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.
Vikings fans: It's time to board a time machine to a happier place. Specifically: halftime of Week 3. Remember that? The weather was still nice, the Vikings led Detroit 20-0 at Mall of America Field and the bottom had yet to fall out on the 2011 season.
Now? In the words of Eminem, "Back to reality; oops there goes gravity."
Today at Ford Field, the 2-10 Vikings trail the Lions 31-14. Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford blistered the secondary with a blowtorch early. Stafford's first quarter numbers: 9-for-11, 131 yards, two touchdowns. Over his past four quarters against the Vikings, Stafford has completed 31 of his 44 passes for 445 yards and two scores.
Even worse, the Vikings secondary has now alllowed opponents to pass for 1,939 yards and 20 touchdowns since last coming up with an interception.
Oh, perhaps even more significantly, we should also mention that the Lions defense has done more than its fair share so far today with four first half takeaways. On the Vikings' first snap, Cliff Avril forced a fumble on Christian Ponder which was recovered in the end zone by Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch. In the second quarter, Alphonso Smith added a 37-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Ponder now has six turnovers in the past two games, a troubling trend that far outweighs his first half touchdown passes to Visanthe Shiancoe and Percy Harvin.
Let's just say things aren't going well for the Vikings heading into the second quarter of what appears to be their 11th loss of the season.
Lions 21, Vikings 7.
It's bad, folks. How bad?
This bad: The Vikings' first four offensive snaps included two turnovers and a 2-yard loss. The Vikings' first offensive snap was a strip-sack-fumble-touchdown for the Lions. Detroit led 7-0 with 12:56 left in the first quarter.
Lions left defensive end Cliff Avril blew past right tackle Phil Loadholt, who didn't even lay a hand on Avril until right before Avril clubbed Christian Ponder's right arm, knocking the ball loose. Stephen Tulloch recovered the ball in the end zone for the touchdown.
On the Vikings' fourth offensive snap, Ponder stared down Devin Aromashodu, allowing cornerback Alphonso Ssmith to jump the route and intercept the ball. Three plays later, the Lions led 14-0 after Titus Young's 57-yard touchdown catch.
In a play eerily similar to what was seen in last week's loss to Denver, cornerback Cedric Griffin allowed Young a clear run off the line of scrimmage. Safety Jamarca Sanford got caught up watching inside receiver Calvin Johnson. When the ball was thrown to Young, Sanford was out of position, allowing for the easy touchdown.
Detroit's last touchdown of the quarter came when a punt return gave the Lions a short field. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew capped a 34-yard drive with a 12-yard touchdown catch. Again, the window to throw into was huge in between linebacker Chad Greenway, Sanford and cornerback Asher Allen.
The Vikings finally woke up with a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe caught a 7-yard touchdown pass to cap the drive that took 4:03 off the clock.
Of note on the touchdown drive: The Vikings converted a third-and-4 at the Detroit 17. They did it with a 10-yard pass to Percy Harvin. Not only was Harvin on the field, tight end Kyle Rudolph also was. It was nice to see the Vikings actually put their playmakers on the field in the red zone.
Also of note defensively: Griffin has been benched. Corners are now Allen, Benny Sapp and Marcus Sherels.
There aren't many things that can make a 2-10 coach feel better. But having quarterback Christian Ponder and running back Adrian Peterson both practicing during Friday's light workout did the trick for Vikings coach Leslie Frazier.
"That was encouraging that both of those guys were able to get some work," said Frazier, who listed both players as questionable for Sunday's game at Detroit.
For Ponder, it was his first on-field work since suffering a hip pointer in last Sunday's loss to the Broncos.
"He still has some soreness, but being able to see him drop back, deliver the ball, having his accuracy, moving around a little bit, that was encouraging because yesterday he was pretty stiff," Frazier said. "His movement was much better today. So we'll see how he feels today when he's throwing the ball around. But really encouraged by some of his movement today."
Peterson practiced on Thursday. He came of the field with a bit of a limp and admitted he was sore because of yesterday's workout, his first since suffering a high left ankle sprain against the Raiders three weeks ago. He's also missed the past two games because of the injury.
"I've made some cuts, but one thing I do know is I won't be cutting as hard as I do when I am 100 percent," Peterson said. "I would say I'm probably about 80 percent right now. That's a big improvement throughout this week. I feel like I can cut pretty good. I've made cuts going both directions. We'll just have to wait and see."
Frazier said he's seen enough of Peterson the past two days that he'll be able to make a decision on him after seeing how the ankle responds overnight to today's workout. As for Ponder, Frazier said he probably would want to put him through a workout at Ford Field before the game on Sunday morning.
"With Christian, the fact that today was his first day, if we decided to go forward with him, we'd probably want to see him move around again after a slow day tomorrow," Frazier said.
Peterson said he'd be willing to take a pain-killing shot if necessary to play. He also said he has personal goals that fuel his desire to return. One of them is a fifth consecutive 1,000-yard season. He needs 128 yards to get there.
"I'm a running back; I have team goals and I have personal goals as well," Peterson said. "That's a mark I definitely want to reach, getting to 1,000 yards. If I play this week, it will come."
As for the Vikings' other injuries, guard Steve Hutchinson (illness), defensive end Brian Robison (concussion), cornerback Asher Allen (shoulder), linebacker Chad Greenway (elbow), defensive end Everson Griffen (quadriceps), tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (hand), linebacker E.J. Henderson (shoulder), right guard Anthony Herrera (knee) and reciever Percy Harvin (finger) are all listed as probable. Harvin was limited in practice today. The rest had full participation.
Today's official injury report lists "illness" as the reason left guard Steve Hutchinson didn't practice.
Here's the rest injury report: RB Adrian Peterson (ankle), QB Christian Ponder (hip) and DE Brian Robison (concussion) did not practice; CB Asher Allen (shoulder), DE Everson Griffen (quadriceps), LB Chad Greenway (elbow) and TE Visanthe Shiancoe (hand) were limited; and LB E.J. Henderson (shoulder) and RG Anthony Herrera (knee) had full participation.
Christian Ponder's hip is stiffer today than the Vikings had expected, so the rookie quarterback won't be participating in practice at all today. Backup Joe Webb will take the first team reps, although the Vikings still do anticipate Ponder making his seventh NFL start on Sunday.
"All indications are [he will play]," coach Leslie Frazier said today. "A lot of it depends on what happens between now and Thursday, whether or not he improves, as at least our trainers expect him to."
Asked if he was concerned he wouldn't be able to play, Ponder said, "I'm not too concerned. I've been working ever since the game ended on Sunday with Eric Sugarman, our head [athletic] trainer. He's done a great job. There's been a lot of progress since it first happened. Monday, I was sore. Yesterday, I was sore. But today I feel better. So a big shout-out to Sugs for helping me out."
Ponder said he suffered the hip pointer -- the first one he's ever had -- when he took a direct shot from the helmet of a Broncos defender early in the first quarter.
"It is stiff," Ponder said. "It's your hip, but there's so much swelling everywhere. Everything that's attached to the hip is sore as well. It's not fun."
Although he's never had a hip pointer, Ponder said he's had experience playing after not practicing during the week. He said he had a rib injury at Florida State that caused him to miss all but the walkthrough the day before a game.
As for this week, Ponder said he should be able to get by without practicing that much.
"I"m going to do everything I can," Ponder said. "I don't know how much I'm going to be practicing this week. I'm going to try to be out there. Coach Frazier said I'm not going today, so I guess I'm not going today. But I'm going to try to be out there as soon as possible. When I'm not out there, I'm going to be taking mental reps and doing everything I can to prepare. I'm going to be watching a lot of film and everything.
"The good thing about [the Lions] is they're not too complicated on defense. They have great guys, great personnel, but they don't do anything too complicated. They don't do a lot of disguises, so I think it's kind of the perfect week to just watch film and not try to do anything too physical."
In other injury news, Frazier said:
We'll give an update once practice has ended and the injury report has been issued.
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