game.

Road games will be at Dallas, the N.Y Giants, Baltimore, Cincinnati, the NFC West team that finishes in the same position as the Vikings (currently Seattle), Green Bay, Detroit, Chicago.

 

Longwell logs in

Former Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell broke his Twitter silence Sunday afternoon to laud his replacement, Blair Walsh. Longwell, who was bothered by never making the Pro Bowl, clearly thinks Walsh should be the NFC kicker as a rookie.  His series of tweets read: "I've purposely not commented on any football stuff this entire year so let me make my first one now. I've seen many great seasons go unrewarded by not getting voted to Pro Bowl. But if @BlairWalsh3 does not get voted in this year it will prove system is broke! What more can the guy do?? Accuracy, 9-9 50+ yarders, Kickoff touchbacks and a game winner in his first career game!!"

Walsh is third in the NFC with 128 points, second in field goal percentage (behind Dallas’ Dan Bailey) and set an NFL record with his ninth field goal of 50 yards or more on Sunday.

 

 

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