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Yes, the Wolves are unveiling their new-look Adidas alternate jerseys tonight. And yes, they have sleeves. Per Timberwolves.com, here is a glimpse. Your thoughts on basketball jerseys with sleeves in the comments?
Before the nightmarish descent into a 2-8-1 record, before a comical quarterback carousel that included bringing in Josh Freeman midstream, before all of the gut-wrenching leads given up ... there was a team with some key young players coming off a playoff season and a 10-6 record.
The past cannot be undone. But in the present, and in the final five games of this season, this team -- and specifically its quarterback, Christian Ponder -- are hoping there are still things to prove.
We had a chance to talk with Ponder on Wednesday in as close to a 1-on-1 setting as you will get when someone is up at a podium. Leslie Frazier spoke first, and a large media contingent was there to pepper him with questions about the Erin Henderson situation and the week ahead.
When Frazier was finished, about three-fourths of the herd moved to the Vikings locker room. As Ponder walked up, there were only 3-4 of us remaining to talk to the starting quarterback.
That speaks volumes about the season and the Ponder fatigue. But it might have loosened the QB up a little. We asked him just how he can reconcile these 11 games and all they have brought, compared to the expectations when everyone was 0-0. His sense of exasperation over all that has unfolded was plain to see. He talked about the 2011 season, his rookie year, when the squad was 3-13 -- and how he never imagined he would go through a year like that this season because he feels like this year's team is so much better.
He talked about all the close losses. He talked about legitimately wondering if he was going to get a "pink slip" the day after Josh Freeman was signed.
And he talked about the good news being that the season isn't over.
Maybe that's wishful thinking. For practical purposes, the season is over. And as bad as the defense has been this year, the biggest symbol of this team's 2-8-1 record is Ponder -- just good enough to make you believe, and just frustrating enough when it really matters to make you hope for a high draft pick.
The stats say Ponder is the 19th-best QB in the league according to Total QBR. His number, 55.2, is better than the "average" of 50 and ahead of a lot of recognizable names. Three teams have two QBs each ahead of Ponder, so really you could say that according to that metric he has given Minnesota average QB play.
In the past three games, he has rushed for just eight yards. Part of that, he said, is by design as he tries to stay in the pocket and go through his progressions better. In two of those games, he had a passer rating (different than Total QBR) over 100. In the other, against Seattle, he was completely undone by a bad second half after a pretty good first half.
But look: we're not trying to build a case for Ponder here. We believe that ship has sailed and that his fate is directly tied to that of his team.
Maybe the only thing left is a five-week goal: that this team isn't as bad as its record shows.
This always happens, of course.
Things start going well, Minnesota fans start fueling up on optimistic thoughts about their favorite teams, and then the hammer falls -- or at least a brief stretch of rough play tempers that enthusiasm.
What makes the past week so disturbing is that the hammer has fallen on so many teams. Let's take a look:
*Gophers men's basketball: They entered the tourney in Maui knowing it would be their stiffest test of the season to date. They looked capable in playing close against Syracuse and again looked competent in leading Arkansas at halftime on Tuesday. Then all of their flaws were exposed in one half -- soft interior D, questions about ball security, limited depth -- and suddenly we're reminded that they are what we thought they were: a team that should improve but that has many limitations as Richard Pitino attempts to implement his style.
*Gophers football: Not all momentum is lost here by any stretch after a 20-7 loss to Wisconsin. But a week ago there were grandiose thoughts of a major bowl game -- heck, even the possibility of playing Michigan State on Saturday for the right to go to the Big Ten title game.
*Timberwolves: One week ago Tuesday, the Wolves went into Washington with a 7-4 record looking like one of the most-improved teams in the NBA. But a stretch of four losses in five games as the schedule has tightened up leaves the Wolves at .500 and many of us wondering if a squad that blows out bad teams can also win the close ones against better teams.
*Wild: The team is still sitting pretty with its overall record (15-6-4), even after a loss to St. Louis on Monday. But a brutal Western Conference means that playing the next 2-3 weeks without the injured Zach Parise while also figuring out a way to keep its goalies healthy makes this a critical stretch.
*Twins: OK, nothing has really happened here in the last week. But during free agency, with a team that has lost at least 96 games each of the past three seasons, no real news is not good news.
*Vikings: As noted before, the tie against the Packers could be the blow that knocks Green Bay out of the playoffs eventually. So Sunday's 26-26 draw isn't all bad. But they still blew a 23-7 lead and didn't get the satisfaction of beating their rivals ... while still falling in the potential draft positioning. Had they lost, they would hold the tiebreaker and have the No. 1 pick if the season ended today. As it is now, they would pick fourth.
*Gophers men's hockey: It was inevitable with a young team, but the Gophers put up their first real clunker of the season on Sunday, a 6-2 home loss to Minnesota-Duluth.
In terms of their draft position ... the Vikings actually slightly IMPROVED their odds of getting the No. 1 overall pick in the last week, almost certainly because Jacksonville won. Before the game, they had a 9.7 percent chance. Now it is up to 9.8 percent.
But it is worth noting that their chance of getting a top 3 pick went from 53.9 percent to 44.1 percent.
To which we still say: bring on the No. 4 pick and Johnny Football.
Thanksgiving approaches, and what do the Green Bay Packers have to be thankful for? In an increasingly lost season, we think “just five more weeks until vacation” is the common sentiment.
As predicted in this space last week, Green Bay did not win at Daunte’s House on Sunday. Giving credit where it’s due, the desperate Pack finally quit stifling Matt Flynn (at their starter-in-name-only’s likely request), and Flynn repaid that courtesy by leading Green Bay to a 26-26 tie with a team that has won twice all season. This qualifies as a major victory in a season of diminished expectations and shattered hope. Unfortunately, it also qualifies as a “four game winless streak” in the NFL standings.
Is there reason for guarded optimism in the Fox River Valley? Perhaps! The Packers play Thursday’s Thanksgiving game against the Detroit Lions. The quick turnaround means Aaron Rodgers will be unable to play, giving Flynn the chance to shine once more until Lil’ A sees fit to return. And the Detroit Lions, despite being superior to Green Bay in all phases of the game, have already lost enough winnable games this season to not run away with the NFC North.
However (and there’s always a “however” with this star-crossed franchise), many obstacles stand in the way of an improbable upset. Coach Mike McCarthy still won’t name a starting QB, despite Scott Tolzien’s struggles and Flynn’s heroic play. One wonders exactly what Rodgers is whispering in McCarthy’s ear to keep him from making the obvious call. “Hey, Flynn is saying you could stand to lose a few pounds, Mike. You gonna take that? Man, Scott has really been lookin’ good in walk-throughs, and don’t tell him I told you this, but he said that windbreaker takes off five years and 25 pounds. Anyway, gotta go, brunching with Dick Wolf about an
In addition to that, Green Bay still employs Dom Capers as its defensive coordinator. You might remember Capers from his work in allowing Christian Ponder and Toby Gerhart to carve up the Packers’ defense on Sunday. Christian Ponder! It appears the one thing Capers’ defense appears to be capable of is ensuring that Clay Matthews gets just as much commercial work as Rodgers. How much will Matthews’ media omnipresence help them against Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson on Thursday? Probably not a lot, but at least the rest of the D is healthy! (Note: the link sends you to a story noting that they’re not healthy at all. We like to use a little humor to lighten the mood when talking about a Dom Capers defense.)
With the season in the balance, will Green Bay be able to emerge victorious in the Motor City? In an increasingly lost season, the answer once again is “no, probably not.” Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!
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