Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.
Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.
Final from the Metrodome: Green Bay 44, Vikings 31
Story of the game: The Vikings (1-6) had no answer for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He completed 24 of 29 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns, methodically mixing in passing and running plays to perfection. The Packers (5-2) did not have to punt once.
Ground game: Eddie Lacy rushed 29 times for 94 yards for the Packers, who ran 11 times more than they passed.
Vikings highlight: Cordarrelle Patterson returned the opening kickoff an NFL record 109 yards for a touchdown.
As expected: Christian Ponder’s return as the Vikings starting quarterback was very Ponder-like. He passed for only 145 yards in relief of Josh Freeman (concussion). Expect Freeman to start next Sunday at Dallas.
Just sayin’: The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday. Although NFL in-season trades are rare, the Vikings might be considering something as they are clearly now turned toward building for the future.
Adrian Peterson’s quest for the NFL rushing record has taken center stage. But there is another pretty good running back to watch in this weekend’s Vikings game: Arian Foster.
Entering this week’s games Peterson has a league-best 1,812 rushing yards, and is within Eric Dickerson’s NFL-record 2,105. But Foster, who first came to the Texans as an undrafted free agent, has put up some strong numbers, too.
Foster is fourth in the league with 1,313 yards. Now, to show just how much Peterson has lapped the field this season, those 1,313 are precisely the same number Peterson has had since Week 7.
Still, Foster’s numbers are impressive. His 1,493 yards from scrimmage is fifth in the league – Peterson’s 2,023 is No. 1 – and if Foster scores a TD this week he will become the sixth player in NFL history to score 50 TDs in his first 50 NFL games.
“The scheme they run really fits what he does well,” Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway said of Foster. "He’s really patient, good at finding cut-back lanes. They throw the ball well out of the play-action game and bootleg game, and that serves Foster well in the run game as well.”
The Vikings have seen their share of good running backs this season, going up against five of the top 10 NFL rushers this season in Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch (second), Washington’s Alfred Morris (third), Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin (fifth), Tennessee’s Chris Johnson (seventh) and Frank Gore of San Francisco (ninth). Lynch ran for 124 yards, Morris had 57, Martin 135, Johnson 24 and Gore 63.
And now they get Foster.
Houston coach Gary Kubiak said he saw some similarities between Foster and Peterson.
“The thing about Adrian is that he has the home run speed,” Kubiak said. “Arian is one of those guys where it seems, the more he carries it, the stronger he gets. These are two guys who, the more they touch it, the more difficult it is to tackle them. Just two great players.”
(Almost) no comment
Christian Ponder’s marriage was not something many Vikings players wanted to discuss in the locker room.
Some, like center John Sullivan and guard Brandon Fusco, simply changed the subject.
“My focus right now is just going and grabbing some lunch and relaxing before practice,” safety Mistral Raymond said. “That should be dealt with somewhere else.”
Fullback Raymond Felton said he heard about it in the media like everybody else. Reaction? “I congratulated him,” Felton said. “Several people have congratulated him. So, obviously, whatever makes him happy we want that for him. It was a big day for him, and we’re happy for him.”
Of course, if anyone was going to have a little fun about the situation, it was punter Chris Kluwe, who wondered openly where he might find a gift registry. As for the present he planned on buying?
“Maybe a tea cozy,” he said.
Wins, not records
After winning NFC special teams player of the week honors for the second time this season, Vikings kicker Blair Walsh talked about winning, not records.
Specifically when he was asked whether he thought about making the Pro Bowl in this, his rookie season. “Yeah, it would be awesome, but that’s not my main goal right now.”
Walsh hit all five of his field goals last week, three in the 50-yards-plus range. He is now 8-for-8 from that distance, which ties him with Morten Andersen and Jason Hanson for most field goals of 50 or more yards in a season. He is one away from holding that record alone.
“I’m just wishing we win,” Walsh said. “I don’t’ care about the records. My whole deal with the records is that they’re meant to be broken. It would be nice to have, but I’d rather win.”
Walsh is 29-for-32 on field goals this season and is fourth in the NFC in scoring among kickers. He said the snap and hold has been perfect for every attempt this season, and that his three misses were entirely his fault.
So the question is, in a dome, in ideal circumstances, what does he think his limit is? “I think 65 (yards) and in I can at least give it a realistic shot,” he said.
Doing his part
Felton said he, along with the linemen and the rest of the team, are pulling for Peterson to break Dickerson’s record. But will he feel he earned a part of that record should it happen?
“A little bit,” he said. “I’ll be able to tell my grandkids about it. So, obviously, I think it’s important for our whole team. And the most important thing is getting wins. But when Adrian is successful that helps our team. That’s what we’re focused on.”
Meanwhile, it appears the work Felton has done has probably put to rest the question of whether Peterson prefers a fullback or running out of one-back sets. Felton said he’d seen a stat that indicated the Vikings gain better than 7 yards per rush with a fullback and 3-plus yards out of one-back sets.
Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer is a big fan of Ray Guy, but he's not a big fan of Vikings punter Chris Kluwe's ongoing campaign to get Guy voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a sign of respect for punters.
Asked jokingly if he was going to hide the tape so Kluwe couldn't write any more pro-Ray Guy messages on his uniform this Sunday, Priefer turned serious.
"I don't even want to talk about it," he said. "Those distractions are getting old for me, to be honest with you. Does Ray Guy deserve to be in the Hall of Fame? Absolutely. But there are other ways to go about doing it, in my opinion."
Asked if he's talked to Kluwe about it, Priefer said, "No. He won't listen."
Kluwe was an outspoken proponent of gay marriage rights in the fall. After Minnesota voters weighed in and agreed with Kluwe, the punter turned his attention and his Twitter account to pushing Guy for the Hall of Fame while lambasting the Hall's selectors for not selecting a punter for enshrinement.
Kluwe went a step further last Sunday when players' uniforms contained a patch celebrating the Hall's 50th anniversary. Kluwe covered the patch with a piece of tape that had the words "Vote Ray Guy" on it. He was fined $5,250, which is the standard amount for a uniform violation. Wednesday, he said the fine was worth it and continued his crusade in front of a group of reporters.
"To me, it's getting old," Priefer said. "He's got to focus on punting and holding."
Rudolph's big `catch'
When offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave was asked why tight end Kyle Rudolph didn't have a catch in Sunday's game, he smiled and said, "He had the onside kick. That was his first touch of the game. I congratulated him for that."
Musgrave went on to say the team needs to get Rudolph more involved in the offense on a consistent basis.
Priefer also talked about Rudolph's contribution to the hands-team on kickoff returns.
"He's the perfect guy for that," Priefer said. "He's big and strong and can jump and has great hands. He's the ideal hands-team player, in my opinion."
Jefferson won't return kicks this week
Cornerback A.J. Jefferson has been cleared to return to practice following Sunday's concussion, defensive coordinator Alan Williams said today.
Priefer said Jefferson won't return kickoffs. He returned his first and only kickoff as a Viking last week. He fumbled it, but that's not why he won't be returning kicks this week.
"It's more for the concussion," he said. "He's had some really good returns in Arizona. He was very successful. No touchdowns, but he had some big plays for them last year. I was excited for that role when we got him. Because of the concussion, you have to be smart."
Punt returner Marcus Sherels "more than likely" will return kickoffs as well, Priefer said.
Kluwe: It was worth it
The final price tag for Vikings punter Chris Kluwe having voiced his opinion: $5,250.
And it was worth every penny.
Last Sunday NFL uniforms sported a patch celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Kluwe taped to cover the patch, then wrote, “Vote Ray Guy” on it. His point was that no punters were in the Hall of Fame, and that Guy certainly deserves to be the first.
Kluwe, who became a rather famous advocate for same sex marriage this fall, has now gone from Gay rights to Guy rights. And it cost him an NFL fine, standard issue for first-time uniform infractions.
Kluwe knew the fine would be coming, and it was worth it, he said, though he did have to get his wife to sign off on the protest beforehand. “It got people talking about it,” Kluwe said. “I heard the broadcast team talked about it for a bit. And hopefully people will realize, ‘Hey, punters aren’t in the Hall of Fame, maybe we should do something about that.’ ‘’
As usual, Kluwe took to Twitter to announce his fine, tweeting, “The good news is all the money goes to support former players through the NFL charity programs. Maybe they’ll vote for Ray Guy.”
So has Kluwe talked with Guy, whose cause he has taken up? “I haven’t talked with him,” Kluwe said. “Hopefully I’ll get to talk to him when he gets inducted into the Hall of Fame.”
It’s not that there has been a shift in emphasis in the locker room. The goals the Vikings defense enter each game with haven’t changed. But, with a playoff push in progress, defensive end Brian Robison said there were some discussions last week on what the defense needed to do down the stretch.
“To us, it doesn’t matter what the offense does,” he said. “In our minds, we have to out-play the other team’s defense. That’s what it comes down to, the team that makes the most stops wins the games. .. We’ve always depended on ourselves to do that, to be the best defense on the field that day. But we haven’t always played like that. We came out last week and we said, ‘You know what? Enough talking about it, we gotta be about it.’ That’s what we did last week, we out-played them on defense, we scored on defense, we created turnovers, and we want to do the things that put our offense in the best position to be successful. Now we have to do that again.”
One area in which the defense has definitely improved is against the run. After a stretch in which the Vikings were gashed on the ground, the run defense has been good in three of the last four games.
During that four-game stretch Minnesota has allowed 133.3 yards per game, but just 2.6 yards per rush. This week the Vikings will see Steven Jackson, the Rams running back who is 71 yards from reaching 10,000 for his career.
“He looks awesome on film,” safety Harrison Smith said. “He’s a beast – tough to tackle, big, good runner. He’s patient. He gets his blocks and runs off them.”
As a kick returner, Percy Harvin has had a frustrating couple weeks with two near home-runs that seemed to be the equivalent of a fly out to the warning track and a 450-foot bomb that sailed just outside the foul pole.
Last Thursday against Tampa Bay, Harvin didn’t see many pitches he could hit. He was back for eight kickoffs but only had a chance to return one as Bucs kicker Michael Koenen blasted the other seven through the end zone.
“Frustrating for all of us,” Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer said. “We kept preaching though in the huddle, he’s going to give us one.”
Harvin finally got that opportunity midway through the third quarter when he caught Koenen’s kick 7 yards deep and came out flying. He picked up a few solid blocks on the left side from Jerome Felton, Tyrone McKenzie and Rhett Ellison and almost broke free.
“I don’t know if you guys felt it but you can see it on tape,” Priefer said. “The crowd, as soon as the ball’s in the air, they know he’s going to bring it out. They all start standing up. My hair’s up on the back of my neck because I know we’ve got a chance. And he darn near broke it. He got up to the kicker.:
Koenen made a touchdown-saving tackle after a 43-yard return.
A week earlier against the Cardinals, Harvin’s 103-yard return for a touchdown was called back due to an illegal block in the back penalty on Marvin Mitchell, who was penalized for pushing Arizona’s Alfonso Smith.
Priefer acknowledged Thursday that was a legitimate flag.
“You have to call it because of where our guy was,” he said. “His hands were [extended]. I don’t even know if [Mitchell] hit him. But because the guy dove for Percy – and Percy was going to make him miss anyway, so I don’t even think we needed to – but because of the relationship of where he was, the official who called it was in the back and it looked like a block in the back.”
Here’s Priefer’s praise for Seattle return specialist Leon Washington: “He’s a really tough guy to bring down. He’s got great vision. I call it running back vision, because that’s what he is. He runs hard. And once he finds a seam, which a lot of guys can’t see, he can see it and he hits it downhill so fast that he’s extremely hard to tackle. Great quickness, great toughness. He’s a formidable threat. … His best trait is kickoff returns because he’s downhill faster. He’s already got the ball and he’s running downhill 15 or 20 yards before anyone even gets near him. And that’s where he’s a big-time threat. Because, again, he can see that seam and hit it full speed. We’ve got to do a great job of keeping leverage, a great job tackling him, a great job of wrapping him up and getting him down.”
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