Craig: Vikings compare favorably to NFC champ 49ers

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 29, 2013 - 11:35 AM

The biggest difference is at linebacker, where San Francisco has lined up four stellar players.

Give or take a few leap-year mathematical errors, it has been 12,795 days since the Vikings played in the Super Bowl.

"Vikings fans," groaned a recent e-mailer, "just can't bear to watch the Super Bowl."

They should watch this one, though, because the current template for NFC supremacy looks exactly like the one being used at Winter Park.

The San Francisco 49ers are a balled-up fist in a spread-'em-out era. They are a riches-to-rags- to-riches-again story that's grounded in astute drafting, not the misguided belief that the Lombardi Trophy can be bought by the most fidgety billionaire during the first week of March. And their idea of a free-agency splash is creating one-line footnotes as they hang on to core youth such as NaVorro Bowman (signed through 2018), Ahmad Brooks (2017), Patrick Willis (2016) and Aldon Smith (2015).

For the Vikings, it's tough to beat a Week 17, playoff-clinching victory over the Packers as the highlight of a surprising 2012 season. But no game was more encouraging for the franchise than the 24-13 victory over the 49ers in Week 3.

After the Vikings punched out the meanest bully in the league, Frazier admitted to using a reporter's question as part of his motivational approach during the week. The question was whether the 49ers had the template to which the neophyte Vikings aspired.

"That burned me up," Frazier said. "I really felt like we already have set the template on how to run the ball, how to defend the run. I wanted our team to know there are doubts about the physicality of our football team. And our guys responded."

The Vikings ran for 146 yards while holding the 49ers to 89. The Vikings also won the turnover battle 3-2 and took advantage of quarterback Christian Ponder playing the best game of his NFL career to that point.

Colin Kaepernick still was San Francisco's backup in Week 3. But that doesn't mean there wasn't some impressive legwork from the quarterback position that day.

Besides throwing for two touchdowns and no interceptions, Ponder also ran 23 yards for a TD near the end of the first half. He sensed pressure, made a terrific cut to the middle of the field, ran past the linebackers, bowled through a safety and, well, did everything else but kiss his biceps.

There's no doubt Kaepernick is more physically gifted than Ponder or, for that matter, the five other quarterbacks selected ahead of Kaepernick in the 2011 draft. But Ponder's performance against the 49ers and his 4-0 stretch to end the regular season were among the signs that he, too, can become a long-term answer at quarterback, even if it comes with much less fanfare.

The Vikings, meanwhile, are better than the 49ers at running back and kicker. They are comparable at most of the other positions and are successful using two extremely different coaching styles and defensive philosophies.

Where the Vikings have the most ground to make up is at linebacker. Bowman, Brooks, Willis and Smith -- by far the NFL's best set of 3-4 linebackers -- are between the ages of 23-28 and will play a minimum of three more years together.

Willis (11th overall in 2007) and Smith (seventh overall in 2011) were first-round draft picks. Brooks was claimed off waivers from Cincinnati in 2008. And Bowman was quite the steal in the third round in 2010.

The 49ers originally had the 79th pick overall that year. But they traded down 12 spots, knowing the Chargers would use that pick to take Washington linebacker Donald Butler.

Not only did the 49ers get the better linebacker -- Bowman -- at the lower pick, they also got a sixth-round pick that they used on power back Anthony Dixon and a 2011 fourth-rounder they used on running back Kendall Hunter, who was playing well this season until tearing his Achilles' tendon.

The Vikings are set at strong-side linebacker with Chad Greenway getting better each season. But they have hard choices to make at the other two starting spots, where middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley and weak-side linebacker Erin Henderson are entering free agency.

By not offering long-term deals to Brinkley and Henderson before last season, the Vikings have the flexibility to significantly upgrade their linebacking corps without any salary cap ramifications.

It's not that Brinkley and Henderson played poorly. But the template the 49ers have adhered to includes great linebacker play across the line.

That's a priority that ranks right up there with No. 1 receiver as the Vikings try to catch up to the 49ers with hopes of ending that Super Bowl drought at 13,164 days at MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2, 2014.

Mark Craig • mcraig@startribune.com

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Los Angeles 7 Bottom 8th Inning
Chicago Cubs 6
Detroit 3 Bottom 9th Inning
Kansas City 2
Philadelphia 0 Bottom 1st Inning
Oakland 0
Toronto 1 Top 2nd Inning
NY Yankees 0
Arizona 0 Bottom 1st Inning
Colorado 1
Boston - R. De La Rosa 6:05 PM
Baltimore - C. Tillman
Milwaukee - M. Garza 6:05 PM
Pittsburgh - E. Volquez
Washington - J. Zimmermann 6:10 PM
Miami - J. Cosart
NY Mets - J. Niese 6:10 PM
Atlanta - M. Minor
Chicago WSox - H. Noesi 6:10 PM
Tampa Bay - C. Archer
Cleveland - T. House 6:10 PM
Minnesota - T. May
Seattle - C. Young 6:10 PM
Houston - D. Keuchel
Cincinnati - M. Leake 6:15 PM
St. Louis - M. Wacha
San Francisco - Y. Petit 7:40 PM
San Diego - A. Cashner
Texas - C. Lewis 8:05 PM
LA Angels - J. Weaver
San Diego 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Dallas 9/21/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
Washington 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Houston 9/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Minnesota 9/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Tennessee 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Baltimore 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland
Green Bay 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Detroit
Indianapolis 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Oakland 9/21/14 12:00 PM
New England
San Francisco 9/21/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Denver 9/21/14 3:25 PM
Seattle
Kansas City 9/21/14 3:25 PM
Miami
Pittsburgh 9/21/14 7:30 PM
Carolina
Chicago 9/22/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Washington
Connecticut 14 FINAL
So Florida 17
Old Dominion 45 FINAL
Rice 42
Troy 0 FINAL
(13) Georgia 66
Georgia Tech 27 FINAL
Virginia Tech 24
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
(11) Michigan State 73
Iowa 24 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
Bowling Green 17 FINAL
(19) Wisconsin 68
Maryland 34 FINAL
Syracuse 20
Tulane 13 FINAL
Duke 47
Hawaii 12 3rd Qtr 4:45
Colorado 21
Marshall 38 3rd Qtr 10:55
Akron 3
Louisville 0 Delayed 15:00
FIU 0
North Carolina 13 2nd Qtr
East Carolina 14
Army 7 2nd Qtr 10:44
Wake Forest 14
Virginia 10 2nd Qtr 11:11
(21) BYU 10
(6) Texas A&M 17 2nd Qtr 13:31
SMU 0
Rutgers 10 2nd Qtr 14:24
Navy 7
Central Mich 0 2nd Qtr 12:00
Kansas 7
Utah 10 2nd Qtr 11:25
Michigan 3
Florida 14 1st Qtr 3:21
(3) Alabama 14
Fla Atlantic 0 1st Qtr 6:09
Wyoming 7
Indiana 7 1st Qtr 5:18
(18) Missouri 0
San Jose St 0 1st Qtr 3:35
Minnesota 10
Texas State 7 1st Qtr 7:56
Illinois 6
Massachusetts 0 1st Qtr 5:15
Penn State 3
Georgia State 5:00 PM
Washington
Appalachian St 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Miss State 6:00 PM
(8) LSU
Northern Ill 6:00 PM
Arkansas
Middle Tennessee 6:00 PM
Memphis
Utah State 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Miami-Ohio 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Idaho 6:00 PM
Ohio U
Ball State 6:00 PM
Toledo
(14) So Carolina 6:30 PM
Vanderbilt
(4) Oklahoma 6:30 PM
West Virginia
Ga Southern 6:30 PM
South Alabama
UNLV 7:00 PM
Houston
(22) Clemson 7:00 PM
(1) Florida State
Miami-Florida 7:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
New Mexico 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 9:00 PM
Arizona
Louisiana 9:30 PM
Boise State
(2) Oregon 9:30 PM
Washington St
San Diego St 9:30 PM
Oregon State
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(25) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(12) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:00 AM
NC State
Duke 9/27/14 2:00 AM
Miami-Florida
North Carolina 9/27/14 2:00 AM
(22) Clemson
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(20) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(13) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Kentucky
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(11) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Indiana
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Virginia
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Louisville
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
UAB
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
California
Louisiana Tech 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(5) Auburn
Texas 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Kansas
Temple 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Connecticut
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
Washington
TX-San Antonio 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
South Alabama 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Idaho
Cincinnati 9/27/14 5:00 PM
(23) Ohio State
Rice 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
(18) Missouri 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(14) So Carolina
Boise State 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Air Force
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
ULM
New Mexico St 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(8) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Utah
(9) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Syracuse
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(17) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Vancouver FC 4:00 PM
Portland
Houston 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
New England 6:30 PM
Columbus
San Jose 6:30 PM
Montreal
Seattle 6:30 PM
Red Bull New York
D.C. 7:30 PM
Chicago
FC Dallas 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Toronto 40 FINAL
Brt Columbia 23
Edmonton 6:00 PM
Hamilton
Calgary 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Montreal
Ottawa 9/21/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Montreal 9/26/14 6:00 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 9/26/14 9:00 PM
Edmonton
Hamilton 9/27/14 5:30 PM
Winnipeg
Brt Columbia 9/27/14 8:30 PM
Calgary
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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 Noon
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pm
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pm
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit Noon
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo Noon
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay Noon
Nov 2 - vs. Washington Noon
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago Noon
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay Noon
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina Noon
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets Noon
Dec 14 - at Detroit Noon
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

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