Unfortunately, Minnesota sports fans suffering from a lack of enough actual victories have become all too accustomed to moral victories the last couple years. I loathe moral victories as much as the next guy. Legitimate contenders for anything played with a ball or puck should never be satisfied with moral victories and you will never get any Vikings player or coach to admit that some kind of moral victory is ever good enough.
The development of Blair Walsh is one of the most closely monitored storylines of the Vikings' 2012 preseason. And if not for the magical night of Audie Cole, he probably would have been the story of the game on Friday after the Purple took down the Buffalo Bills 36-14.
The Vikings used a sixth-round draft pick in April to secure the services of the former Georgia Bulldog – the first time they've drafted a kicker since they selected the immortal Mike Wood in the eighth round of the 1978 draft. They quickly released stalwart Ryan Longwell, essentially handing the job to the unproven Walsh.
Quick aside: I have a friend who lives in Atlanta and follows the SEC closely. When I saw him last weekend, he said, "I can't (redacted) believe the Vikings drafted that Walsh kid from Georgia!"
My friend's skepticism is warranted. Last season, Walsh converted on just 21 of 35 field goals, including a dismal 5-for-12 effort from 40-to-49 yards. However, Walsh hit on 40 of 45 attempts as a sophomore and junior, and the Vikings thought they saw a flaw in his mechanics during his senior season, a flaw they were convinced they could fix.
Two (preseason) games into Walsh's professional career, the Vikings' hunch appears to be paying off. Last week, he went 2-for-2 on field goals of 26 and 39 yards and handled kickoff duties with aplomb in the notoriously kicker-unfriendly Candlestick Park.
And on Friday night, Walsh moved indoors and had his coming-out party.
He went 5-for-6 on field goal attempts, connecting from 22, 47, 45, 40, and 30 yards out while missing a 49-yarder that he pushed wide right after a shaky snap/hold combination from Cullen Loeffler and Chris Kluwe.
Meanwhile, without another kicker on the roster, Walsh had to handle all nine Minnesota kickoffs, and that's where he really shone. Let's take a closer look at his kickoffs:
1 – 6 yards deep, returned to the 18
2 – squib to 2, returned to the 29
3 – 5 yards deep, returned to the 11
4 – through the end zone
5 – 8 yards deep, not returned
6 – 9 yards deep, not returned
7 – bounced at the 6, picked up 1 yard deep, returned to the 11
8 – fielded at the 4, returned to the 26
9 – through the uprights
Yes, you read that right – his final kickoff went through the uprights, a 75-yard bomb that split the posts and sent the few remaining fans into a frenzy. What made that even more impressive is that it was his third kickoff in about 10 minutes of actual clock time, thanks to Cole's touchdowns on consecutive plays.
He also hit all three of his extra-point attempts. And he did it all without the benefit of Mitch Berger's performance-enhancing Snickers.
After the game, Walsh told KFAN sideline reporter Greg Coleman that he took his eyes off the ball on his second kickoff, resulting in a squib kick that yielded Buffalo's best return of the night. A rookie mistake – hey, he's human – but on the other eight kickoffs he proved to be a weapon who will help the Vikings in the crucial field-position battle all season long.
It might be too early to start chiseling Walsh's bust in Canton, but given the team's myriad other concerns, Leslie Frazier and his staff have to be breathing a bit more easily when they ponder the team's kicking game.
Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, a contributor to the 2012 Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press.
After watching five-plus months of dismal defense across town at Target Field, Minnesota sports fans have probably had their fill of errors from the hometown team. But the second half of the Vikings loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday played out like a Twins infield of Brian Buscher, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Todd Walker and Craig Kusick.
(Pardon the blatant cross-promotion but we're trying to create some synergy with our big brothers in the TwinsCentric crew. If VikesCentric can capture a even a fraction of their loyal audience in Upper Blogistan, we'll feast like kings on those crumbs.)
To wit: Beginning at 15:00 of the third quarter, here's a list of plays that left the purple-helmeted warriors a bit red in the face:
That's nine brain cramps in the span of two quarters. And we're not even talking about physical errors – incomplete passes, blown coverages, missed tackles – or Leslie Frazier's curious decision to hang onto three timeouts while the Bucs drove for the winning touchdown (as my colleague Christian Peterson so ably chronicled yesterday).
For instance, we've left out Tyrell Johnson's dropped interception that would have thwarted Tampa Bay's game-winning drive – tough play, maybe, but an NFL safety has to hang onto that ball. We're leaving out Donovan McNabb's many miscues – passes thrown at the feet of his targets, wide open receivers inexplicably ignored, another pass batted down at the line even though he's FOUR WHOLE INCHES taller than Doug Flutie!
We're leaving out those physical errors because every team commits physical errors – some more than others, sadly. But every team has to overcome physical errors. The difference between championship teams and teams that find themselves updating their draft boards two games into the season is the elimination of mental errors
Well, that and talent, I suppose. But when you're a talent-challenged team, you can ill afford to dig the hole even deeper by giving your opponents free yards and extra possessions.
Maybe we're overreacting a bit here – that's par for the course in the NFL, where you spend three hours playing a game and the next 165 hours (over-)analyzing it. But it sure looks like Leslie Frazier has more on his plate than a budding quarterback controversy in his first full season as head coach.
He'll need to exorcise the ghosts of Todd Walker at the Metrodome.
Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, contributor to the Maple Street Press Vikings 2011 Annual (on newsstands now!), and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press.
You can follow Patrick on Twitter at @donnelly612.
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