Hartman: Cris Carter says Vikings still have shot at playoffs

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 8, 2012 - 11:05 PM

 The former star wide receiver sees a lot to like on his old team, despite its recent struggles after a hot start.

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Former Vikings receiver Cris Carter

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Cris Carter, the former Vikings star who is now an analyst with ESPN, was in the Twin Cities on Thursday doing interviews for the network. It might surprise some people that Carter said he believes coach Leslie Frazier's team can contend for a playoff spot, even though it has some weaknesses.

"They definitely can contend. They run the ball so effectively," said Carter, one of the greatest wide receivers in NFL history and a sure Hall of Famer sometime soon. "When you can eat up that much of the clock and then create some turnovers [you have a chance]."

Creating turnovers has been a problem for the Vikings of late as they have lost three of four following a 4-1 start. They haven't created any while turning it over five times themselves in the past two games, both losses.

"They're a young football team, and they started very, very fast and now they're facing adversity," Carter said. "As a young football team, you still have to find ways to win games.

"Christian Ponder hasn't played well the last several weeks. They need to get him back to the level that he played at the first four weeks of the season. But they're staying healthy. They have a young, talented roster.

"I believe that, especially with a tough schedule coming up, that they can become a playoff contender."

Carter sang the praises of running back Adrian Peterson and receiver Percy Harvin.

"It is remarkable what he is doing," Carter said of Peterson. "It is remarkable to see from that injury to come back and possibly be even better than he was before."

On Harvin, Carter said: "I love Harvin -- he just needs some help, and [the Vikings] need to get him signed up [long term], absolutely, for a young guy with the versatility and the variety he gives the offense."

Carter also mentioned the Vikings' lack of depth at receiver and added, "If you get another big receiver outside of him then you'll really be able to see more of his value to the football team."

Carter did point out the simple fact that you have to be able to get the ball down the field in the NFL if you are going to be a contender. And if Jerome Simpson got healthy, he might help Harvin in doing that, taking pressure off Harvin on the outside.

It's evident that the passing game needs to improve. The Vikings enter Week 10 30th in the league in passing yards per game at 188.6.

Still, Carter believes the team has the tools to be successful offensively.

"It's partially, they have some younger guys, but they have some veteran guys that have been other places; they just have to be as productive as they've been other places. If they get that veteran productivity, then I believe Christian Ponder's numbers will go up."

On defense, Carter said it is just a matter of making plays the team hasn't been making.

"On third down they have to get off the field, and also in the red zone they have to get off the field and hold the other team to three points," he said. "When you have a young quarterback you have to generate turnovers, you have to give the offense those extra possessions."

Getting back to the wide receivers, the Vikings don't come even close to having the receivers they had in Carter's days, when not only did they have him but also Randy Moss and Jake Reed. The receivers they have today outside of Harvin aren't nearly as talented. Sure, Ponder has had problems, but if he had some better wide receivers to throw to, the team might have won a couple more games.

Edge on Illinois

Since 1996, the Gophers football team is 9-3 against Illinois, far and away their best record against any Big Ten opponent over that time. The Gophers' only other winning record over a conference foe in that period is a 6-4 mark against Indiana.

The Gophers are 34-28-3 all-time against the Illini. They should have a good chance this weekend.

The Illinois offense has struggled mightily this year, averaging only 4.4 yards per play, third worst in the Football Bowl Subdivision. As coach Tim Beckman told the Daily Illini this week, giving up sacks is a big part of the problem.

"I haven't been around offenses that give up so many sacks," Beckman said. "It's very important to me to keep these guys healthy. And how do you do that? You protect them, so they're not taking hits."

So look for the Gophers defense, which has 19 sacks, to pressure Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase all day.

Jottings

• According to Lester Bagley of the Vikings, the NFL is giving serious thought to playing two games in London annually, not just next year. So as reported here Thursday, don't be surprised if the Vikings play more than one game overseas in the coming years.

• Dave Mona, longtime chairman of the board of the Vikings Children Fund, reports that the fund contributed $10 million this year to the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children's Hospital.

• The Vikings are in the middle of three consecutive games facing an opponent with a former Vikings coach as its offensive coordinator. Last week at Seattle it was Darrell Bevell, Vikings offensive coordinator from 2006 to 2010. This week it is Detroit's Scott Linehan, who held that role with the Vikings from 2002 to '04. And after the bye it will be Chicago's Mike Tice, the former Vikings coach, assistant coach and tight end.

• Tom Mee, the longtime popular Twins director of public relations, is walking again after recent surgery at Mayo Clinic.

• Former Gophers standout Eric Decker not surprisingly has become one of Peyton Manning's top receivers with the Denver Broncos. Sunday against Cincinnati, Decker caught eight passes for 99 yards and two touchdowns. He leads Denver in receptions with 46 and touchdowns with seven and is second in receiving yards with 583.

• Timberwolves Vice President Chris Wright reports that the club has sold more than 2,000 new full season tickets per game. And with the addition of all their partial season tickets sold, the Wolves are now are up to the equivalent of 10,000 full season tickets, the highest number they have sold since the 2003-04 season.

• Former Hopkins High School standout Royce White has yet to appear in a game for the Houston Rockets, who are 2-2. White missed a game because of migraine headaches, but coach Kevin McHale has also made the decision to not play White in the other games. One guy who is playing some for Houston is former Bloomington Jefferson center Cole Aldrich, who came over in the James Harden deal from Oklahoma City.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM 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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