Hit on a miss: Vikings have learned lessons as season has progressed

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 5, 2013 - 2:57 PM

The Vikings' biggest pass play of the season came from, of all things, an incompletion from a game that didn't even involve them.


Believe it or not, the deep pass that ultimately propelled the Vikings into Saturday night's playoff game at Green Bay was actually an incompletion.

In Week 5.

By Andrew Luck.

 

Go figure.

In the NFL, you never know where inspiration might be found. But in order for the Vikings to supply their longest passing play all season -- Christian Ponder's 65-yard bomb to Jarius Wright in the fourth quarter last weekend -- a seed had to be planted 12 Sundays earlier in Indianapolis. As Luck would have it ...

In examining the Colts' 30-27 upset of Green Bay from Oct. 7, Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave found a dash of creative stimulation. In the fourth quarter of that game, on second-and-4 from the Green Bay 49-yard line, Indianapolis isolated receiver Donnie Avery to the left against Packers cornerback Sam Shields. Facing a coverage with only one deep safety, rookie quarterback Luck baited Green Bay with play action. Avery froze Shields with an in cut 9 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, then broke open deep down the left hash.

Everything was in sync. Until Luck's potential touchdown throw sailed a foot-and-a-half too long.

It went into the boxscore as an incompletion. But it entered Musgrave's mind as a play that would work.

"It was there," Musgrave noted.

He shrewdly implemented a near-identical concept into his playbook and expressed intent on dialing it up early in the season finale against the Packers. But the first quarter went by Sunday and Musgrave couldn't get to the play.

The second and third quarters passed, too.

"I really wanted us at the right field position and on the correct hash mark to use it," Musgrave said. "Finally, we got all the stars aligned where we could call it."

On the Vikings' first snap of the fourth quarter, in a 27-27 tie in a must-win game and with the pressure inside Mall of America Field rising, Musgrave sent in the one-word playcall: "Colt." Naturally.

Sure, given the circumstance and the stakes plus the three tight-end formation the Vikings deployed, everyone inside the building expected Adrian Peterson to handle the playoff push. Instead, Musgrave gave Ponder the green light.

This time it was Wright isolated against Shields to the left with the Packers marching their one deep safety forward to key on the run.

Like Luck, Ponder used play action and Wright delivered his jab step in and double move 13 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Shields bit.

With a clean pocket, Ponder set and stepped into his throw.

Suddenly Wright's brain spun faster than his feet.

"When I saw it in the air, all I could think was, 'Oh, man I gotta go get it,' " he said.

And after the bomb was in his hands -- 65 yards in a season-defining moment -- Wright sprung up, covered his facemask with both hands, then delivered a peek-a-boo celebration.

"Spur of the moment," the rookie said. "It was like, 'Surprise!' "

When it mattered most ...

Surprise indeed.

In the biggest game of the year, a win-and-in test, the Vikings found the right combination of creativity and confidence to energize their usually one-dimensional offense. They delivered a season-best 444 yards and won a shootout 37-34. Against Aaron Rodgers at his hottest.

No wonder that explosion has provided so much confidence for Saturday's wild-card rematch at Lambeau Field.

Sunday, the Vikings had 10 possessions and delivered seven scores: four touchdowns and three field goals, and only two three-and-outs.

That output was even more remarkable considering the offensive malfunction four weeks earlier at Green Bay -- two scores, two turnovers and five three-and-outs on 11 possessions.

Major corrections were needed and devised.

And last weekend, with Musgrave finding admirable diversity and rhythm in his play-calling, with Ponder never seeming rattled and with Peterson doing what Peterson does, the Vikings dizzied the Packers defense from all directions. Six players delivered gains of 20 yards or longer.

The Vikings also converted six of 12 third-down attempts, all six extending scoring drives.

There was the fortuitous 21-yard screen pass to Toby Gerhart on third-and-11 in the first quarter; the 10-yard out to Jerome Simpson late in the first half; and of course the two biggest catches of Michael Jenkins' season.

One supplied a 3-yard touchdown on third-and-goal with 7 minutes, 54 seconds left. The other was a season-rescuing 25-yard connection on third-and-11 on the final possession, a completion made possible when Ponder pump-faked and Jenkins settled into a wide-open pocket along the left sideline between three disjointed defensive backs.

It was the only throw Ponder completed on a 61-yard game-winning drive that ended with Blair Walsh's 29-yard field goal as time expired.

"We knew if we got that coverage," Ponder said, "that play would be there."

One way or another

Ponder's Week 13 meltdown at Lambeau had been all sorts of mystifying. In particular, the two interceptions he threw inside the red zone were throws he never should have made. Yet throughout the afternoon, there were many more potential throws he just didn't pull the trigger on.

That's why the Vikings returned from that loss with brutally honest criticism for their second-year signal caller. About footwork, about poise, about risk management.

Said quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson: "It's truly a thin line. As I've told Christian many times, a quarterback can always find a way to not throw interceptions. But if that's your only goal, you're not going to move your team. So you have to find a consistent feel for the risk-reward."

In the rematch with the Packers last weekend, Ponder walked the tightrope with the right blend of caution and bravery.

The touchdown pass to Jenkins? It was a play that seemed doomed from the get-go, Ponder's initial reads taken away and forcing him into a schoolyard scramble. He rolled left and Jenkins spun back that way.

Ponder could have remembered the disastrous end zone interception he threw four Sundays earlier, also toward Jenkins.

Instead, he had one prevailing thought. At that stage of the game, at that stage of the season, settling for a field goal just wouldn't have been enough. So even with a tight window, his momentum going the wrong way and both feet off the ground, Ponder fired.

If he had been even a little off, if Packers safety M.D. Jennings broke back on the ball quicker than Jenkins, if that gamble ended in a drive-killing interception, the Metrodome would have flooded with gloom, and Ponder's entire 2012 season would be viewed through a lens framing him as an easily frazzled klutz with questionable decision-making.

Instead, Ponder has spent the last six days showering in praise for delivering in so many key moments with so much self-belief.

"An inch to the right," Ponder said, "and that ball's picked. Sometimes you get away with it. Sometimes you don't."

Added Musgrave: "That's why quarterbacking is an art. It really is. The guys that are elite quarterbacks know where that fine line is. And it's always moving; it's hard to identify."

Now that line has moved to Green Bay. For a playoff showdown the Vikings believe they can win.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Buffalo 12/28/14 12:00 PM
New England
Cleveland 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
Dallas 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Washington
Indianapolis 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Jacksonville 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Houston
San Diego 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
NY Jets 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Chicago 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Philadelphia 12/28/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
New Orleans 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Carolina 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Atlanta
Detroit 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Oakland 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Denver
Arizona 12/28/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
St. Louis 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Seattle
Cincinnati 12/28/14 7:30 PM
Pittsburgh
TBA 1/3/15 2:00 AM
TBA
TBA 1/3/15 2:00 AM
TBA
Toronto 110 FINAL
LA Clippers 98
Boston 88 FINAL
Washington 101
Orlando 102 FINAL
Charlotte 94
Memphis 103 FINAL
Miami 95
Indiana 110 FINAL
Brooklyn 85
New Orleans 100 FINAL
Chicago 107
Atlanta 90 FINAL
Milwaukee 85
Philadelphia 71 FINAL
Utah 88
New York 129 FINAL
Sacramento 135
Minnesota 97 FINAL
Golden State 110
NY Islanders 3 FINAL(SO)
Buffalo 4
Detroit 3 FINAL(OT)
Ottawa 2
Carolina 1 FINAL
Tampa Bay 2
New Jersey 1 FINAL
NY Rangers 3
Boston 2 FINAL
Columbus 6
Winnipeg 4 FINAL(OT)
Minnesota 3
Washington 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh 0
Dallas 4 FINAL
St. Louis 3
Philadelphia 1 FINAL
Nashville 4
Anaheim 1 FINAL(SO)
Arizona 2
Chicago 5 FINAL
Colorado 2
Edmonton 1 FINAL
Calgary 4
San Jose 1 FINAL
Los Angeles 3
Indiana 87 FINAL
Georgetown 91
Maine 43 FINAL
Seton Hall 72
UNC-Wilmington 82 FINAL
Minnesota 108
Georgia State 61 FINAL
Green Bay 78
Jacksonville St 61 FINAL
Jacksonville 75
Kentucky 58 FINAL
Louisville 50
Northern Ky 55 FINAL
Northwestern 76
UAB 58 FINAL
North Carolina 89
IUPUI 55 FINAL
Pepperdine 53
Santa Clara 60 FINAL
St Marys-CA 73
Oakland 56 FINAL
Maryland 72
Gonzaga 87 FINAL
BYU 80
Mercer 77 FINAL
Georgia 86
San Francisco 77 FINAL
Pacific 71
Wright State 55 FINAL
Ohio State 100
Presbyterian 65 FINAL
Virginia Tech 87
Brescia 42 FINAL
Western Ky 89
Tennessee St 46 FINAL
Tennessee 67
Kennesaw St 45 FINAL
Illinois 93
Colorado State 58 FINAL
New Mexico St 57
Portland 61 FINAL
San Diego 58
Wayland Baptist 63 FINAL
Utah State 75
Bristol University 59 FINAL
Weber State 109
Sacramento St 74 FINAL
Utah Valley U 49
Southern Utah 45 FINAL
UNLV 79
SD Christian 50 FINAL
San Diego St 72
Illinois 18 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 35
Rutgers 40 FINAL
North Carolina 21
NC State 34 FINAL
UCF 27
Cincinnati 17 FINAL
Virginia Tech 33
(15) Arizona State 36 FINAL
Duke 31
Miami-Florida 21 FINAL
So Carolina 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Penn State 31
(25) Nebraska 42 FINAL
(24) USC 45
Texas A&M 12/29/14 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 12/29/14 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 12/29/14 8:00 PM
Texas
Notre Dame 12/30/14 2:00 PM
(22) LSU
(13) Georgia 12/30/14 5:45 PM
(20) Louisville
Maryland 12/30/14 9:00 PM
Stanford
(9) Ole Miss 12/31/14 11:30 AM
(6) TCU
(21) Boise State 12/31/14 3:00 PM
(12) Arizona
(8) Miss State 12/31/14 7:00 PM
(10) Georgia Tech
(19) Auburn 1/1/15 11:00 AM
(17) Wisconsin
(7) Michigan State 1/1/15 11:30 AM
(4) Baylor
(16) Missouri 1/1/15 12:00 PM
Minnesota
(2) Florida State 1/1/15 4:00 PM
(3) Oregon
(5) Ohio State 1/1/15 7:30 PM
(1) Alabama
Houston 1/2/15 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Iowa 1/2/15 2:20 PM
Tennessee
(11) Kansas State 1/2/15 5:45 PM
(14) UCLA
Washington 1/2/15 9:15 PM
Oklahoma State
East Carolina 1/3/15 11:00 AM
Florida
SMU 45 FINAL
(2) Connecticut 96
UCF 64 FINAL
Houston 50
BYU 62 FINAL
Gonzaga 78
Pacific 92 FINAL
San Francisco 54
St Marys-CA 62 FINAL
Santa Clara 61
San Diego 87 FINAL
Portland 65
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami NoonX37-35
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Grade the Vikings offense

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close