Hartman: Injuries in secondary were costly to Vikings

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 23, 2013 - 6:37 AM

Harrison Smith took the blame for the Browns’ final TD but said the team must fight through its 0-3 start.

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Vikings safety Harrison Smith intercepted a pass intended for wide receiver Josh Gordon in the second quarter.

Photo: McKenna Ewen, Star Tribune

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Harrison Smith, one of the best safeties in the NFL, was covering Browns tight end Jordan Cameron when he caught the 7-yard touchdown pass that gave the visitors a 31-27 victory over the Vikings at Mall of America Field on Sunday.

The clock showed only 51 seconds to play when the Browns, who were 0-2 before Sunday and had scored only one touchdown in their two losses, scored the game-winner.

Smith could have made excuses for his failure to cover Cameron, because the Vikings were short of experienced defensive backs after Chris Cook (groin) and Jamarca Sanford (hamstring) went out because of injuries they suffered in the first quarter, but he took the blame.

“I don’t tell what the coverage is, but you can watch the throw and pretty much figure it out. I just got beat, that’s just what happened,” said Smith, who made his second interception of the season earlier in the game. “Yeah, a couple guys got dinged up and a bunch of other guys stepped up and played well. Like I said, that last play I didn’t make a play, so you put that one on me.”

Smith sang the praises of Brian Hoyer, the Browns’ third-string quarterback who was making his second career NFL start. Hoyer completed 30 of 54 passes for 321 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions.

“My hat is off to him,” Smith said. “He made a lot of big-time throws.”

Only three NFL teams since 1990 have started the season 0-3 and made the playoffs, so Smith was asked how tough a loss this was.

“It’s just as tough as any loss, you know? 0-3 is not how we saw our season starting, but the only thing to do is just keep plugging away,” he said. “That’s the only choice right now. I mean it’s not what we had in mind, but the only thing to do next is keep working and try to get a win.”

With the Vikings players getting ready to board a plane for London on Monday to prepare to play Pittsburgh, Smith was asked what the team can do going forward.

“You can’t give up, no matter what,” he said. “We’re 0-3, that’s definitely not good, but just keep fighting. Yeah, I mean you can either give up or keep playing. You’ll never see me give up. I’ll be back every week no matter what.”

After getting beat in back-to-back games by Chicago and Cleveland, where the opposing offense was able to march down the field in their two-minute offense, Smith said he still believes the Vikings’ defensive scheme is sound. They just have to execute.

“I mean, I just think that at the end of the day, you have to make a play to win the game,” he said. “And we’re not doing that right now.”

Smith said he knows that at times like this, people might think Vikings players are speaking in platitudes when they say there’s nothing to do but try to get better, but in his mind, that’s all a player can do.

“You know I’m going to say that, but that’s the truth,” he said. “You can’t dwell on it as a defensive back. You have to have a short memory. It’s always a team game, but ultimately the defense had a chance to win the game and we didn’t do that. That’s what we want to do.”

Peterson not problem

Yes, some rabid Vikings fans are blaming Adrian Peterson for Sunday’s 31-27 loss to the previously winless Browns because the great running back’s longest run was only 9 yards.

The 2012 NFL MVP rushed 25 times for 88 yards and one touchdown against Cleveland. In the season-opening loss to the Lions, Peterson rushed 18 times for 93 yards and two TDs. Against the Bears last week, he ran 26 times for 100 yards.

So as strange as it might seem to those who are on Peterson’s back, blaming him for the Vikings’ 0-3 record is senseless, because Peterson is ahead of last season’s totals in the same number of games in all categories but long runs.

Through three games this season, Peterson has 69 carries for 281 yards and three touchdowns. He has also caught 11 passes for 52 yards and a touchdown. Compare that to last season after three games, when he had 58 carries for 230 yards and two touchdowns while catching six passes for 44 yards.

“We have to keep swinging and swinging a lot better,” said Peterson about moving forward. “I feel like we will approach it with that mind-set and attitude and we’ll be OK.”

Does Peterson believe defenses are keying in on him more than last season?

“You know guys are stacking the box a little more, and those guys on the other side of the ball are pretty good, as well,” he said. “You’re not going to have a game every week where you get 50 here, 40 here. You know you have to come out and try and find pieces, each one [getting] 5 and 6 [yards]. That’s what you ask for out of the run game is to be efficient.”

Still Peterson, who is the hardest-working player in the NFL, said there’s no point in letting losses and frustration build up week to week.

“Yeah [losing is] a little frustrating,” he said. “But I can’t be frustrated about it, because it’s not going to help us and help us move forward. We just have to learn from this and try and focus on the things that are going to help us get better, instead of being frustrated and being down. … Don’t get me wrong, but it’s all about how you respond to it.”

Peterson knows it has to be frustrating for fans to see the Vikings come out on their opening drive and march down the field 80 yards on 11 plays and score a touchdown, then have that same offense go three-and-out on its next two possessions.

“That’s the biggest thing is continue to be consistent. We can’t come out and have the type of drive that we had and then come out and go three-and-out,” he said. “We have to take a little more pride. I don’t know what it is, but we need to clean it up.”

Peterson was asked what he thought about the fans booing Christian Ponder and calling for Matt Cassel to step in as the starting quarterback.

“That happens,” he said.

“I don’t really think too much about it. I have his back. He scored [two rushing] touchdowns in this game. They were cheering him when he scored and booing him when a pass wasn’t accurate or doing what they wanted. That’s what you get. We have to fight through that as well.”

With what is now a crucial game against the Steelers next week in London, the Vikings are going to have to fight through a lot of things if they want to turn this season around.

 

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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