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.
Quick report from the Metrodome, where the Packers lead the Vikings 24-17 at halftime.
The good: Vikings rookie Cordarrelle Patterson returned the opening kickoff 109 yards, tying an NFL record for longest play. You’ll remember Antonio Cromartie of San Diego returned a missed field goal 109 yards against the Vikings at the Metrodome in 2007, the same game where Adrian Peterson set an NFL record with 296 rushing yards.
The bad: Jordy Nelson scored on a pair of touchdown passes from Aaron Rodgers for the Packers. Nelson’s first TD catch came on a 11-yarder in the first quarter when Rodgers found him with a perfect strike in the end zone, despite pretty good coverage by Vikings cornerback Josh Robinson. The second Nelson score came when Rodgers hit him in stride with Chad Greenway in coverage, and Nelson outraced the Vikings secondary for a 76-yard score.
The ugly: Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder was 9-of-13 for 95 yards, and almost threw a pick six in the second quarter. He needed an questionable interference call late in the half to set up Adrian Peterson's 8-yard touchdown run, which got the Vikings within 24-17.
The surprise: Micah Hyde’s 93-yard punt return for a touchdown stunned the Vikings with 1:49 remaining in the half, and gave the Packers a 24-10 lead.
Injury report: Vikings safety Jamarca Sanford (groin) left the game in the second quarter. He was replaced by Mistral Raymond.
Adrian Peterson returned to practice Thursday but he was limited because of a hamstring injury.
According to the injury report, cornerback A.J. Jefferson (ankle) and kicker Blair Walsh (hamstring) did not participate.
Limited in practice along with Peterson were defensive tackle Kevin Williams (knee), cornerback Xavier Rhodes (ankle) and wide receiver Jarius Wright (ankle).
The Vikings rank last in the NFL in pass defense, allowing 326 yards per game. They are tied for first in touchdown passes allowed with 10.
In Sunday's 34-27 victory against Pittsburgh in London, the Vikings two best corners were rookie Xavier Rhodes and Marcus Sherels, who made the team primarily as a punt returner.
Chris Cook did not play because of a groin injury, Josh Robinson continued to struggle and A.J. Jefferson got zero snaps on defense, playing strictly on special teams.
Their cornerback situation is a mess right now and you wonder if Leslie Frazier and his staff won't use the bye to consider personnel changes.
Many fans would welcome the return of Antoin Winfield. Short of that, one logical move would be to replace Robinson with Rhodes as the starter at left cornerback, and possibly slide Sherels into that slot/nickel role.
Rhodes has been the team's best corner through four games. But in Cook's absence, Frazier's staff has resisted moving Rhodes to the right side. Instead, they started Sherels at right cornerback against Pittsburgh with Robinson starting on the left side.
Even if Cook returns next week against Carolina, you wonder how long the coacing staff will stick with Robinson. Until this point, Frazier has said he prefers to keep Rhodes as the outside corner in the nickel package, noting that Rhodes gets plenty of snaps because the Vikings use their nickel so often.
Rhodes has played in 71 percent of the team's snaps this season. But Robinson looks lost right now. According to Pro Football Focus, he has allowed 91.9 percent of passes thrown his direction to be completed for 377 yards.
Robinson also was called for a 48-yard pass interference penalty on Pittsburgh's opening drive of the second half that gave the Steelers the ball at the 1-yard line.
"He’s had some struggles, in particular inside playing the nickel position," Frazier said. "That’s been a challenge for him with all the things we ask that position to do. He’s had some good moments and he’s had some moments I’m sure he looks back at the end of the four weeks and said, ‘Man, I can do that better,’ and we think he will. We knew going in this offseason and even in training camp that there were going to be some moments that we would have to work through and we’re experiencing some of that, but he’s doing some good things as well."
Frazier was asked if the staff will consider moving Rhodes into the starting lineup because of Robinson's struggles.
"Xavier is doing some good things," Frazier said. "He is playing a lot in our nickel package which almost equates to being a starter with the number of snaps you get. We’ll see how he continues to progress. Josh has had some ups and downs, but we think he’s going to get better. We’ll evaluate that coming out of the bye as well."
Rhodes made a mistake on Pittsburgh's final drive. He went for an interception on a pass to Jerricho Cotchery and missed, which led to a 36-yard catch and run.
"If he makes that play the game is over," Frazier said. "I like the aggressiveness. We worked on that play, he anticipated, he was there and came up a little bit short. You like to believe if we’re in that situation again, as he gains more experience, he’s going to make that play. You don’t want to stifle that aggressiveness at the corner. The fact that he had enough gumption to go try it, that’s a good thing. But if you don’t make the interception, you have to make the tackle. You can’t do both. But he’ll learn from it and fortunately we survived it. That’s part of some youth in the secondary."
Vikings rookie linebacker Michael Mauti will make his NFL debut today against the Browns.
The Vikings announced their inactives and Mauti was not listed for the first time this season.
Tight end Rhett Ellison (knee) was declared out on Friday. The other inactives are No. 3 quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, safety Mistral Raymond, linebacker Gerald Hodges, offensive guard Jeff Baca, defensive tackle Chase Baker and defensive end George Johnson.
Mauti, a seventh-round pick, had surgery to repair a torn ACL after his senior season at Penn State, the third ACL surgery of his career. He wrote letters to all 32 NFL general managers before the draft expressing his love for football.
Vikings rookie Cordarrelle Patterson saw his first five kickoff return attempts result in touchbacks in his NFL debut Sunday.
New NFL rules have essentially taken kickoff returns out of the game. The league has adjusted the rules on kickoffs in recent years in an attempt to make the game safer by reducing the number of violent collisions on returns.
The number of touchbacks has increased dramatically, making it more difficult for returners to make an impact.
"It’s kind of frustrating, but when I do touch the ball I try and make the most out of it," Patterson said. "When they kick it over my head, I wish they would kick it to me. There are some great kickers and there’s going to be a lot that go over my head so I’ve got to live with it."
Patterson finally got his opportunity when caught one kickoff eight yards deep in the end zone and returned it 30 yards.
Asked if he brought that one out because he was losing his patience, Patterson said, "My coach [Mike Priefer] feels comfortable with me, whether I catch it eight or nine yards deep, he told me just bring it out," Patterson said. "He expects me to do good things."
As a receiver, Patterson played only five snaps and caught one pass for 10 yards, but he's not complaining.
"It really doesn’t matter how many snaps I get," he said. "I make the most of the ones I get."
Patterson also said he doesn't ask Christian Ponder to look for him on certain routes in the huddle or on the sideline.
"Christian just has to feel comfortable with me," he said. "I really don’t say much to Christian. He’s the starting quarterback. I’m a backup. I really don’t try and talk as much. I just listen to what they say and try and do what they say."
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