Sid Hartman: Not much cheer for Vikings brain trust

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 18, 2011 - 11:14 PM

Sunday's game, as lopsided as it was, had to be one of the lowest points in the franchise's long history.

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Fans did their best to show their support of the Vikings on Sunday, but many departed by the fourth quarter.

Photo: Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

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There is an old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words.

This was the case Sunday after the Vikings' 42-20 loss to the Saints, as Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf, along with Rick Spielman, vice president of personnel, stood side-by-side as players walked into the locker room with a look of nothing but concern on their faces following a very one-sided defeat.

That look could tell the story of the game.

For the better part of 50 years, the Vikings have been a very competitive team, including since the Wilfs took over in 2005. But Sunday's game had to be a low point.

The look on the face of the team's leadership told the story. Two years ago, these two teams played for the right to go to the Super Bowl, and while both teams returned 13 starters from that game, New Orleans has continued to develop with a great quarterback in Drew Brees, while the Vikings remain in a two-year rut.

Sunday's game again showed how important a great veteran quarterback -- such as Brett Favre for the Vikings in 2009 -- with a strong offensive line is in the NFL.

Yes, it proved the well-known theory of former Vikings coach Bud Grant that players, not coaches, win games.

This offseason, look for the Wilfs to go out and get players like the ones that helped them compete in 2008 and '09 so the Vikings can perform better than they have in compiling a 8-22 record over the past two years.

The Vikings have their holiday party Monday night, and there's not going to be a lot to celebrate.

Brees tough to top

Brees, in his sixth year with the Saints, completed 32 out of 40 passes for 412 yards, five touchdowns and a sensational 149.2 QB rating.

The Vikings defensive line was able to put a good rush on Brees, but the front four along with those who were blitzing were always one step away from sacking him.

Certainly, the Vikings' depleted secondary had a major impact. They have lost three of their four starting defensive backs through injury, and cornerback Cedric Griffin has been benched for ineffectiveness.

The secondary was made up of mostly inexperienced players: undrafted free agent Marcus Sherels, whose main role is as a returner; Benny Sapp, who was out of an NFL job until the Vikings asked him to return a month ago; sixth-round draft choice Mistral Raymond, who made his defensive debut last month; and veteran Jamarca Sanford. Plus the nickelback was fifth-round pick Brandon Burton. The group was no test for Brees.

On the other side of the ball, Vikings rookie Christian Ponder gained some experience facing a Super Bowl-caliber defense, and he ended up running for his life most of the day, taking four sacks. Comparing the quarterbacks at halftime, it was obvious the way the game was going: Ponder was 4-for-8 for 18 yards and one touchdown; Brees was 20-for-24 for 247 yards and three TDs.

Teams with great quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Brees win. Those without a super QB lose.

But give Ponder time and with experience he has a chance to be great.

Saints defense strong

The Saints were able to stop the Vikings' biggest offensive weapon of late, Percy Harvin. A hurried Ponder was only able to get off seven passes to Harvin, completing three for a total of 8 yards.

"They double-teamed me, had a great scheme for our offense. We didn't make enough plays to win the game," Harvin said. "Like I said, any time you can't keep your quarterback standing tall, it's going to be difficult. They did a great job of keeping pressure on him and keeping him off balance. ... It was the rush and the quarterback had to scramble to try and find time. They did a good job."

He added: "Any loss is discouraging. We just have to go back Monday and try to fix it."

Adrian Peterson returned after missing three games because of an ankle injury, but he didn't have his usual workload. He rushed 10 times for 60 yards, including one for 39 yards.

"Physically, I felt good," Peterson said. "At times, I felt little tweaks here and there, but it wasn't anything significant enough to take me out."

He said his sprained ankle was not 100 percent, though he added, "But I was well enough to perform well."

With the Vikings' deficit growing in the second half, Peterson didn't see the field much. "I think it was more of a precaution," he said. "Got behind about 28 and didn't want to take a chance of re-injuring it. Try and be healthy for the last two games."

Peterson was asked if, with the Vikings' 2-12 record, some players might just be playing out the string.

"I don't think so, but that's a reality, I can't read everybody's mind on the team," he said. "I'm sure some guys have clocked out. But overall, what I'm seeing from the head guys on this team, there's no quit in them."

Praises Brees

Nose tackle Remi Ayodele, who played for New Orleans the past three seasons before coming to the Vikings as a free agent this year, said of Brees: "He seems like he gets better every day. He did a really good job keeping us off balance. I just think that he preps better than the average quarterback. ... He's been thrown off a few games, but we weren't able to do it today, he's very consistent. He knows what's going on."

On the Saints offensive line, which kept Jared Allen and others from sacking Brees, Ayodele said: "That O-line has been together for five years now. I think they have one or two guys in there helping out. Those guys know each other, too. They're a good O-line."

Griffin idle

Griffin, a second-round pick in 2006 who became a Vikings starting cornerback during his rookie season, no doubt is in the doghouse because he says he is healthy yet he is not playing. Certainly, the operations on both knees the past two years have slowed him down.

"No I was not upset. This is all coordinated and all talked about, so this is perfectly fine," Griffin said. "I'm OK with what's going on and I think [the coaches are] OK with what's going on, as well."

He was in uniform and played a little on special teams, but despite the shortage of experienced defensive backs, he didn't play much on defense.

"We have four or five DBs up, and they did a great job," Griffin said. "Other than that, we're mad that we didn't get the win. We're disappointed in our loss today, but other than that, I'm sure the staff will get it right for the next two weeks."

It looks like Griffin's days here are over, unless he has a deal with coach Leslie Frazier to let his knees heel so he will be healthy for next season.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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