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.
The Vikings won’t know until later in the week whether cornerback Antoine Winfield will be available for the Packers game on Saturday.
Winfield broke his right hand in the Vikings’ victory at Houston Dec. 23. He returned to play in Sunday’s game against Green Bay before pain forced him to leave the game. The Packers passing game heated up quickly after that.
During his press conference Monday, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said was simply pain – not further injury – that forced Winfield out of the game. As for his availability for Saturday’s rematch with the Packers in Green Bay?
“We don’t know what’s going to happen with Antoine,” Frazier said. “We’ll see how he does throughout the week. He was in quite a bit of pain [Sunday], so we’ll have to see how he does throughout the week and make a decision, maybe, later on.”
Marcus Sherels was inserted as Winfield’s replacement as the slot cornerback in passing situations. Frazier said the team went with – and stayed with – Sherels for the rest of the game because he has gotten more reps in the slot than rookie Josh Robinson, and that Robinson was best suited to play on the outside. That said, Frazier hinted that, should Winfield be unavailable, the Vikings might re-think their nickel defense.
“There are some things we’ll have to look at for this ball game that we might do a little bit different,” Frazier said. “But it goes back to who is an inside corner and who is an outside corner.”
Frazier said defensive end Brian Robison, who returned from a sprained shoulder to play Sunday, came out of the game OK.
Running back Adrian Peterson told Frazier that he felt better coming out of Sunday’s 199-yard performance than he did a week ago, when he finished the Houston game feeling a bit banged up.
Frazier said safety Harrison Smith – who left Sunday’s game for a spell with a shoulder issue – should be able to practice this week, though perhaps in a limited way. He is expected to play in Green Bay. The same goes for tackle Phil Loadholt. Frazier said there were some other players who were “nicked up.”
Peaking at the right time?
Recent history suggests that it is sometimes the hottest team – rather than the team with the best record overall – that has an edge as the playoffs begin. So does that mean the Vikings. Who won their last four regular season games, are in a good spot?
Frazier wouldn’t go that far. But it can’t hurt.
“We’ve played some games, in this last month, where we pretty much had our back against the wall, where we needed to get a win each week,” Frazier said. “Particularly these last four weeks. And our guys have risen to the challenge, played extremely well, and got us those wins. Now we’re into a whole new season. We hope we can continue that and improve, ‘cause we’re going to need to improve to go play on the road. It’s a big challenge for us, but we need to keep improving.”
Searching for lost yards?
Given that Peterson finished just nine yards short of setting the NFL’s all-time rushing record, Frazier was asked Monday if he was going to have somebody review the season to see if a few extra yards could be found.
“If we could find those hidden yards, we would do it,” Frazier joked. “They have different people who will be doing that. But we’ll be doing our own homework as well. If we can find nine yards, we’re going to find them.”
Seriously, though, Frazier said he expected another run at Eric Dickerson’s record next season.
“As you know, it doesn’t take much to get him going when he sets a goal,” Frazier said. “I wouldn’t put it past Adrian Peterson to shoot for that record next year and even attain it. He is one of those guys you never bet against. If that’s in his sights, it’s possible. Anything’s possible with Adrian.”
A familiar opponent
Saturday will mark the third game between the Vikings and Packers in five weeks. So, it will probably be difficult for either side to do anything to fool the other.
“We’ll look as hard as we can to see if there is anything we can do differently to help us,” Frazier said. “And for how we can improve across the board as a team. But we’re so familiar with one another, there aren’t a whole lot of new things you can do. But you can try to improve on what you have been doing. And what’s what we’ll try to get done.”
Upon further review…
Frazier said linebacker Erin Henderson should have stayed with Packers receiver Greg Jennings on the third-quarter Packers touchdown. Henderson let Jennings go, and Jennings was all alone in the left corner of the end zone for his five-yard TD reception .
Are the Vikings really out of step in a pass-happy NFL? Six of the eight top rushing teams in the league are in the playoffs, including the second-ranked Vikings.
And the ability to run could become even more important in a game where weather could inhibit a passing attack.
“I would think so,” Frazier said. “I don’t know what the conditions are going to be at Lambeau yet, but I’m still going back to what I think is best for us. It’s a formula I think that can work no matter the conditions.”
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.
Defensive end Brian Robison and cornerback Antoine Winfield are both officially listed as questionable on the Vikings' injury report for this weekend. But it would take an awful lot to keep either veteran from playing in Sunday's high-stakes rivalry clash against Green Bay.
A win will push the Vikings into the postseason. And so Robison, dealing with a sprained right shoulder, and Winfield, with a broken bone in his right hand, both figure to suit up Sunday and play.
Robison missed last weekend’s win in Houston, working back from a Grade 3 sprain of his acromioclavicular joint. He has been limited in practice all week but has shown signs of progress, leaving head coach Leslie Frazier optimistic about his availability.
“He’s much improved,” Frazier said Friday afternoon.
Robison knows what’s at stake Sunday and will push to be in action. If the veteran end does play, the Vikings will keep a close eye on his activity and productivity with comfort that Everson Griffen provides a nice back-up plan.
Frazier said he would listen closely to how Robison feels about his shoulder discomfort and monitor his soreness on Saturday.
“I want to hear what he has to say,” Frazier said.
Winfield broken the second metacarpal in his right hand in the first quarter last weekend and played the rest of the game with the injury; the fracture wasn’t diagnosed until Monday morning. And while the 14th-year corner will need to play with a wrap and a protective pad on his right hand, that shouldn’t limit him much.
“He showed me today that he can grip with it,” Frazier said. “We feel like he’ll be able to tackle and do what he has to do.”
Those listed as probable on the Vikings’ injury report are: Adrian Peterson (abdomen), Jared Allen (shoulder), Chris Kluwe (knee), Phil Loadholt (knee), Marcus Sherels (quadriceps), Marvin Mitchell (illness).
As has been the routine the past several weeks, both running back Adrian Peterson and cornerback Antoine Winfield were held out of Thursday’s practice. Peterson continues dealing with an abdomen injury while Winfield has a broken bone in his right hand.
But coach Leslie Frazier said both players will certainly play Sunday against Green Bay. So, too, will Jared Allen who missed Wednesday’s practice due to illness but was back Thursday.
At present, the only Viking in danger of missing Sunday’s finale with the Packers is defensive end Brian Robison, still working back from a shoulder sprain suffered two weeks ago in St. Louis.
The Vikings are holding out hope that Robison will be able to play Sunday, even if his reps are somewhat limited.
“It’s hard to tell until he gets out there and actually put the pads on and begins to bang a little bit,” Frazier said. “We’d like for him to play a lot. But it’s kind of hard to say until you put the shoulder pads on and start banging. But he’s getting to the point where we feel like he may be able to get out there.”
Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield plans to play Sunday against Green Bay despite fracturing the second metacarpal in his right hand during last week’s win in Houston. Winfield believes the injury occurred during a first quarter tackle of Arian Foster, with the knee of the Texans running back landing on the top of his hand and breaking the bone.
Despite immediate swelling, Winfield stayed in the game. He had an X-ray done at halftime that didn’t initially turn anything up.
“I thought it was a contusion,” Winfield said.
But when he had additional testing done Monday at Winter Park, the fracture showed up.
Winfield did not practice Wednesday and was wearing a cast on his right hand, admitting that the injury was still “a little tender.” However, by game time Sunday, he said, he will likely play with his hand taped up and extra padding on his glove.
Winfield isn’t worried about having difficulty tackling but can’t say for certain how much his hand will limit him.
“It’s kind of hard to squeeze right now,” Winfield said. “But my pain level, I’ll tolerate that. That won’t be an issue.”
Winfield also downplayed the severity of his injury, a seemingly minor setback heading into the high-stakes finale against the Packers.
“I mean, we don’t expect it. But it happens,” he said. “This is a rough sport. There are grown men running full speed at each other. With contact, sometimes things like this happen.”
In other injury news ...
Defensive end Jared Allen was held out of practice with both a shoulder injury and a minor illness Wednesday. Adrian Peterson did not practice either, given time to rest the abdomen ailment he's been dealing with.
The only limited participant Wednesday was defensive end Brian Robison, who is trying to come back from a Grade 3 shoulder sprain.
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