Rookie linebacker Audie Cole has late-game heroics

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 18, 2012 - 12:00 AM
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Vikings linebacker Audie Cole had two interception returns for touchdowns in the fourth quarter Friday`.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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It didn't take Audie Cole very long to count the number of interceptions he's returned for touchdowns in his 23 years on this earth.

"Counting tonight?" he asked. "Two."

Even a hot start by quarterback Christian Ponder and the Vikings' offense was overshadowed by Cole, the big, athletic linebacker who had pick-six returns of 20 and 30 yards on back-to-back plays -- just 13 seconds apart -- late in the fourth quarter of Friday's 36-14 preseason victory over Buffalo at Mall of America Field.

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier indicated that Cole, a rookie seventh-round draft pick taken 210th overall, has increased his chances of making the 53-man roster on a team desperate for depth at linebacker.

"He seems to be one of those guys who maybe is someone who just has a knack for making the big play," Frazier said. "His first play as a pro last week [in San Francisco], he gets a sack. And now he has two touchdowns in one game."

On the first touchdown, Bills quarterback Tyler Thigpen tried to throw the ball over Cole's head. Big problem, since Cole stands an Urlacher-esque 6-5.

Cole weaved through traffic and reached the ball over the goal line.

"Everybody on the sideline said I should have run it straight in," Cole said. "But I didn't know. I don't touch the ball usually, so I tried to make some moves."

The second time Cole reached the end zone, after picking off Brad Smith, most of his teammates joined him there in celebration.

Ponder efficient

Ponder wants a 75 percent completion percentage on first and second downs this season. He met that lofty goal and then some on Friday.

Playing only three possessions, Ponder was efficient and explosive while throwing the ball on first and second down. He completed eight of 10 passes (80 percent) to seven receivers for 128 yards, four first downs and a touchdown in those situations.

One of the incompletions was a flea-flicker that he wisely threw away when Jerome Simpson was covered.

Run defense responds

The Vikings run defense -- or lack thereof -- was a hot topic of discussion after the 49ers ran for 260 yards in a 17-6 victory last week. That won't be the case this week as the Vikings first-team defense swarmed the Buffalo running game from the get-go on Friday.

With tackle Kevin Williams, end Jared Allen and cornerback Antoine Winfield back in the lineup, the Vikings held Buffalo to minus-6 yards on four carries in the first quarter. Starters began exiting the field after the quarter.

"Jared came up to me on the sideline during the game and reminded me, 'See the difference [in the run defense] when the first unit is in there," Frazier said. "We have guys who know how to stop the run. We just have to bring the other guys along."

Etc.

• Tight end Kyle Rudolph and cornerback Chris Cook both left the field after being shaken up on hard hits early in the second quarter. Frazier said both exhibited concussion-like symptoms and will be further evaluated this week.

• Backup quarterback Joe Webb had only a 61.2 passer rating, but his value goes beyond the forward pass. He also had a 41-yard run when his protection broke down on third-and-8. It kept the drive alive and led to a field goal. It was the Vikings' second-longest play behind a 48-yard reception by Emmanuel Arceneaux.

• The Vikings' starting interior offensive line struggled against Buffalo's vaunted defensive line. Bills tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams each had a sack in the first five snaps.

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