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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In light of ESPN’s excellent 30-for-30 on Randy Moss -- ``Rand University’’ – startribune.com is republishing the piece I did on Moss right after the Vikings drafted him.
I remember visiting his hometown of Rand, West Virginia, and being appalled at the living conditions. I remember the anger in Moss’ voice when he told me about his distaste for his home state, and I remember people close to him calling me after the story was published to complain that I allowed Moss to vilify an entire region.
I covered Moss, on and off, from the day he was drafted until the day he was traded. I heard Mike Tice expound on the "Randy Ratio.’’ I had Moss rip into me in the locker room in Green Bay after he rubbed his rear end on the goalpost at Lambeau Field. I heard Moss call other reporters awful names.
I also saw one of the greatest players who ever lived.
This was a player who changed the way NFL defenses operated, and the way divisional foes drafted. This was a player who came within one miraculous Giants drive in the Super Bowl as being known for a Super Bowl-winning catch.
He was probably the most talented athlete I’ve ever seen…and one of the most difficult.
How great could he have been if he had given full effort? How great could he have been if he didn’t get frustrated and begin to drift, as he did in the ’98 and 2000 NFC title games? How great would his legacy be if he hadn’t walked off the field for a team that would minutes later back into the playoffs?
Moss was a born contrarian. He wasn’t evil, just stubborn to a fault. As you can see now that he does television analysis, he has a great understanding for the game.
He just didn’t want life to be any easier for those around him than it was for him growing up.
If the Vikings, at 3-5, can't get into contention this year, I'm going to be much more interested in the performances of four key rookies than the final record. These are four people who could determine the near-future of the franchise. Here's how I thought they did on Sunday.
Rookie head coach Mike Zimmer
His defense has played very well the last three weeks, with the exception of two late drives against Buffalo and Tampa.
Against Buffalo, he failed to call a timeout while his defense was in disarray, and it led to a fourth-and-20 conversion that, at the moment, is the difference between the Vikings being 4-4 and 3-5. Sunday, his defense looked unprepared for a fourth-down play on the Bucs' last drive, and he called timeout. He said after the game that he thought ``it was going to be a big play, and I wanted to make sure we were organized.''
What I like about Zimmer is that while he's a very experienced NFL coach, he admits he's new to running a sideline. He's not afraid to admit when he makes a mistake, and he's willing to learn from those he does make.
Rookie running back Jerick McKinnon
He rushed 16 times for 83 yards and caught one pass. He had two receptions wiped out by penalties.
His backup, Matt Asiata, rushed four times for one yard.
McKinnon also blocked well in pass protection.
There is no reason at this point to play Asiata unless McKinnon needs a break. McKinnon basically gains about twice as many yards per carry as Asiata, is more dangerous out of the backfield, and is improving in pass blocking. He's a keeper, and Zimmer raved about him after the game.
The real question with McKinnon was whether he would be a specialty, pass-receiving back, or an every-down back. I believe he is the latter.
Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater
Bridgewater completed 24 of 42 passes for 241 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
He made a number of puzzilng throws, and missed badly on a couple of deep routes, but otherwise stood in well against teh pressure, and began finding Cordarrelle Patterson, which will be a key for this team going forward.
I ripped Greg Jennings when he whined about not having Aaron Rodgers to throw him the ball, when it was he who chose to leave Rodgers. I'll give him credit for this: He's saying all of the right things to Bridgewater. He snapped Bridgewater out of a funk in Buffalo, and Bridgewater immediately began to play better. This week, Jennings told Bridgewater to stop waiting for receivers to get wide open, to trust that if he put the ball in the right place they would make the play.
That was the key to Bridgewater's beautiful touchdown pass to Jennings. Bridgewater was under heavy pressure. Had he waited, he would have been sacked. Instead, he threw while Jennings was making his cut, and hit him in teh back of the end zone.
That might have been the best throw of Bridgewater's brief career.
Rookie linebacker Anthony Barr
I wrote my column for Monday on Barr, so I won't go too far in depth in this space. Let's just say that hsi coaches and teammates rave about his intelligence, and he there was no doubt he was a unique athlete. He's going to be a star for a long time if he stays healthy.
I'll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:14 each weekday, and 1500ESPN at 12:15 each weekday.
Greetings from the press box at TCF Bank Stadium, where Team Strib is preparing for the Vikings-Lions game.
At the beginning of the season, I thought that if everything went right - Matt Cassel played well and stayed healthy, Adrian Peterson performed well in the Vikings' offense, Kyle Rudolph had a breakout season and Mike Zimmer's defense worked well - the Vikings might win two of their first six games.
Despite all of their problems - injuries, suspensions, turmoil - the Vikings have already won two. In a division in which there are no sure things, and with Calvin Johnson's injury short-circuiting what looked like a possibly dominant Lions team, the Vikings have a chance to jump into contention today.
They face the Lions without Johnson and Reggie Bush, at home, in the rare game at TCF Bank that will be considered an advantage for Minnesota. The Lions rarely play well outdoors, and the loss of Johnson and Bush will make them much easier to game-plan against.
Here are the two most prominent aspects of the game I'll be watching today:
-Can Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner help Teddy Bridgewater get comfortable against a surprisingly strong defense? Can he involve Cordarrelle Patterson and Jerick McKinnon, his two most talented players?
-Can Harrison Smith run well on his sore ankle? Can the Vikings stuff running back Joquie Bell, and limit Golden Tate's ability to run after the catch?
If the Vikings can do those two things, I believe they win. And if they win, they'll be in contention for a playoff spot despite all of the terrible things that have happened to them so far.
The importance of any individual NFL game becomes overblown because of scarcity. There just aren’t many games, so they all seem important.
This one might actually have been. The Vikings faced the prospects of falling to 1-3 if they lost at home to Atlanta. That would be 1-3 with an injury-depleted roster, with Adrian Peterson perhaps never carrying the ball for them again, and with under pressure being placed on key rookies.
A couple of rookies earned the Vikings a 41-28 victory on Sunday over Atlanta.
Teddy Bridgewater made his first career start and completed 19-of-30 passes for 317 yards and no interceptions, even running for a touchdown. He looked cool and comfortable until he injured his ankle in the fourth quarter, causing Christian Ponder to finish the game in relief.
Bridgewater’s longtime running partner may be rookie running back Jerick McKinnon, who for the first time was a big part of the game plan. McKinnon rushed 18 times for 135 yards.
An NFL team’s prospects change week to week, but if Bridgewater and McKinnon can remain healthy, they could have a lot more days like they had on Sunday.
Bridgewater became the first rookie quarterback this season to pass for 300 yards, while making his first NFL start. McKinnon displayed the strength and speed that made him a third-round draft pick.
This might sound strange, but it's true: The Vikings might not be missing Adrian Peterson for long.
By halftime, Vikings fans were booing. By early in the third quarter, they were chanting for the backup quarterback. This wasn't how Mike Zimmer imagined his first home game as the Vikings' head coach proceeding.
The Vikings scored on their first drive, with an impressive show of play-calling and game-planning, driving 80 yards in seven plays without Adrian Peterson (obviously) or Cordarrelle Patterson touching the ball. By early in the third period, they hadn't scored again, and Matt Cassel had thrown three interceptions, and the chants of ``Teddy!'' were raining down from the stands, as fans begged for rookie backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
The final: Patriots 30, Vikings 7, with the Patriots scoring 30 straight points. Cassel finished with four interceptions, one more than Christian Ponder ever threw in a game. The last wasn't his fault, as it bounced off the hands of Matt Asiata, but the previous three were terrible decisions and throws.
Instead of spreading the Vikings out and picking on their lesser defensive backs, the Patriots played as if they knew that only a big mistake could lose this game. They remained patient, running the ball and throwing underneath, and the Vikings made enough mistakes - with four interceptions and a blocked field goal for a touchdown - to reward that approach.
So, after two weeks, the Vikings have one impressive road victory and one unsightly home loss, as they head to New Orleans for what, on paper, looks like the toughest of the first quarter of the season
Cassel had a chance to move the Vikings well ahead of expecations. Instead, he attempted throws that would have gotten a rookie benched. The Vikings' defense played better than the score indicates. One Patriots touchdown was the result of that blocked field goal attempt, and another came on a one-yard drive after one of Cassel's interceptions.
The Vikings coaching staff never seemed interested in playing Bridgewater, and certainly wouldn't bench Cassel after one bad game. Another bad performance may open up the possibility of Bridgewater making his debut sooner than expected.
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