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.
The Vikings signed T.J. Conley and Greg McCoy to futures contracts today.
Conley was the Jets' punter in 2011, averaging 42.7 yards. He was cut by the Jets in September, just five days before the season started, and didn't play in the NFL in 2012. He announced his signing on Twitter (@tjconley4).
McCoy, a 5-foot-10 cornerback, was drafted in the seventh round by the Bears in 2012 out of TCU. He spent most of the season on the Arizona Cardinals' practice squad after the Bears cut him in August.
Once again, Leslie Frazier's support of quarterback Christian Ponder was unwavering.
"He's our starter," the Vikings head coach said today during his final press conference of the 2013 season.
As for the team's plans for No. 2 QB Joe Webb and No. 3 QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson, well, the support from the top of the Purple coaching tree was polite, but far from unwavering.
"[Webb will] be a guy that will compete for the No. 2 spot again next year, barring something that we may end up doing in our personnel meetings," Frazier said. "But we'll discuss Joe's position and everyone's position in our personnel meetings and then we'll make a decision what's best."
Asked about Bethel-Thompson's status as the No. 3 QB and the possibility that a veteran could be brought in to be the the No. 2 while Webb fills the No. 3 job, Frazier said, "It's so hard to say just two days after our season. ... Our roster is going to change. All of us in this building who've been around this league as long as we have know that. It's hard today to say that Bethel's going to be No. 3 until we see how the roster unfolds."
Webb played only three snaps during the regular season and didn't attempt a pass. Bethel-Thompson was inactive for all 16 games. But they moved up the pecking order when deep bruising on the triceps and elbow of Ponder's throwing arm kept him from playing in Saturday night's 24-10 wild-card playoff loss at Green Bay.
Webb played the whole game and was, well, awful. Trailing the Packers 24-3 after three quarters, Webb had completed 7 of 20 passes for 61 yards, an interception and a 23.1 passer rating.
"Yeah, it was a tough day for Joe," Frazier said. "Tough day all the way around. Put in a tough situation having to go start a playoff game in that environment against a good football team. We still have a lot of confidence in Joe. We understand the circumstances he played in."
Meanwhile, Frazier was clear-cut in his feelings about Ponder being the team's long-term answer at quarterback.
"We're excited about his progress," Frazier said. "The way he played down the stretch, he was great. He had a lot to do with us winning those last four games the way we did. It's unfortunate he wasn't able to play that last ballgame up at Lambeau. He wanted to play. He tried everything he could to get on the field. It just wouldn't have been a wise decision to put him out there with the injury that he had. Just didn't get the flexion back in that tricep. But he did everything in his powers to get out there. His rehab, his work ethic was tremendous. So we're pleased with the progress that he's made.
"We saw glimpses of what he can bring to our football team and the way he led us down the stretch, you feel like you've got a chance to win every game when your quarterback plays the way he played. So we're excited about his development and looking forward to him getting better this offseason."
Kluwe to have surgery on left knee: Punter Chris Kluwe, who spent several weeks on the injury report with a left knee injury, will have surgery to repair the meniscus, Frazier said. Defensive end Jared Allen will have shoulder surgery after the Pro Bowl. Special teamer Tyrone McKenzie (shoulder), cornerback Antoine Winfield (hand) and quarterback Christian Ponder (right triceps, elbow) won't require surgery, while running back Adrian Peterson's abdominal injury will be evaluated after the Pro Bowl. Peterson battled the injury down the stretch and left the Houston game early with it , but only after the Vikings had full control of the game.
Singletary, Priefer to interview with the Bears: Frazier confirmed reports that linebackers coach and special assistant to the head coach Mike Singletary and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer are among the 13 candidates who have been asked to interview for the Bears' vacant head coaching position. Singletary, who played his Hall of Fame career in Chicago, and Priefer, whose NFL coaching career began in 2002 in Jacksonville, joined the Vikings in 2011. Singletary was the 49ers' head coach from the final nine games in 2008 until the 15th game of the 2010 season.
Frazier said he would like to keep this year's coaching staff intact for next season.
"I mentioned earlier that our coaches did a great job getting our players ready to play every week," he said. "Barring someone getting a promotion, I'm hoping all our guys are back. They did a terrific job throughout the season."
Evaluating the season: Frazier obviously was disappointed to see the season end after the first round of the playoffs. But he's also encouraged because, well, you know, all the rest of us thought they'd win six games, max.
"The foundation has really been set for our team without question," Frazier said. "Our core identity showed up. The traits that we talked about throughout the year, about being a tough, smart, disciplined football team were exemplified through this group of young men."
What about that contract extension, Leslie?: Frazier, whose contract expires after next season, is expected to receive an extension soon. Asked if he's talked to ownership about a contract extension, he said: "I haven’t had a chance to talk with them at this point. These last 48 hours in the building have been meeting with players and talking with them about the future and so on, and some other things in their lives. But eventually we will talk and not worried about it. Things will work out just fine. Not worried at all."
Asked if his agent, Bob Lamonte, has spoken with ownership, Frazier said: "Not at this point. But we will have those discussions.”
The Vikings definitely aren't choking on their opportunity to reach the playoffs.
Knowing before kickoff that they had to win to reach the post-season, the Vikings scored on their first three possessions, taking a 13-0 lead before the Packers had mustered their first first down of the game. Naturally, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers didn't panic and managed to close the gap to 10 points, 20-10, on a 51-yard field goal by Mason Crosby as time expired in the first half.
Adrian Peterson has 17 carries for 91 yards and a touchdown. He has 1,989 yards on the season, needing 11 to become the seventh player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards. Ponder is 9 of 15 for 100 yards, an 8-yard touchdown pass to Jarius Wright and no turnovers.
Rodgers is 10 of 18 for 89 yards and a 3-yard touchdown to Greg Jennings on third-and-goal. The Packers, however, have only 114 yards of offense.
The Vikings scored first when Blair Walsh kicked a 54-yard field goal, making him 10 of 10 from 50 or beyond this season. He also extended his NFL record for 50-yarder in a season in doing so.
Peterson made it 10-0 with a 7-yard touchdown run later in the first quarter. Walsh then added a 37-yard field goal, giving the Vikings a 13-0 lead while the Packers had run only six plays for 11 yards.
Because the Bears and Giants won, the Vikings can only make the playoffs if they beat the Packers. That would give them the sixth seed and a likely playoff opener at Green Bay next week. The Packers are still playing for the No. 2 seed and a bye next week.
The Vikings will have to beat the Packers today to make the playoffs. The Bears beat the Lions 26-24, and Chicago will get into the playoffs if the Vikings do not.
Here are the inactives for the regular season finale against Green Bay at Mall of America Field. Not surprisingly, neither cornerback Antoine Winfield nor defensive end Brian Robison are inactive. Both veterans will play through their injuries today, despite being listed on Friday’s injury report as questionable.
The inactives for the Vikings today are: linebacker Audie Cole, receiver Stephen Burton, cornerback Brandon Burton, defensive end D’Aundre Reed, safety Robert Blanton, offensive lineman Troy Kropog and quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson.
Robison will play through a Grade 3 shoulder sprain this afternoon. In all likelihood, Everson Griffen will see more time at end as well to aid Robison.
Winfield, meanwhile, broke a bone in his right hand last weekend in Houston. But he played through that setback for more than three quarters last week and will wear a wrap and a protective pad today to aid in the injury.
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