Dan Wiederer began covering the Vikings in 2011, enthusiastically delivering insight on the team across the Star Tribune's print and digital products. Prior to joining the Access Vikings team, he spent seven seasons covering ACC basketball at The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer. He also covered the Chicago Bears in 2003 and 2004. Follow him on Twitter @StribDW.
Mark Craig has covered football and the NFL the past 20 years, including the Browns from 1991-95 and the Vikings and the NFL since 2003. Since 2008, Craig has served as one of the 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. He can be followed on Twitter at @markcraignfl.
INDIANAPOLIS - Maybe this is where the projected Hall of Fame journey gathers momentum — in the final minute of a tie game with the No. 1 pick of the 2012 draft doing what the Colts expect him to do for a decade or longer.
Game-winning drive? Hey, Andrew Luck just wanted to give it a try, handling the moment with such tranquility you’d have thought he was out walking his dog.
Luck sure didn’t seem fazed by the pressure. Not the figurative kind that had heightened after Indianapolis blew a 20-6 lead in the final 10 minutes Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. And not the literal kind either, the heat coming from the Vikings’ defense as they tried to steal yet another improbable victory.
Instead, in the final half-minute, Luck delivered two consecutive 20-yard completions to Donnie Avery and Reggie Wayne. Just like that, in 19 seconds, Luck propelled Indianapolis from its own 20 into position for Adam Vinatieri to kick his game-winning 53-yard field goal.
Final score: Colts 23, Vikings 20.
This is the easy story, the one about the promising rookie who stepped up in the clutch and made sure his encouraging afternoon didn’t sour.
“He doesn’t get rattled,” said his coach Chuck Pagano. “He sees the field. He understands the offense extremely well. He knows exactly what he’s getting because he puts the time in … There’s no panic to the kid.”
Yes, Luck showed all sorts of calm, savvy and athleticism, especially on his first throw of that final drive when he spun, rolled left and put a dart into Avery’s sternum. But to truly understand how Luck recorded his first NFL victory, it’s only proper to contextualize the day by documenting all the costly mistakes the Vikings made, a grab bag of blunders so deep that the classroom sessions at Winter Park promise to be intense this week.
Above all else, there were those 11 penalties committed by nine different Vikings for 105 yards.
Few proved more costly than the 15-yarders committed by Andrew Sendejo and Jared Allen in the third quarter, gifts which allowed the Colts to prolong a 14-play field goal drive. That produced a 20-6 Indianapolis lead.
Sendejo was flagged for roughing Colts punter Pat McAfee, even though replays show the contact may have been minimal or non-existent.
Three plays later, Allen dived and tackled Luck as he crossed the sideline on a meaningless 1-yard run on third-and-16.
“I still don’t think it’s a penalty,” Allen said. “They can say what they want … I didn’t even hit him with my shoulder pads. I hit him with my arm. This is football I thought.”
Three times Sunday, the Colts put together scoring drives of nine plays or longer, including a 13-play, 80-yard stampede on their opening drive. There was also the touchdown they scored with 7 seconds before halftime when, on third-and-3, Wayne easily steered through the Vikings’ Cover 2 zone to snag a 30-yard touchdown pass.
The postgame fingers pointed at linebacker Erin Henderson for failing to drop deep enough in the coverage.
“That’s something we’ve talked about and something we’ve worked on,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier explained. “We put him in that spot, and we’ve just got to execute our assignments. We didn’t on that play.”
But expecting Henderson to hang with Wayne by himself is risky business. Plus, the Colts might never have had the ball for that score if Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder had not badly missed on a third-and-6 throw to a wide-open Percy Harvin on the previous series.
Yep, the Vikings were left to recap Sunday’s failure with so many of the neatly packaged explanations they ran into the ground a year ago.
“We did some things today that really hurt us, where we hurt ourselves,” Frazier said.
“That’s the NFL,” cornerback Antoine Winfield added. “Like last year, we lost a lot of close games. We have to tighten it up.”
Sure, there were a few bright signs. Harvin, for example, delivered 12 catches for 104 yards. Ponder (27-for-35, 245 yards, two TDs) also hung tough, producing two fourth-quarter touchdown drives that again displayed his ability to rally after adversity.
If you’re big on silver linings, maybe that was encouraging.
“I’m not into silver linings,” Allen said. “It’s like taking your sister to the prom. We have to win football games. It doesn’t matter how you win them, where you win 'em, we’ve got to win. And this is a game we should have won.”
Jerome Simpson's 33-yard reception -- where he hurdled over Bills defensive back Jairus Byrd -- was the highlight play of the first half as the Vikings took a 16-7 lead over Buffalo at Mall of America Field.
Simpson's catch helped set up a 1-yard scoring pass from Christian Ponder to Jerome Felton to cap the opening drive of the game.
Rookie Blair Walsh had field goals of 22, 45 and 47 yards for the Vikings, and missed wide right from 49. He added a 40-yarder late in the third quarter.
Buffalo scored on a 31-yard pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Donald Jones in the second quarter.
And at the start of the second half, Tashard Choice scored on a 1-yard run. It was set up by a 64-yard Vince Young pass to Dorin Dickerson.
Ponder completed 10 of 13 for 136 yards, and backup quarterback Joe Webb had two carries for 64 yards, including a 41-yard run. Toby Gerhart ran for 30 yards on six carries. Simpson had three catches for 43 yards.
Fitzpatrick was 8 of 11 for 58 yards before being replaced by Young.
Viking coach Leslie Frazier said Adrian Peterson will have surgery within the next two weeks to repair a torn ACL and torn MCL in his left knee, and Frazier seemed confident Peterson would be ready for the start of next season.
The star running back did not speak to the media, but was at Winter Park on crutches with his left knee in a brace.
"If anyone can make it back from this and be as good as they were before, it's Adrian Peterson," Frazier said. Frazier said surgery is likely within 7-10 days.
Vikings athletic trainer Eric Sugarman talked about the injury, saying the recovery time after surgery would be eight to nine months. He said the surgeon and the site of the surgery had not yet been selected, but plans for surgery would be finalized later this week.
Sugarman did not want to compare Peterson's injury to any other injury he has seen, saying Peterson is a unique person with a powerful work ethic.
"Adrian has the DNA to heal quickly, which he has shown in the past," said Sugarman. Peterson had a high ankle sprain last month but seemed at full strength at the start of Saturday's game.
Frazier said he talked with Peterson on the plane ride home Saturday night after the Vikings' 33-26 victory, and also called him on Christmas Day. He said Peterson's spirits were good and he was already looking ahead to recovery.
Other quick notes from Frazier's press conference:
Rookie quarterback Christian Ponder, who left the Washington game because of a concussion, is doing well and could be in the starting lineup Sunday. Joe Webb replaced Ponder and threw for a pair of touchdowns and ran for another, but Frazier seemed to indicated Ponder would start against the Bears if he passes his concussion tests.
Veteran guard Steve Hutchinson seems less likely to play Sunday after missing the Washington gave because of a concussion, but Frazier seemed optimistic cornerback Asher Allen would return from his concussion.
Caleb King, a rookie running back from Georgia, will replace Peterson on the 53-man roster to back up Toby Gerhart and Lorenzo Booker.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said rookie Christian Ponder will be the team's starting quarterback for the rest of the season.
The benched veteran, Donovan McNabb, will back up Ponder.
Said Ponder, who might have to scramble a bit: "I'm just going to let my instincts take over."
Frazier said the status quo wasn't getting it done, and that McNabb was classy about getting the news and intends to help Ponder, who will make his starting debut Sunday against Green Bay.
Frazier said, know what he knows now, he still wouldn't have done anything different. He would have signed McNabb and had him start the season for the Vikings.
On the injury front, cornerback Antoine Winfield (neck) is expected to practice today. The offensive line is hurting -- tackle Phil Loadholt (knee) and Charlie Johnson (triceps), guard Steve Hutchinson (knee) and center John Sullivan (concussion) -- are suffering injuries of some sort. Sullivan and Loadholt appear to be more serious, with Frazier thinking Hutchinson and Johnson should be OK to play.
We'll have more after the press conference and player access.
The Vikings dropped a 39-10 decision to the Bears, with rookie quarterback Christian Ponder finally seeing his first action long after the game was decided in the fourth quarter.
We're racing down for locker room access for our stories, but will get reaction posted quickly.
Devin Hester scored two touchdowns for the Bears, on a 48-yard touchdown reception and a 98-yard kickoff return. Jay Cutler threw for a pair of touchdowns and Chicago limited Adrian Peterson to 39 yards rushing.
Donovan McNabb threw for 177 yards, completing 19 of 24 passes before being lifted for Ponder, who was 9 of 17 for 99 yards.
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