Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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I'm not sure I've ever seen a finishing flurry quite like the one in the Vikings' 29-25 loss to the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.
It's remarkable how hard the Vikings hsve played in the weeks since it seemed their season was doomed. What I'll explore in my Monday column is why it took so long for this coaching staff to put its best players on the field. With Matt Cassel at quarterback, Cordarrelle Patterson starting at receiver and Xavier Rhodes starting at corner, this is a competent team, a team that could be at or near .500 and theoretically in the playoff race if those players had started earlier this season.
This was a Vikings team that made all those dramatic plays with its backup quarterback, backup running back, and a lot of backup defenders on the field.
We'll have extensive coverage in the Monday paper and on startribune.com, complete with videos.
We'll also update Adrian Peterson's health as soon as possible after the game, Indications now are that he has a sprained ankle and nothing more. It will be interesting to see whether Leslie Frazier plays him next week, or lets Toby Gerhart have a start.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
There are rational reasons for starting Christian Ponder on Sunday.
I'm just not sure the Vikings are employing any of them.
Here are possible behind-the-scenes explanations for starting Ponder, or at least not starting Josh Freeman:
1. If Freeman has looked lost in practice. It would be hard for an NFL head coach to believe that a quarterback who has trouble running the offense or completing passes in practice would be able to do so in games, especially on the road.
2. The Vikings have decided to tank the rest of the season to obtain the highest possible draft choices. I could see the front office wishing for this outcome, but Leslie Frazier is incapable of trying to lose a game. A coach would tank only if he was assured of coming back next year, and there's no way the Vikings can be making assurances to their head coach given the ineptitude of this team.
3. The Vikings' offensive coaches don't know what they're doing.
Starting Freeman is the most logical decision, but if he's not ready to start, then it's tough to figure out why the Vikings wouldn't start Matt Cassel. Cassel has given the Vikings their best-quarterbacked game of the season, against Pittsburgh, and would give them their best chance to win on Sunday at Green Bay.
I can't think of a good reason for starting Ponder. Worse, the feeling in the Vikings' lockerroom is that starting Ponder is an embarrassment.
Frazier has done much to build trust and respect in the Vikings' lockerroom. He's sabotating his credibility by starting Ponder when everyone knows Ponder's career is effectively over in Minnesota.
For all of their problems, the Vikings have continued to play hard even as their season has slipped away. It's tough to put your body on the line when your bosses keep handling the most important position on the team so poorly.
I'll be on 1500ESPN at noon with Judd&Dubay to discuss this, the Wolves, the Wild, and the Gophers.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Devoted my column to Percy Harvin, so here I'll state the obvious: Christian Ponder should be done as a Viking.
Josh Freeman's horrific performance against the Giants gave everyone pause. It made sense to back off the Vikings' original plans of testing him for the rest of the season. It made sense to allow him to recover from the concussion the team says he had, and to give him time to work on the mechanics that failed him.
Now that Ponder has written a coda to his Minnesota career with a scattershot performance in the Vikings' 41-20 loss at Seattle, it's time for Freeman to give it another try.
The way the Vikings hve handled backup Matt Cassel is proof that they think of him the same way the rest of the NFL does - as a nice backup and nothing more.
Freeman hasn't offered much evidence this year, in Tampa or Minnesota, that he can regain the form that made him a solid NFL starter. But he's still more promising than Ponder and Cassel. Even if there is a one percent chance that Freeman can use the rest of this season to reestablish himself as a quality starter, that puts him ahead of Ponder and Cassel.
And now the Vikings have the perfect opportunity to break Freeman back in: Against a Packers team without Aaron Rodgers.
I get into this a little bit in the column, but the feeling in the Seahawks' lockerroom was that Harvin will make a very good team great.
Russell Wilson has moved himself into consideration as the best of the league's young quarterbacks. Andrew Luck gets the nod from most experts, but Wilson may be closer to Luck than most are willing to admit.
He's accurate, athletic, smart, tough. He's a great leader. With Harvin, he'll have a downfield threat that will torture safeties who want to creep toward the line of scrimmage to stop Marshawn Lynch. He can return kickoffs, take handoffs and catch short passes, but it's his speed that will make the Seahawks a markedly better offense.
``The thing about him is, he draws attention,'' Wilson said. ``It's hard to stop him because he's so fast, he's so electric, he loves the game, he's so physical. He's the type of guy who's so fast - he runs a 4.3 40, easy - he can make guys miss, but he also wants to be physical with you. It's tough for defensive players to know how to cover him.''
I think Adrian Peterson is hurting. Either that, or his offensive line has made him gun-shy.
He just doesn't hit the hole the way he did last year. That's either because he's dealing with injuries (including the groin problem that bothered him this week) or because he doesn't expect to get through the first wave of defenders cleanly.
He averaged 3.1 yards per carry on Sunday, and while he didn't have many openings, he also didn't attack the way usually does.
If Ponder does get benched, John Carlson and Kyle Rudolph should go on strike. Ponder's strength as a quarterback was getting the ball to the tight end. Cassel and Freeman are both more likely to look to their wide receivers.
Is everyone still excited about turning Joe Webb into a receiver? Sunday, in his most extensive playing time, he caught two passes for nine yards. Every time a talented athlete fails at his initial position in the NFL, everyone says, ``Turn him into a receiver!''
It's not that easy. Webb is still a spectacular athlete and a wonderful runner, but he hasn't built up a lifetime of repetitions at receiver - running patterns, accelerating out of breaks, reading coverages, catching the ball under duress, building up a rapport with a quarterback. It may take years, and guys who are on their second position don't have years.
The Vikings had little chance to win on Sunday, and Ponder made a bunch of mistakes, but I thought the key moment in the game might have come late in the first quarter. It was 3-3. The Vikings faced third-and-9 from their 37.
Peterson snuck out of the backfield on a screen pass. He was wide open. He had blockers in front of him. He may have scored. He certainly would have gotten the first down and more. And Ponder misfired on a simple throw.
Let's say Peterson scores there. At the very least the game remains competitive for a longer period of time.
I'll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 a.m. (5:15 Seattle time!) and on 1500ESPN during the Judd&Dubay Show. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Against Detroit, the Vikings' defense didn't seem prepared to handle the multiple ways the Lions used Reggie Bush.
Against Chicago, the defensive players intimated they were out of position on the Bears' game-winning drive.
Against Carolina, Jared Allen left some doubt in his postgame interview as to how much confidence he invested in the defensive coaching staff.
Against Green Bay, the Vikings got shredded for 182 rushing and 285 passing yards.
``The Green Bay Packers rushed for about 200 yards on us,'' said defensive end Jared Allen. ``When does that ever happen? When do the Green Bay Packers rush for 200 yards? We've got to stop the run. That was awful. I didn't see that coming whatsoever.''
So I asked linebacker Chad Greenway on Sunday night whether the defensive players were being put in position to succeed.
Read his answer and interpret it any way you like:
``You know what?'' he said. ``The reality is, the call comes into the huddle, we’ve got to make the play. I don’t want to get into a finger-pointing situation. It's not about that.
``When you go through some things, you see there’s more to life than football. This is what we do. At the end of the day, you don’t want to be known as someone who pointed the finger and tried to put it on somebody else. I want to be known as someone who has integrity and want to put the onus on getting better and finding a way. That’s reality. We are where we are.''
I'll be on 1500ESPN from 9-1 tomorrow with Judd Zulgad.
The Minnesota writers from the Twin Cities in London for the Vikings game have developed a morning routine. We eat breakfast, scan the papers, look at each other and say, ``Nope. Nothing.’’
There has been no mention of the Vikings-Steelers game at Wembley in the major morning papers. I haven’t seen a mention on the television, although at least one member of our traveling party has seen a 20-second clip of a Vikings’ practice.
In a country that reveres soccer, cricket, the America’s Cup, Olympic sports, snooker and rugby, this is not particularly surprising.
What’s surprising is that the Vikings are being covered by a large contingent of reporters who seem to be both legitimate and British.
Unless the NFL hired a squad of actors to imitate reporters and legitimize the game.
The British journalists ask intelligent questions and seem keenly interested in American football. Maybe they’re saving all of the coverage for Sunday.
If my personal experience ia any indication, the Vikings should have a big advantage over the Steelers on Sunday.
I landed at midday Monday. I think I had completely recovered from the flight, jet lag and time change by Thursday morning, about 72 hours later.
The Steelers arrived Friday morning. They’ll be playing an NFL game about 54 hours after having landed.
I agree with Jared Allen. The NFL can talk all it wants about putting a team in London, but no NFL player will want to play for a team based here.
We’re covering Vikings practice in Watford right now. Mark Craig, Chip Scoggins, photojournalist Carlos Gonzalez and myself will post columns, news stories, videos, photos and blog posts all day at Startribune.com.
We had a tough assignment last night: Shooting a video of Mark Craig taste-testing beer in local pubs. The funny thing is, Mark’s a Bud Light guy. He recoils at the sight of fruit in beer, or any beer that may hold more color than a glass of ice water. So the beer-testing didn’t last long. He found a European version of Bud Light and settled in for the night.
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