Sid Hartman: Blame this one on Vikings defense, not Cassel

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 23, 2013 - 6:22 AM

The Bears and the Eagles came to town as contenders for playoff spots, and the Vikings, despite the fact that they were out of playoff contention, dominated the Eagles and beat the Bears in overtime. In between those games they lost a thrilling contest on the road against Baltimore.

Matt Cassel had played three good games in a row, posting a 94.46 passer rating over those contests — 80.7 against the Bears, 86.0 against the Ravens and 116.6 against the Eagles.

The local media were convinced that Cassel was the solution to the Vikings’ quarterback situation, but for some reason things were a lot different in Sunday’s 42-14 thrashing by the Bengals. Cassel wound up with a 32.6 quarterback rating, the third-lowest total in his nine-year career, after completing just 13 of 27 passes for 114 yards with a fumble and three interceptions, including a pick-six score for Cincinnati.

Nobody can blame Cassel for this loss, though. When a defense gives up 429 yards and five touchdowns, it’s hard to put the fault on the quarterback. There was plenty of blame to go around.

To be fair, the Bengals are a pretty good team and are unbeaten at home.

However, after this performance it wouldn’t surprise me if coach Leslie Frazier turns to Christian Ponder for the final game in the Metrodome this Sunday against a Lions team that was eliminated from playoff contention Sunday.

This team isn’t going to win many games when Adrian Peterson winds up with 45 yards on 11 tries. There is little doubt Peterson is playing hurt; otherwise he would be doing a lot better the past few games.

It’s been very difficult for anybody to figure out this team, which has lost four games by a total of 12 points, allowing opponents to win with a score in the final two minutes.

When Bob Hagen, Tom West and the rest of the Vikings public relations crew put together their postseason wrap-up book they are going to find a lot of negatives about a team that was good enough to make the 2012 playoffs but has completely collapsed, especially defensively.

Among those negative statistics is the fact that for the first time since 2001 the Vikings didn’t win a road game. The only other season they did that was their inaugural year, 1961.

If the Vikings lose to the Lions next Sunday, their record of 4-11-1 would be the fifth worst in franchise history.

Those four years include the first two years of the franchise — 1961 when they were 3-11-1 including a season- opening victory over the Bears and 1962 when they were 2-11-1.

The other years they were worse were 1984 and 2011, both 3-13 seasons.

Defense must improve

You’d be hard-pressed to find a season in which the Vikings defense fell so far from one year to the next. In 2012 the Vikings were tied for 14th in the NFL in points per game, giving up just 21.8 per contest. They also ranked 16th in yards allowed per game, giving up 350.

Coming into Sunday’s game the Vikings were ranked 31st in the NFL in both categories. They were allowing a miserable 30.4 points per game and 406.5 yards per game, and that was before they were destroyed by the Bengals.

Cincinnati scored the second-highest point total against the Vikings this season. Only Green Bay topped it when it scored 44 points in Week 7.

Kill sees tough D

Gophers football coach Jerry Kill and his staff have studied film of Syracuse, their opponent at the Texas Bowl on Friday, and Kill expects a tough game even though the Las Vegas books have the U a four-point favorite.

“They’re a ball team that defensively they’re very aggressive, play a very similar style of defense to what we do and they’ve been very tough against the run and very physical,” said Kill. “Offensively they’re very similar in the fact that they want to run the ball. They have some great skill players who can make plays, and the one thing they really do well is the kicking game.

“They block punts, they block kicks, they run fake field goals, so we’re going to have to be on our toes. A very physical football team, and that’s what you’re going to see out of Coach [Scott] Shafer, that’s been his M.O. since he’s been coaching. So it should be a real, real physical football game.”

A year ago Texas Tech came into the same bowl a two-touchdown favorite over the Gophers and beat Minnesota 34-31.

Kill was asked if Syracuse is as good as Texas Tech was.

“I don’t get much into rankings,’’ Kill said. “If that was the case then we wouldn’t have any success because our recruiting classes aren’t ranked very high. I don’t get into all that. I think every game is different and each bowl game is different, and the bottom line is it’s a one-game shot for both teams and whoever plays the best gets the win. Our focus is we need to be that team that plays the best and gets the win.”

Wolfenson tribute

Had it not been for Marv Wolfenson, who passed away Saturday, I have my doubts the NBA would have returned to Minnesota.

Wolfenson and his partner, Harvey Ratner, lobbied NBA Commissioner David Stern for several years and had to promise to build a $100 million arena before the NBA came back to the Twin Cities.

Then both men came close to bankruptcy because of their involvement in the team.

Ratner used to say that Wolfenson “made him a millionaire,” indicating the two partners were worth many millions before the NBA experience. They later made a poor $15 million investment in Midwest Federal, a local financial institution that folded.

Both Wolfenson and Ratner did a lot of good things, including building a home for some very poor older people.

Wolfenson never forgot his basketball coach, Jake Jacobi at North High School, where he was an outstanding player.

When Jacobi retired and was in financial trouble, Wolfenson made sure Jacobi got a check on a regular basis so he and his wife could live as they did before they ran into financial trouble.

And during their prosperous days when things were going well financially for their real estate company, they were two of the biggest donors to various charities.

I grew up with both Marvin and Harvey. They were very close friends, and class is the word you would use in describing both.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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