Vikings' defensive issues overshadowed

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 11, 2012 - 11:38 AM

The Vikings took comfort in an opening victory that came despite some obvious struggles against the Jacksonville offense.

 

Make no mistake: The mood at Winter Park proved reassured and upbeat Monday. All across the locker room, Vikings players gushed about this team's collective fight and the self-belief shown Sunday that led to a wild 26-23 overtime victory over Jacksonville.

The demeanor of this 1-0 team seems drastically different than that of an 0-1 squad. Which is what the Vikings would have been had it not been for Sunday's crazy finish, a Jason Bourne-esque escape catalyzed by two clutch passes from Christian Ponder at the end of regulation and two even more clutch kicks by rookie Blair Walsh -- one to tie the score and another to win the game.

In the end, Sunday's final score set Monday's mood. Which is why coach Leslie Frazier approached the podium on the first day of Week 2 acknowledging his wide smile.

"[Our guys] had moments where they could easily have folded and said, 'This game is over,' " Frazier said. "Particularly after that one long pass at the end of the game. But they didn't. So there are some things we can draw on where our players will have confidence in the future, in close ballgames, where we can finish with a win."

Still, mixed within all the feel-good were sobering reminders that this team still has obvious flaws. Captured within the game film is evidence that the defense is a long way from consistently delivering.

For weeks, the Vikings have been echoing one of Frazier's 2012 catchphrases: "Finish." Yet while the defense finally halted the Jaguars in overtime Sunday, the inability to finish on the final series of regulation cannot go overlooked.

With 1 minute, 18 seconds to play, the Jaguars began a series at their own 24 down 20-15 with no timeouts left.

An established defense seizes that opportunity and locks down the victory. Instead, the Vikings surrendered a six-play, 76-yard touchdown drive that put them behind with 20 seconds left.

It was an unsettling malfunction under pressure with Jacksonville's go-ahead drive punctuated by Blaine Gabbert's 39-yard touchdown pass to Cecil Shorts on a play in which cornerback Chris Cook not only got twisted up in coverage but also had no safety help over the top.

Perhaps equally troubling was the defense's first series, a 17-play, 77-yard Jaguars march that ate up more than 9 minutes. Jacksonville converted four third downs on that drive -- three in third-and-long situations.

Shorts converted a third-and-7 with an 8-yard catch, running over Cook to pick up the final 3 yards.

On third-and-9 a few plays later, Gabbert picked on Josh Robinson, hitting Justin Blackmon for 13 yards on an out route.

Later in the drive, on third-and-8, tight end Marcedes Lewis easily gained separation from Chad Greenway, dragging across the middle and delivering an 18-yard gain.

"We had them in the situations we want to get teams in," Frazier said. "A lot of third-and-7-plus. And we didn't find a way to make a play. That could create problems."

Sure, the Vikings held in the red zone and surrendered only a 19-yard field goal on that possession. But ...

"We have to find a way to get off the field," Frazier said. "We've got to improve on that. That was discouraging and that will definitely be a point of emphasis when we sit down and talk."

Overall, Sunday's defensive effort was decent but inconsistent. Greenway, defensive end Brian Robison, defensive tackle Kevin Williams and linebacker Erin Henderson all showed flashes.

On the flip side, the defense gave up 22 first downs and produced only one takeaway -- on a fumbled snap -- against a Jaguars team that ranked last in the NFL a season ago in total offense.

The Vikings also allowed Gabbert (23-for-39, 260 yards, two TDs) to post a 96.1 rating, more than 30 points higher than his 2011 mark.

"I think the most frustrating thing was we were putting heat on him all day long," Robison said. "And we were just inches away and couldn't quite get there."

Sunday's rally quelled such frustration. Yet the Vikings must be realistic in measuring the significance of their first win.

They might have managed to take the distressing doubt that invaded Mall of America Field with 20 seconds remaining and push it out the door. But that doesn't mean such doubt isn't still lurking nearby.

  • VIKINGS WEEK 2 Up next: Noon Sunday at Indianapolis • Lucas Oil Field • TV: Ch. 9 (100.3-FM, 1130-AM)

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