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 coach Leslie Frazier spent the majority of his news conference today talking about the fact the Vikings have had three player arrests in the past three weeks. The most recent was Erin Henderson, who was arrested Nov. 19 for probable cause for DWI and possession of a controlled subtance. Also arrested were Jerome Simpson (charged with two counts of DWI) and A.J. Jefferson (domestic assault complaint).
Jefferson was waived hours after his arrest. Simpson was benched for one play. Henderson missed Sunday's game for personal reasons. Frazier said Henderson wasn't punished.
Here's the highlights of what Frazier had to say:
After reading General Manager Rick Spielman's statement (which we posted earlier), Frazier gave some general thoughts on the issues:
"We’re taking a real hard look at what we’re doing. We went through an entire offseason and up until just a few days ago this season without incidents anytime something like this happens. It’s something that we’ll deal with and, as the statement says, methodically take a look at what we’re doing and how we’re doing it and try to get things better for the future. For me to try to answer questions regarding Erin or a couple days ago we talked about one other player who had gotten involved in an incident, I kept referring to the fact that it just wouldn’t be wise for me to go into any detail about that situation. And really it’s not any different here with Erin’s situation. I mentioned last week that he was dealing with a personal matter and that was absolutely the truth. There are some things I can’t talk about involving that situation. For myself and the rest of our team and our coaching staff, our focus has to be on the Chicago bears and whatever discipline is necessary or will have to be taken regarding Erin and those things will take of themselves.
"Whatever happens with guys that have had incidents in the past or potentially guys in the future, those incidents will be dealt with on a case by case basis. For me and the rest of our team, the focus is on getting a win on Sunday. That’s the bottom line. I can’t look back at that incident or speculate on any future incidents. The only thing I can concentrate on – and we talked about this in our team meeting this morning – is the Chicago Bears. That’s why we’re in this building, to find a way to get a win on Sunday in front of our fans at home. That’s all that really matters. Those other things, they’re going to be taken care of in the fashion that they need to be taken care of."
On when he learned of Henderson's arrest:
"I found out a few days ago and we began to handle things the way they needed to be handled."
On why he said he had no knowledge of Henderson's arrest when asked about it on Monday:
"You’d have to pull the transcript and listen to the question. This is exactly the way the question was asked to me. `Several months ago, Erin Henderson was pulled over on the highway. Do you have any knowledge of it?' I actually asked our security guy as I walked in, `Was there an incident a few months ago that I didn’t know about? Was there something that happened that I don’t know about?’ He said no, I don’t know wehre that came from. That’s where I left it."
On why he didn't mention what Henderson was going through last week:
"I’ll say what I said earlier. It was a personal matter and for me to go into detail about that situation … what you know and what most people know is what they see in the report. But it’s better for me to leave it at what I said. Whatever the fall up to that is or whatever may come from it, it comes from it."
On three incidents being handled three different ways:
"It may seem like that on the surface, but I’ll use this analogy. I don’t know if you have kids or not, but sometimes there are things that happen and you have two or three or four or five kids, whatever. In each situation, you’re trying to consistent and you’re trying to be fair about what you’re trying to do. But at the same time you’re dealing with each situation on an individual basis. I think that’s what we try to do here. Deal with each situation on an individual basis. Right, wrong or indifferent, that’s what’s happening."
After news of Erin Henderson's arrest on suspicion of DWI -- the third arrest of a Vikings player in three weeks -- General Manager Rick Spielman issued the following statement:
"The fact that we have had three recent off field situations is unacceptable and disappointing. Our organization looks at each situation and the circumstances involved to determine our actions with those players and how to best move forward.
The Vikings have a comprehensive approach with our player development program and excellent resources that are a part of this organization, but certainly we will take a methodical look at how we can improve upon our current programs to prevent these situations in the future."
We'll have more from Leslie Frazier soon. Frazier read the statement during his press conference. He also named Audie Cole his starter at middle linebacker, saying the second-year player "earned" the right to start again after last week's game.
What would you rather do on a Saturday morning than wake up early and read weekly picks and power rankings involving 32 teams that basically are of equal strength and ability to beat, lose to or tie anyone on any given Sunday, Monday, Saturday, Thursday (and some day, when the revenue ceiling needs to be extended to a gazillion bazillion dollars, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday as well)?
CRAIG'S NFL POWER RANKINGS
BEST OF THE BUNCH
1. Broncos (2-0)
Why: Because it’s still the regular season and they still have Peyton Manning.
2. Seahawks (2-0); 3. 49ers (1-1); 4. Saints (2-0); 5. Bears (2-0); 6. Packers (1-1); 7. Texans (2-0); 8. Patriots (2-0); 9. Falcons (1-1); 10. Bengals (1-1); 11. Chargers (1-1) ; 12. Ravens (1-1); 13. Chiefs (3-0) ; 14. Dolphins (2-0); 15. Bills (1-1); 16. Colts (1-1); 17. Titans (1-1); 18. Raiders (1-1); 19. Cowboys (1-1); 22. Rams (1-1); 21. Cardinals (1-1); 22. Lions (1-1); 23. Eagles (1-2); 24. Jets (1-1); 25. Giants (0-2).
26. Vikings: Let’s play the “throw-out” game we hear far too often from some people when they discuss NFL games, which often are contests to see which team messes up the fewest number of times. Throw out that Christian Ponder’s pass that was returned 44 yards for a touchdown and he played well. Throw out those two Jay Cutler passes to Martellus Bennett for 39 yards and a touchdown on the last-minute, game-winning drive and the defense played well. Sorry, Roger Goodell says no mulligans in football. That’s three balls in the woods. You’re hitting seven from the tee and the Vikings are still 26th in the power rankings.
THE REST OF THE REST
27. Redskins (0-2); 28. Panthers (0-2); 29. Buccaneers (0-2); 30. Steelers (0-2); 31. Jaguars (0-2).
WORST OF THE BUNCH
32: Browns (0-2): On paper, the Jaguars are actually worse. But, unlike the Browns, the Jaguars didn’t use that paper to raise as a white flag on the season after two games.
Browns plus-6 at Vikings: Vikings 28, Browns 10
Why: The Browns can’t protect the passer, and that was before they chose to start their inexperienced No. 3 passer and trade their running game to the Colts. The Vikings’ defense should have few problems, although keep an eye on receiver Josh Gordon, who’s coming back from a two-game suspension. If QB Brian Hoyer gets any time at all – doubtful considering it’s only his second start, it’s the Metrodome, where the Vikings’ pass rush is at its best – Gordon could do some damage. Defensively, the Browns aren’t a joke. The front seven on their 3-4 defense will be difficult for the Vikings’ power running game. And that happens QB Christian Ponder will have to play like he did in the second half last week, not like he played when he threw that pick-six in the first half.
Last week: Vikings plus-6 ½ at Bears. The pick: Bears 28, Vikings 14. The final: Bears 31, Vikings 30. Record: 1-1, 0-2 vs. the spread.
Packers plus- 2 ½ at Bengals: Packers 35, Bengals 31.
Why?: Aaron Rodgers and his receivers are on a roll after last week’s rout of the Redskins. Yeah, stopping Cincinnati’s offense will be difficult. Receiver A.J. Green could have another big game, and Cincinnati has two weapons at running back as well. But the guess here is Rodgers will just score his way through any of the team’s defensive difficulties.
Last week: Bengals plus-3 at Bears. The pick: Bengals 24, Bears 21. The final: Bears 24, Bengals 21. Record: 0-1.
Chargers plus-3 at Titans: Chargers by 7.
Buccaneers plus-7 at Patriots: Patriots by 3.
Texans minus-2 ½ at Ravens: Ravens by 3.
Rams plus-4 at Cowboys: Cowboys by 7.
Cardinals plus-7 ½ at Saints: Saints by 3.
Lions plus-1 ½ at Redskins: Redskins by 3.
Giants plus-1 at Panthers: Panthers by 7.
Falcons plus-2 at Dolphins: Falcons by 3.
Colts plus-10 ½ at 49ers: 49ers by 7.
Jaguars plus-19 at Seahawks: Seahawks by 14.
Bills plus-2 at Jets: Jets by 3.
Bears minus-2 ½ at Steelers: Steelers by 3.
Raiders plus-15 at Broncos: Broncos by 10.
Record: Last week: 10-5; 8-7 vs. the spread. Overall: 14-16; 10-19-1 vs. the spread.
The Vikings practices were wrapped up this afternoon, and reporters were leaving Winter Park, when the shocking word came in: The Cleveland Browns, who play the Vikings on Sunday, traded running back Trent Richardson to Indianapolis for a No. 1 pick in 2014.
Richardson was the third overall choice in 2012 -- remember, the Browns traded four picks to the Vikings to move up one spot to take him. And Richardson, just a couple of hours before the trade, spoke to Twin Cities media on a conference call and was very optimistic about the Browns' future.
And so it goes for the Browns' star-crossed franchise.
So, on to notes from earlier in the day ...
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier admitted he was pleased that the Cleveland Browns announced Wednesday morning that No. 3 quarterback Brian Hoyer -- and not backup Jason Campbell -- will start Sunday in place of injured starter Brandon Weeden.
"A lot better than finding out Sunday at noon," Frazier said. "Promise you that."
Frazier said his coaching staff spent the past two days studying tape of Campbell in anticipation that he would replace Weeden, who suffered a thumb injury on Sunday. Now, they'll have to switch gears and study tape of Hoyer, who has started one career game -- last season against San Francisco when he played for the Arizona Cardinals.
"We’ll have to do our homework on Brian and learn a little bit about him," Frazier said.
Frazier preached patience with Peterson
Adrian Peterson said he needed some "soul-searching" after rushing for 100 yards with no touchdowns and one fumble on Sunday. Peterson said he felt "hesitant" running the ball against the Bears.
Frazier said he doesn't think Peterson looked hesitant but that he looked for the big play too often.
"I don’t know if hesitancy is the word [but] trying to make every run a 60-yard run, which is not always going to be the case," Frazier said. "Sometimes, you’ve just got to get what’s there. And he’s been good at that and he’ll be better going forward."
Focus on your job only
Linebacker Chad Greenway hasn't performed to his standards the first two games, and he expressed frustration over his missed tackles after Sunday's loss. Frazier said he believes Greenway is trying to make plays for other guys instead of just concentrating on his responsibilities.
"Just got to slow down a little bit and do the things he's always done," Frazier said. "He does not have to make anybody else's plays. Just do your job, calm down, relax and play the way he's always played. He's had a lot of success for us. He's played at a Pro Bowl level. Just don't feel like you have to do any more other than your job."
Frazier was asked if it's possible that Greenway is trying to provide help to new middle linebacker Erin Henderson and thus getting himself out of position.
"That's something we've got to guard against," he said. "You've just got to trust that he's going to do his job, you do your job and we'll be fine as a group. He shouldn't feel like he has to do any more than he has in the past."
Ponder not second-guessing play calls
The Vikings had a chance to put Sunday's game away when they had the ball first-and-goal from Chicago's 6 late in the fourth quarter. But they got stopped on three plays and kicked a field goal to take a six-point lead.
Bill Musgrave's third-down call -- a Peterson run to the left side into the teeth of the Bears defense -- gained zero yards and drew criticism for being conservative.
Ponder defended that play call.
"We have the best running back in the league," he said. "Again, we wanted points on the board. We didn’t want anything crazy to happen. We wanted to keep the clock running or force them to take a timeout. So if we incomplete a ball, the clock stops and they don’t need to take a timeout. You know, unfortunately, Monday morning quarterback, it’s easy to look back and think that we could’ve done things differently. But I wouldn’t expect that if it happens this week that we would change that. I mean, Adrian can make plays all the time, and he does a great job of it.”
CHICAGO -- Christian Ponder has six completions for 81 yards to Vikings players and one to Bears cornerback Tim Jennings for a 44-yard Chicago touchdown. Adrian Peterson is having trouble getting his footing with 63 yards on 11 carries, one of which went 36 yards and 10 of which went 27.
But the Vikings are trailing only 24-21 in a rare competitive performance in Chicago, where they've lost 11 of their past 12 games.
Because Cordarrelle Patterson returned the opening kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown, tying Percy Harvin's team record for longest play in franchise history. Because defensive end Brian Robison scooped up a Jay Cutler fumble off a sack from Jared Allen and ran 61 yards for a touchdown.
Here's a quick look at the first half:
Score: Bears 24, Vikings 21
The good: Besides the opening kickoff -- which the Bears kicked after winning the coin toss and deferring -- and Robison's fumble return, the Vikings also had one impressive drive. Peterson ran four times for 46 yards, including the 36-yarder. Ponder went 2 for 2 for 29 yards, including a nice throw over the head of safety Major Wright and into tight end Kyle Rudolph's massive hands.
The bad: Except for Peterson's 36-yard run, the Vikings haven't done anything in the running game. The field is wet, the rain is off and on and Peterson is having trouble with his footing. The offensive line also isn't creating many holes. Ponder, meanwhile, has looked jittery in the pocket again. He has run from the pocket too early a couple of times.
The ugly: As good as the kickoff return team is doing, the kick coverage team is doing equally poorly. Bears return man Devin Hester has returns of 80 and 76 yards. The 80-yarder set up a touchdown. The 76-yarder would have had the Bears not chosen to throw from the 1-yard line after gashing the Vikings up the middle on four consecutive plays. Kevin Williams, who's playing his first game of the year, intercepted a tipped ball in the end zone. But that only temporarily held off the Bears. Ponder returned the favor, staring down Jerome Simpson long enough to have Jennings jump the route and score.
What did we learn: One thing we learned is Ponder is comfortable throwing to Rudolph. The touchdown was perfectly thrown.
What needs to happen in the second half: The Vikings need to contain Hester and they need to establish the run. It's been a strange game. Establishing Peterson would help keep the game out of Ponder's hands.
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