Chip Scoggins is a Star Tribune sports columnist. He has temporarily returned to cover the Minnesota Vikings. He had the beat from 2008-2011 after covering college football for five years. Chip has been with the Star Tribune since January 2000. He can be followed on twitter at @chipscoggins.Find Chip on Facebook.
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.
With their first playoff appearance since 2009, the Vikings have had ample opportunity this week to reflect on the catalysts of their impressive turnaround this season. With so many players showing notable growth, it’d take awhile to complete a full roll call. But Jared Allen delivers an unsolicited shout out to safety Jamarca Sanford, whose whose behind-the-scenes push to get better this season has been underrated.
Said Allen: “I’ve seen [him] different, in his preparation and his attitude and his focus of where he wants to go. Last year he was out there for us, and he had the potential to make big hits. This year he’s been an impact player on our defense.”
Sanford is proud of his maturation. After losing his starting job to Mistral Raymond in training camp, he was forced back into a leading role after Raymond dislocated his ankle in Week 3. Sanford played so well in the six games Raymond missed that he earned the opportunity to keep starting with the two safeties splitting time over the final seven games.
Sanford credits veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield with teaching him how to be a more complete player.
“Like I tell a lot of people, last year was my first year starting,” Sanford said. “And I was just really happy to be out there, still shocked that I’m in the NFL and I’m starting. And I was just out there on my natural ability. This year, I’ve gone up a level. This league isn’t about how athletic you are, it’s how smart you are. How well can you study film and break a team down. When you know stuff that’s going to happen before it happens, it’s incredible. I learned a lot from Antoine. And the thing I put in my mind this offseason is that I’ve never been the weak link of whatever part of the team I’m on. I want to be at my best for what I do or at least live up to the standards of the guys around me. And one thing about this defense here, you can’t be the weak link. They’ll find someone else to do your job.”
Sanford shared a few other thoughts with the Star Tribune this week. Among the more notable …
On what was going on beneath the pile when he recovered a third quarter Aaron Rodgers fumble last week …
“Under that pile, there’s a lot going on. You might get a little punch in the side, some pinching. Guys crawling trying to get to the ball. I was making sure we came out of there with that ball. Luckily we did. That was a big-time turnover at a critical time. I had it at first and then it bounced out of my arm. It was really a struggle under the pile. Eventually, I heard Everson yelling, ‘I got ya! I got ya! I got ya!’ At first, it was and somebody else had it halfway. But Everson was under there pulling off arms. And by the time he pulled that guy’s arm, I finally got total control of it and it was time to get up.”
On carrying Adrian Peterson off the field after Sunday’s win …
“That adrenaline was pumping. Adrian deserved that. I wanted him to know our appreciation. After the season he had, he deserved to be carried off. Like I said, my adrenaline was pumping. And when I did set him down, I was pretty tired. He’s pretty heavy. … This is a legend right in front of your eyes. I’ve heard of the great backs of all-time – Walter Payton, Eric Dickerson, all the greats. To see one with my own eyes is special. … When A.D. is running, he’s just different. He plays like a guy on defense. He’s always loose. And if you hit him hard one time, you have to come back and do it again the whole game. Some backs, you hit them in the mouth one time, they start tiptoeing. Not Adrian. He just keeps coming.”
On whether he still communicates with close friend Percy Harvin, who has been absent from the Vikings’ facility since being put on injured reserve in early December …
“Percy and me are always texting. I’m making sure he’s still good, keeping his head up and reminding him to be ready to come back strong next year. He loves the success we’re having. He tells me he’s really proud of us. I know it was hard for him [to go on I.R.] He wants to be with this team, helping this team win. But unluckily he got hurt. That’s part of the game. So all he can do is sit back and watch. He just has to be ready to recover from that injury and be ready for next year.”
Adrian Peterson was chosen the Vikings' Ed Block Courage Award winner by his teammates.
Since 1984, each team names a winner of the award to recognize a teammate who overcomes great adversity.
Peterson has rebounded from major knee surgery to challenge the NFL's single-season rushing record.
Here is the team's release:
Vikings RB Adrian Peterson has been selected as the 2012 Ed Block Courage Award recipient by his teammates.
During Week 16 of the 2011 season, Peterson tore his ACL and MCL against the Washington Redskins. Eight months removed from the major knee injury, Peterson was true to his word and was in the starting lineup for Week 1 of the 2012 season. Peterson scored 2 TDs and rushed for 84 yards in the overtime victory versus Jacksonville. The 4-time Pro Bowler has appeared and started in all 14 games this season.
Peterson is in the midst of his greatest season as a member of the Minnesota Vikings. The 2-time All-Pro RB currently leads the NFL with 1,812 rushing yards and is tied for 2nd with 11 rushing TDs. Over the past 8 games, Peterson has rushed for over 100 yards 8 times and eclipsed the 200-yard mark twice. His 1,313 rushing yards since Week 7 ranks as the best 8-game stretch in NFL history. With 2 games to play, the 6-year veteran is 294 yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards set in 1984. He has tied Barry Sanders’ (’97) record of 7 50+ yard rushes in a single season. Peterson has 2 TD runs of 82 yards this season, a career long.
Since 1984 the Ed Block Courage Awards annually honors one player from every NFL team who exemplifies commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage. Recipients are selected by a vote of their teammates to recognize both on and off the field extra efforts and their ability to overcome great adversity, whether it be personal or professional. The Ed Block Courage Award is named in honor of Ed Block, the longtime head athletic trainer of the Baltimore Colts. Winners travel to Baltimore every March to receive their trophy at a gala in their honor and spend time at the local Courage House at St. Vincent’s Center, a facility specializing in working with abused children. This visit, and the time spent with the children, allows each recipient to fully comprehend the true meaning of the award.
For more information on the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation, visit www.edblock.org.
Vikings Ed Block Courage Honorees
Cedric Griffin............... 2010
E.J. Henderson........... 2009
Kenechi Udeze........... 2008
Chad Greenway......... 2007
Matt Birk....................... 2006
Koren Robinson.......... 2005
Corey Chavous........... 2004
Eric Kelly...................... 2003
Lewis Kelly.................. 2002
Daunte Culpepper..... 2001
Gary Anderson............ 2000
Robert Griffith.............. 1999
Randall Cunningham 1998
Robert Smith............... 1997
Scottie Graham........... 1996
John Randle................ 1995
Cris Carter................... 1994
Henry Thomas............ 1993
Darrin Nelson.............. 1992
Terry Allen................... 1991
Gary Zimmerman....... 1990
Jim Gustafson............. 1989
Leo Lewis.................... 1988
Scott Studwell............. 1987
Walker Lee Ashley..... 1986
Keith Nord.................... 1985
Steve Riley................... 1984
Alan Williams isn’t big on moral victories. So while the Vikings have been solid defensively the last two weeks in Chicago and Green Bay, the defensive coordinator points to only one thing: the Vikings still lost.
“Still not good enough,” Williams said. “They still scored too many points.”
The Bears and Packers combined to convert 57 percent of their third downs (20-for-35). Connected with that, the Vikings’ defense has also been chewed up by lengthy, draining, time-consuming drives. In Week 12 in Chicago, the Vikings allowed a 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter.
Last week, the Packers ran 11 minutes off the clock to open the fourth quarter, marching 73 yards in 17 plays before Mason Crosby kicked a game-sealing 31-yard field goal. There were no major defensive breakdowns on that series. But there were no big plays either.”
“It’s one guy here, one guy there, not getting our job done, not taking care of our assignments,” Williams explained. “It builds up and when you have a team like that, if you don’t take care of your assignment on every play, they’ll make you pay.”
One thing at a time
Williams believes his players have fallen into the trap too often this season of “trying to do more than their supposed to.” That’s again been a point of emphasis this week as the Vikings attempt to shore things up for Sunday’s game with Chicago.
“The preaching point, the sticking point is if you do your job, that will be plenty good enough to win a ball game and to get off the field series after series,” Williams said.
It’s a concept easier preached than practiced, especially with a team growing increasingly desperate to get back on the winning track. Williams understands the challenge for players in harnessing their desire to make something happen.
“But the point is, when you look at tape and we do get off the field and we are playing good football, it is just that: guys doing their job. We’re trying to hammer that down and make sure we get that done this week.”
Williams was most peeved last Sunday by the number of costly penalties his defense incurred. Officially, the Vikings’ D drew four flags for 38 yards. But a Letroy Guion offsides penalty was only wiped off the books because Aaron Rodgers used the free play to throw a 32-yard touchdown pass to James Jones. And Everson Griffen’s offsides penalty a few series later was declined when Rodgers used the free play to draw a 23-yard pass interference flag on Mistral Raymond.
"The first rule of winning is don’t beat yourself," WIlliams said. "And in a lot of respects, it had more to do with us than it did the Packers."
Rodgers’ cadence and hard snap counts often provide opposing defenses with headaches. But Williams said, that’s not a valid excuse for the Vikings’ miscues.
“You move when the ball moves. It’s that simple,” Williams said. “You have to tune out the cadence, you have to tune out the gyrations and get off the ball when it moves. … When you have a team that’s as good as Rodgers is and as good as they are on offense, they will make you pay if you make mistakes. And they did.”
Coach Leslie Frazier downplayed the significance of the team's decision to work out Brian Stahovich and other free agent punters just five days after Chris Kluwe's poor performance helped put the Vikings in an early 10-0 hole en route to 36-17 loss to Tampa Bay at Mall of America Field.
"We worked out some different guys [Tuesday]," Frazier said. "We worked out some linemen, some punters. We worked out a defensive back over the weekend. We worked out different positions. It's something we'll do throughout the season. We'll probably bring in some guys next week as well.
"[General Manager] Rick [Spielman] and the personnel department do a great job of just helping us to have a rolodex of players that could be avialable if we have an injury or something else occurs. It's something that will we ongoing for us through the year, bringing in guys. We've always done that."
Kluwe has been one of the best punters in team history since signing as a free agent in 2005. Thursday was one of the worst performances of his career. He averaged just 37.8 yards on six punts. His second punt was a 20-yard shank out of bounds. The Bucs got the ball at their 42-yard line and turned the short field into a field goal
"Chris is a pro," Frazier said. "He'll figure this out. Between [special teams coordinator] Mike Priefer and our staff, he'll come through it. He's been in this league for awhile now. He knows how to look at himself and look at tape and figure things out. Mike always does a great job with him so he'll get through this."
Frazier said he doesn't think Kluwe's political activism has anything to do with Thursday's poor performance on national prime-time television.
"He's been able to deal with so many things in his career," Frazier said. "He's able to focus in these situations on the task at hand. He's been a very good punter, which he is. So I don't think anything off the field is distracting him. He knows how to focus on his job. We fully expect him to have a big game for us on Sunday."
Kluwe said the team's decision to work out punters doesn't bother him.
"That's the way the NFL is run," he said. "It's nothing personal. If they feel I'm not performing my job, they will find someone who can.
"I just approach each week the same way. That I'm going to try and do the best job possible. The way I've always approached this job is I will be cut if I don't perform. There's no extra incentive there because that's the way I've always viewed it."
Kluwe said his problem Thursday is easily correctable.
"I'm just going too fast and not letting myself get situated with my drop," Kluwe said. "So that leads to an inconsistent drop and just not hitting the ball well. Just try to slow myself down and not rush myself and just hit the ball the way I know I can hit it.
"It's just correcting some minor things and then going out and hitting the ball consistently well, which I've been able to do for quite a while now. I just have to start doing it again."
Despite Frazier's attempt to downplay the significance, Kluwe said he knows why they worked out punters.
"The main problem is you can't have a 20-yard punt in the first quarter on a long field against a team and give them momentum like that," he said. "That can't happen in the NFL. I just have to have better punt there."
Kluwe also was asked for his reaction to the outcry via Twitter and elsewhere that he "just focus on football" rather than choose to be such an outspoken proponent of gay marriage rights.
"Generally, I just ignore them," Kluwe said. "I read all of them, but I don't really think about them. The funny thing is if you look at that argument, the basic foundation of that argument is why don't you worry more about a children's game than basic human rights. Yeah, generally I'm going to go with the basic human rights on that issue."
Frazier still mulling cornerback decision: The assumption is cornerback Chris Cook's broken arm will force the Vikings to move Josh Robinson from nickel back to starter and A.J. Jefferson from dime back to nickel back. Hold on a second, says Frazier, who won't make that call until the end of the week.
Asked what he was looking for from the Cook and Jefferson, Frazier said, "The consistency in practice and who grasps the game plan the best and gives us the best chance at this stage of the season to go out and be effective at the cornerback position opposite Antoine [Winfield]."
Frazier said the coaches are leaning one way, although he wouldn't say which way.
"We have an idea of what direction we want to go," he said. "But we have to see how it goes in practice the next couple of days."
Vikings still have roster opening: The Vikings still haven't filled the roster spot that's been open since they put Cook on injured reserve on Friday. Frazier was asked if the team is waiting to make a move until Thursday's 3 p.m. trade deadline.
"It's different factors, without giving too much [information] away," Frazier said. "You want to do everything you can. I know [General Manager] Rick [Spielman] and our personnel department is doing everything we can to improve our team. You want to exhaust all avenues in doing that."
In other news:
At the end of an intense and frustrating Thursday night at Mall of America Field, the Vikings didn’t try to sugarcoat their 36-17 loss to Tampa Bay.
It was a home stumble with so many flaws that the first step to recovery will require an honest self-
“You can’t lay an egg like that at home the way we did,” linebacker Chad Greenway said in a glum Vikings locker room. “It’s unfathomable that it would happen like that.”
Added coach Leslie Frazier: “We didn’t play up to our standards.”
Maybe these Vikings weren’t quite ready for prime time. Perhaps they don’t deserve status as a serious contender in the NFC playoff picture.
It sure seemed that way Thursday, particularly through a first half in which the run defense was gashed, the second-year quarterback was booed and even the star running back had trouble taking care of the ball.
Just like that, the Vikings found themselves in a 30-10 third-quarter hole, unable to match Tampa Bay on either side of the ball.
For one night anyway, the Buccaneers were the much better team and their highlights were many.
First and foremost, there was the dazzling running of Doug Martin, an emerging rookie out of Boise State who shredded the Vikings defense with his power, quickness and assertiveness on his way to 214 total yards and two touchdowns.
Martin broke the game open early in the second half with a 64-yard touchdown catch on a screen pass, a huge play on which he burst past Greenway and left at least three defensive backs in his wake.
All night long, Martin gave the Vikings headaches, the third player in three weeks to top 100 yards on the ground against the Vikings.
“He just runs hard,” safety Harrison Smith said. “He’s a complete back. He runs it, he can catch it. He’s a power back. But he has some moves too. He has some speed. He’s an impressive player.”
Yet there was also the hustle of 16th-year veteran Ronde Barber, who stripped Adrian Peterson late in the first half, creating a turnover that Tampa Bay quickly turned into a touchdown.
And that score was a thing of beauty itself, a 3-yard catch by Mike Williams on a fade in which he leapt above rookie cornerback Josh Robinson to grab the ball, then tapped both feet down inbounds in the back of the end zone.
If Tampa Bay came to the Twin Cities to prove it was much better than its 2-4 record, it succeeded.
The Bucs arrived on a hot streak offensively. They totaled 976 yards of offense in their previous two games. Against the Vikings, they amassed 416 yards with Martin’s big night complemented nicely by quarterback Josh Freeman (19-for-36, 262 yards, three touchdowns) and Williams (six catches, 68 yards).
Tampa Bay’s final touchdown drive was a 16-play, 87-yard submission hold that ate up more than 9 minutes of clock.
“We had to get off the field if we were going to do anything,” Greenway said. “We knew that.”
So now the Vikings hit the season’s midpoint at 5-3 and get nine days to sort through their shortcomings.
Offensively, it’s hard to find fault in the efforts of playmakers Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin.
Peterson rushed for 123 yards Thursday to shoot into the NFL lead. He also delivered his longest run of the season, a 64-yard TD sprint that pulled the Vikings within 30-17 in the third quarter.
Meanwhile Harvin (seven catches, 90 yards) had provided earlier fireworks, most notably with his diving 18-yard touchdown catch on a perfectly run corner route in the second quarter.
So naturally the conversation shifts to Christian Ponder’s struggles and an unsatisfactory October that included eight turnovers and far too many discouraging drives.
Ponder misfired on his first five pass attempts against Tampa Bay as the Vikings went three-and-out on their first three possessions. Ponder wound up throwing for 251 yards against a sputtering Tampa Bay defense that came in ranked 31st against the pass.
But without question, there’s been an offensive confidence dip that will have to be addressed.
“Our passing game has to improve,” Frazier said. “I mean, it’s hard to just continue to try to pound it. There are going to be games where you’ve got to throw it.”
Somehow, Thursday’s loss had an ominous feel to it, as if the Vikings’ early-season surge was exposed as somewhat hollow.
They now enter the teeth of their schedule with a difficult challenge to prove otherwise.
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