VikesCentric is written by Twin Cities football writers Bo Mitchell of SportsData, Arif Hasan of Vikings Territory, Aj Mansour, who hosts Minnesota Vikings Overtime on KFAN, and Joe Oberle a long-time Minnesota based writer. The VikesCentric crew crunches numbers, watches video and isn't shy about saying what's on their minds.
On one hand, Vikings fans need to take a deep breath and realize their squad just manhandled a Rams team that doesn’t appear to be very good and was using their second and third-string quarterbacks. On the other hand, the Week 1 victory was different for many reasons and should be cause for a dash or two of optimism.
Those who watched Sunday’s 34-6 dismantling of the Rams knew they were watching a different product on the field – from the aggressiveness and improved tackling on defense to the imagination on offense.
This is a different-looking Vikings team that’s already starting to produce some different results.
I mean seriously, when was the last time the Vikings even won a road game? Um, that would be Dec. 23, 2012 when they inexplicably pounded a 12-2 Texans team 23-6. That’s also the last time the Vikings held any opponent to six points or less. The last time before that was their 34-3 shellacking of the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs following the 2009 season. And the last time the Vikings held an opponent to six points or less in a regular season game prior to 2012 was their 24-3 win over the Falcons to open the 2007 season.
Here’s a few more “last times” from Week 1.
The last time the Vikings won by as many as 28 points on the road was Sept. 28, 1994 at Chicago.
The last time the Vikings won by 28 points on the road in Week 1 was their 40-9 victory over the Saints to open the 1976 season. That’s 38 years ago. No current Vikings player was even alive 38 years ago. Not even Cullen Loeffler (he’s the Vikings’ elder statesman at 33).
The last time the Vikings won by 28 points under a first-year head coach was 22 years ago under Denny Green when they beat the Bengals in Cincinnati on Sept. 27, 1992. Rich Gannon threw for 318 yards and four touchdowns in that game. Terry Allen rushed for two touchdowns and caught another. Cris Carter had 11 receptions for 124 yards and two touchdowns. And the Vikings picked off Boomer Esiason four times. Yeah, that was a while ago.
I love this one despite the meaningless nature of preseason games: the last time the Vikings won all four of their preseason games and then won in Week 1 was – wait for it – the 1998 season. Yes, that season. You know, the one in which they went 15-1 and then made it to the NFC Championship Game and… I’ll stop there. No, I’m not comparing the 2014 Vikings to the 1998 Vikings.
The last time the Vikings had a wide receiver gain 100 yards rushing in a game, as Cordarrelle Patterson did on Sunday, was… never. Not even Percy Harvin managed that trick in a Vikings uniform.
The last time the Vikings returned an interception for a touchdown, as Harrison Smith did on Sunday, was Dec. 16, 2012 by Everson Griffen against the Rams. The last time a Vikings player returned an interception for a touchdown against someone other than the Rams was… Harrison Smith, who did it twice in 2012, against the Bears and the Cardinals at home. The last time someone other than Smith returned an interception for a touchdown against someone other than the Rams was in 2010 when Jared Allen did it in the last game of the season against the Lions.
The last time the Vikings won on the road without getting either 100 rushing yards or a touchdown from Adrian Peterson was, once again, that 23-6 game against Houston in December 2012. Since Peterson came into the league in 2007, the Vikings have now won just four road games in which he has been held under 100 yards and out of the end zone.
So yeah, Sunday’s game against the Rams was definitely different.
Give yourself permission to feel good about that first victory, Vikings fans. Optimism, yes. Unbridled merriment, not yet. We’ll hold off on saving up money for playoff tickets or planning a Super Bowl parade route for now. However, we might revisit that notion if the Vikings find a way to take out the Patriots on Sunday.
On that note, one more “last time” stat: the last time the New England Patriots (0-1) started a season 0-2 was 2001. That’s a long time ago. They also won the Super Bowl that year, beating (kind of ironically) the Rams 20—17.
Head on over to VikingsJournal.com for a detailed breakdown on how Sugaring the A-Gap is head coach Mike Zimmer’s Pressure Du Jour and a fun look at Cordarrelle Patterson’s epic 67-yard touchdown run against the Rams.
Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData, head writer at VikingsJournal.com, co-host of the Fantasy Football Pants Party at 1500ESPN.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.
The Green Bay Packers spent most of the 1960s building a mystique on the "frozen tundra of Lambeau Field" – a line, incidentally, that NFL Films legend John Facenda never once uttered, but hey, when has Chris Berman let the facts get in the way of a good story? Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jerry Kramer and the great Vince Lombardi dominated the NFL, winning five NFL championships (including the first two Super Bowls) from 1961-67.
That mystique was put on hold for a 25-year period during which the Packers made the playoffs just twice, but it was resurrected in 1993 when a good old Southern boy named Brett Favre picked up where Starr, et al, left off. Through the 2001 season, the Packers had played 13 postseason games at Lambeau Field, and they had won 13 postseason games at Lambeau Field.
Since 2001, however, the fabled Lambeau mystique has gone AWOL. The Packers are just 2-4 in their last six home playoff games:
Along the way, a few trends have emerged, both in the Packers' Lambeau losses and in their two wins (both over the Seattle Seahawks, in 2003 and 2008). The following points lay out something of a blueprint for the Vikings to follow if they want to pull out a win tonight. The path to victory might appear to be common sense on the surface, but the stats behind the concepts should help illustrate their importance.
For the Vikings to beat the Packers tonight at Lambeau, they need to do the following:
1. Score first – The Falcons took a 24-0 lead into halftime (whereupon announcer Bob Trumpy uttered the often-replayed line, "The silence you hear … is Lambeau Field"). The Vikings jumped out to a 17-0 cushion in the first quarter. In 2007, the Giants led 6-0 before the Packers got on the board. In 2011 the Giants led 3-0 and took a 20-10 cushion into the locker room at halftime. The best way to get a team out of its gameplan is make it play from behind. Plus, with alcohol sales being cut off at halftime, if the Vikings lead in the third quarter the stands might empty out fast. (Of course, it's not a guarantee – Seattle scored first in both of its losses at Lambeau – but it's still your best bet.)
2. Win the turnover battle – In their four losses, the Packers coughed up the ball 15 times – nine interceptions (including four by the Vikings against Favre in 2004) and six fumbles – and had just two takeaways. In their two wins over Seattle, the Packers turned it over twice and forced two turnovers.
3. Run the ball effectively and stop the run – This could be a chicken-or-egg phenomenon, because teams often run the ball more when they're protecting a lead, but you still have to be effective to make that strategy work. In Green Bay's four losses, their opponents averaged 136 rushing yards and chewed up the clock by running the ball an average of 34 times per game. The Packers averaged just 21 attempts and 84 yards in those losses. In their two wins over Seattle, Green Bay outrushed the Seahawks by an average of 157 to 39 yards.
4. Make them work for their passing yards – The Packers have been a passing team since Mike Holmgren and Favre came to town in 1992. They're going to move the ball through the air. Just make them work for it. In their four losses, Packers quarterbacks put the ball up an average of 39 times and completed just 55.8 percent of those passes, with nine interceptions and an average gain of 6.2 yards per attempt. In their two wins, Favre averaged 30.5 passes and had a 72.1 completion percentage, with no picks and an 8.1-yard average per attempt.
Sounds simple, right? Four easy steps to victory at Lambeau Field. Again, all four points are pretty much common sense to win most any game, but in the playoffs, sometimes it's good to remember that the best approach is to keep it simple.
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. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.
Four weeks ago, the Vikings hit a low point in their season. The December 2 loss in Green Bay left the Vikings at 6-6, and with four losses over their previous five games, it appeared as though an improbable run from 3-13 to the playoffs was over - just another crushed dream for the Minnesota sports scene.
But a funny thing happened while fans were punching Christian Ponder's ticket out of town, calling for the entire coaching staff to be fired, and wondering what wide receiver the Vikings might target with their top-15 pick... the Purple won their final four games and earned the NFC's sixth seed. Amazing.
How refreshingly wonderful does this feel? Over the last four weeks, the Vikings stepped up, defied odds, exceeded expectations, and ripped off wins over the Bears, Rams, Texans, and Packers. Even the most grumbly, curmudgeonly, passive-aggressive Vikings fan should be all smiles right now.
Sunday's win over the Packers was one of the sweetest victories in my recent memory, especially since I'm one of the many Minnesota sports fans often consuming by the pessimistic belief that our teams are somehow doomed to fail and slap us in the face. Every Aaron Rodgers counter-punch - and there were many in the second half; #12 was brilliant - threatened to end the Vikings' season, but MVP* Adrian Peterson, the much-maligned Ponder, and the entire team took the punishment, got off the canvas, and ultimately delivered the victory.
(*There should be zero doubt across the country that AD is the 2012 MVP. I have nothing against Peyton Manning, but he joined a team that won a playoff game last season thanks to an excellent defense and a strong running game. I can name 5-10 quarterbacks who might have led the 2012 Broncos to the playoffs. Replace Peterson with any other running back in the NFL and the Vikings aren't in the postseason.)
In the biggest game of his young career, Ponder may have secured his space atop the 2013 depth chart. We've all been pining for him to perform exactly like he did on Sunday - work off of Peterson's lead, keep the chains moving, protect the ball, and occasionally step up and make a big play or three. I'm still in shock that the Vikings completed four passes of 20-plus yards in one game, including the 65-yard strike to Jarius Wright**. Through 15 games, the Vikings owned a mere 24 completions of 20-plus yards, by far the worst in the NFL.
(**As an aside, this impressive four-game win streak and push to the playoffs has come without Percy Harvin, the team's MVP during the first half of this season. It will be interesting to see how this plays into what should be an interesting offseason when Percy could receive a contract extension, be traded, or begrudgingly play out his contract.)
Ponder has deserved every bit of criticism he has received for his poor on-field play this season, and he also deserves praise for improving in recent weeks and for the win over the Packers. No matter what happens in the playoffs, Ponder's recent play should be a confidence boost as he heads into a critical offseason and a make-or-break 2013 campaign.
The Vikings will be heavy underdogs when they head into Lambeau this coming weekend, and frankly, a victory would simply be extra frosting on what currently feels like a pretty sweet and fulfilling season. Then again, the Purple are peaking at the right time with four straight wins and coulda, shoulda won in Green Bay on December 2. Anything can happen in the postseason; just ask the 2005 Steelers or the 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings.
But let's start worrying about the playoff game later this week. Take a moment to bask in the fleeting glow of a Minnesota sports team rising to the occasion and delivering a winning performance (and four weeks of winning performances) beyond our expectations.
The NFL Pro Bowl has become a joke of a game. Many of the players who participate in it don't care enough to break a sweat – witness last year's 100-point debacle. Many others concoct flimsy injury excuses in order to decline the invitation to the NFL's annual All-Star game. The NFL is the most dominant sports brand in the world, but it has the worst showcase for its stars. It has gotten so bad that commissioner Roger Goodell actually admitted last spring that doing away with the game was an option.
Coming off a 3-13 season, that last thing any of us expected to be doing in Week 16 is discussing the Vikings' playoff chances, but here we are. As you all know, the Vikings are 8-6 and currently hold the sixth and final seed in the NFC Playoffs. Thus, if the season ended today, the Vikes would be in.
However, the season doesn't end today. It ends next Sunday. And strange as it might sound, the Vikings could win their final two games and still find themselves on the outside looking in.
That's right, the Vikings don't control their own destiny, for reasons that are probably far too convoluted to get into in a blog post. (It boils down to conference record – because the Vikings play an AFC team in Houston on Sunday, they have only one more chance to improve their NFC record, while most of the other teams in the 8-6 logjam play two more NFC foes.)
So who should Vikings fans root for this week? It's pretty easy to figure, actually, because most of the teams the Vikings need to lose are facing opponents who are non-factors in the NFC playoff race. The biggest question is the Niners-Seahawks game in Seattle. Vikings fans should be rooting for the 49ers to win that one, because even if the Niners lose out, their 10-5-1 record would be a half-game better than the Vikings' best possible record of 10-6. Thus, hope Seattle goes in the tank – just keep in mind that Seattle has the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Purple by virtue of its win on Nov. 4, so if Minnesota hopes to leap-frog the Seahawks, it'll need to win out and have the Seahawks lose home games to the Niners and Rams. That's about as likely to happen as the networks to eschew their standard "fish tossing" shot at the world-famous Pike Place Fish Market on any given week. Meaning, not bloody likely.
We'll sort through the various scenarios in greater detail next week. For this weekend, just pull for the Purple, and pull for the Giants to lose at Baltimore, the Cowboys to lose to the Saints, the Redskins to lose at Philadelphia, and the Bears to lose at Arizona. Then we can pull out the calculators and slide rules and figure out what needs to happen in Week 17 for the Vikings to return to the playoffs.
Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData and a contributor to the 2012 Vikings Yearbook. He's covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.
I'll admit, I've been slow to hop on the anti-Christian Ponder bandwagon. Not that I've loved what I've seen from him on the field, but I just think it's unreasonable to expect the Vikings to already give up on their No. 1 draft pick from 2011. True, the timetable for young quarterbacks has accelerated and expectations are higher, thanks to the rookie-year success of Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. Heck, even the rare flashes of competence that Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill have shown this year are a step up from most of Ponder's performances.
My main argument for supporting Ponder is that you'll never know what he's capable of until he's throwing to a full slate of NFL-caliber receivers. I even took to Twitter after the Bears debacle two weeks ago – when Jerome Simpson put on a pass-dropping clinic, and Jarius Wright and Stephen Burton were quick studies – and said dumping Ponder now would be akin to the Twins firing pitching coach Rick Anderson because he couldn't turn Esmerling Vasquez and Luis Perdomo into Cy Young winners.
Then the Vikings went to Green Bay. Ponder absolutely gave away a winnable game with two horrendous decisions/throws, and did nothing on the plus side to overcome those errors. He was truly, spectacularly horrible, and the fact that the coaching staff didn't replace him with Joe Webb should tell you all you need to know about Webb's stock within the organization. Had the Vikings won that game, they'd be tied with the Packers at 7-5, one game behind the Bears in the NFC North, and their unlikely playoff bid wouldn't be on life support.
When Leslie Frazier took over full-time in 2011, it looked like he had a major rebuilding project on his hands. Instead, Adrian Peterson has recovered from injury and remains in his prime as an elite tailback. The defense is still getting decent run out of veterans like Jared Allen, Chad Greenway and Antoine Winfield, and they went a long way toward shoring up weaknesses on the offensive line and in the secondary in last year's draft.
But with Ponder flailing about in the backfield, giving away games that could be won by simply "managing" rather than putting the team on his back, the Vikings are wasting Peterson's prime. They're wasting the continued efforts of their defense and recent draftees. And they're wasting a golden opportunity to challenge the Bears and Packers, who aren't as invincible as the Vikings feared.
Thus, presuming Ponder doesn't suddenly morph into the second coming of John Unitas the next four weeks, I've come around to the idea that the Vikings should at least consider their options at quarterback for 2013. The decision won't be made in a vacuum – it's not, "Should Ponder be the starting quarterback next year?" but rather, "Is Ponder the best of the Vikings' options at quarterback next year?"
So let's take a look at their options. They way I see it, the Vikings could go one of three ways. They could maintain status quo and give Ponder no competition for the starting spot; they could go 180 degrees the other way and bring in a veteran to supplant Ponder from Day 1, or they could split the difference and bring in a second-tier veteran to push Ponder and at least give Frazier a backup he felt confident in calling on when Ponder puts up a stinker like he did last Sunday. (We're not going to bother considering drafting another rookie starter, because the attendant learning curve would likely keep the offense in wheel-spinning mode as Peterson, et al, get another year older.)
So, let's take a spin around the NFL and see who the Vikings might be considering as they weigh their options for 2013
Alex Smith – His $7.5 million salary is guaranteed on April 1, 2013, meaning he'll get the axe as long as Colin Kaepernick doesn't completely fall apart during the final few weeks of the season. Jim Harbaugh traded up to draft Kaepernick in the 2011 draft, and he'll give the former Nevada star every chance to prove his worth and make him (Harbaugh) look like a genius.
Kevin Kolb – He's due $9 million in 2013, with a $2 million roster bonus. Even though rookie Ryan Lindley isn't tearing it up, it's possible that between Lindley and John Skelton, the Cardinals will be happy to let Kolb go and choose from the two much, much cheaper options. Also, Kolb has pretty much stunk when he's played, so … he's got that going for him.
Matt Flynn – His contract was worth $10 million guaranteed, and $19.5 million over three years. The Seahawks might just hang onto him for that investment, although if they decide that Wilson is their present and future, it's possible Flynn will be on the market. How fun would that be? First Favre, then Flynn? Packers fans would be apoplectic.
Chase Daniel – The Saints' backup will be a unrestricted free agent. It's hard to say what he's capable of doing in the NFL, because Drew Brees doesn't take a play off. But he might be worth a sniff as a quarterback to challenge Ponder.
Michael Vick – There's no way the Eagles pay him the $15.5 million he's owed in 2013, and they'll probably have a new head coach anyway, somebody who will want to make his mark on the Eagles roster. Thus, Vick will be a free agent. But does he have anything left? Will he be a fit in Bill Musgrave's offense? Will Musgrave even be the Vikings' offensive coordinator? So many questions …
Matt Leinart – He'll be an unrestricted free agent, and he's making just $700,000 with the Raiders in 2012. Oakland has hitched its wagon to Carson Palmer, so Leinart would likely jump at the chance to challenge for the job. But isn't he just a left-handed Christian Ponder?
Matt Cassel – He's due $16.5 million over the next two years, and it's likely the Chiefs have seen enough from him. But isn't he just a right-handed Matt Leinart?
Chad Henne – The Jaguars are in a similar position as the Vikings. Do they stick with their 2011 first-round draft choice, who's been underwhelming thus far? In this case, Blaine Gabbert might have more rope to work with because the Jags aren't close to contending. They're more likely to let Henne walk, thus dodging his $2.6 million salary for 2013, and rolling the dice on Gabbert.
Matt Hasselbeck – He'll be 38 next September and he sure looked like he was done when the Vikings schooled him in October. But Jake Locker is the future in Tennessee, and with $5.5 million due Hasselbeck in 2013, it's possible the Titans will gamble on Locker with Rusty Smith as the backup, meaning the former Seahawks Pro Bowler could be available as a veteran mentor and possible challenger to Ponder.
Ryan Mallet – He was in the same draft class as Ponder, but slipped to the third round due to rumors of drug use. He's apparently kept his nose clean thus far in New England, but he's signed to a team-friendly contact and there's no way Bill Belichick trades his insurance policy for Tom Brady for anything less than a price the Vikings should not be willing to pay.
Matt Moore – The Dolphins are obviously smitten with Tannehill, meaning they could save $2.5 million by letting Moore walk after this season. He showed promise at the end of the 2009 season, when he went 4-1 down the stretch for Carolina, including a three-TD, no-interception performance against the Vikings. But he went 6-7 as a starter for Miami in 2011 and would be little more than competition for Ponder if the Vikings were to bring him aboard.
There are a handful of potential free agents not even worth discussing – Derek Anderson, Jimmy Clausen, Rex Grossman, Kyle Orton, Colt McCoy, Tarvaris Jackson, Tyler Thigpen – and at least one other – Joe Flacco – who won't be hitting the market.
So, looking at our list, there's probably only one guy out there (Smith) who would become the starter the moment he sets foot in the locker room at Winter Park, a couple of guys (Flynn, Daniel) with intriguing potential, a couple players (Kolb, Cassel) who had their chance as starters and failed spectacularly, some possibly washed-up has-beens (Vick, Hasselbeck) and never-weres (Leinart, Henne, Moore).
Are any of them better options than starting next year with Christian Ponder as the only quarterback option on the roster? That's up to Rick Spielman and – perhaps – Frazier and Musgrave to decide.
Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData and a contributor to the 2012 Vikings Yearbook. He's covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.
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