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.
NFL games shouldn't end in ties.
Enough about that.
If you, like me, are watching Vikings games more to discern what next year's team will look like than what this year's final record will look like, there were a few interesting developments on Sunday, in the Vikings' 26-26 tie with the Packers.
Here are two key developments:
-Cornerback Xavier Rhodes, the 29th pick in this year's draft, was credited with four passes defensed, of the Vikings' nine total. He aquitted himself well against a pretty good group of receivers, and saved a touchdown by knocking the ball from the hands of James Jones.
He also injured his leg and returned to the field, a promising sign of toughness.
-Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson finally - finally! - looked like a big part of the offense. He had 11 passes thrown his way. He caught a eight. Both totals were team-highs.
He gained 54 yards. He returned the opening kickoff 57 yards. That return caused the Packers to kick the ball out of bounds while trying to keep the ball away from him on a subsequent kickoff.
Patterson could have had a much bigger day. He was unable to hold onto a long pass down the left sideline, and he had the ball bounce out of his hands in the end zone after it was tipped on the Vikings' first drive of overtime.
Patterson said he should have caught that pass.
I've been saying all season that Patterson should be a bigger part of the offense. He's too talented to leave on the sideline. He can catch short passes and turn them into long gains, and he should be able to take the occasional handoff or reverse, like Percy Harvin used to do.
He should be the Vikings' featured receiver the rest of the season.
-Aaron Rodgers is probably wishing he could ask for a raise.
The Packers have lost four straight since he was injured, and have tried three other quarterbacks. Without him, the Packers' receivers are less productive, the offensive line looks worse (because the ball doesn't leave the pocket as quickly) and the defense looks shoddier (because the offense doesn't sustain as many drives or create leads.)
And it's no longer too early to say that Greg Jennings made a dire mistake by leaving the Packers and Rodgers. Jennings caught two passes for 29 yards in five quarters on Sunday, and dropped a key third-down pass.
It's almost as if Jennings is so embarrassed by his decision to leave Green Bay that he's gone into a shell.
-Chrisitan Ponder amazes me. I've never before covered a quarterback whose performances could look so different on the field and on paper.
Watching him today, I thought Ponder had terrible pocket awareness, threw a potential pick-six that was dropped, was too eager to pull the ball down and run or scramble. Then I look at the stat sheet and he was 21-for-30 with a touchdown, no interceptions and a passer rating of 103.9.
There are a lot of modern statistics that offer great insights into the games we watch. There are also statistics that contradict eyesight and common sense.
I was more impressed with the Gophers' loss to the Badgers than any of their victories this season.
They stood up physically against a program built on tough, physical play. And while Phil Nelson did not have a good game, I have to believe the cold affected his accuracy and touch. His receivers dropped a handful of key passes, and when he missed ,he often missed by a wide margin. He's better than that.
Had a friend today tell me an interesting story: That last year, Jerry Kill was coaching on the sideline, and he dropped to one knee to look at a play chart. A half-dozen Gophers coaches and officials rushed to him, thinking he was having a seizure.
Kill said at that point that he needed to coach from the press box, so he wouldn't be a distraction.
It will be very interesting to see whether Kill stays in the press box the rest of this year, and for the rest of his career. He's found something that works - Tracy Claeys running the sideline, and Kill seeing the big picture from upstairs, rather than arguing with officials.
I'll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15, and on 1500ESPN at noon for my regular weekday hit with Judd&Dubay. 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.
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