Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.
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.
For the sixth time in his seven-year career, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has been chosen to play in the Pro Bowl. No other Vikings were selected.
Peterson, the reigning league MVP who ran for 2,097 yards a season ago, began this season with a goal of rushing for 2,500 yards. Listed as doubtful for Sunday's season finale against Detroit because of groin and foot injuries, he'll likely end the season with 1,266 yards in 14 games. That's still the third most yards the year after a 2,000-yard season. Eric Dickerson had 1,234 the year after he rushed for the NFL record of 2,105.
Peterson also has a team-high 11 touchdowns, including 10 rushing, and a 4.5-yard average per carry.
Peterson's six Pro Bowl selections are tied for fifth-most in team history. The only people ahead of him are Hall of Famers: Guard Randall McDaniel (11), defensive tackle Alan Page (nine), receiver Cris Carter (eight) and offensive tackle Ron Yary (seven).
This is the first year the Pro Bowl will not be broken down by conference. The first Pro Bowl draft will be televised at 7 p.m. Jan. 22. Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders will serve as team captains and select the teams.
The Pro Bowl will be played Jan. 26 in Hawaii.
With Toby Gerhart (hamstring) out and Adrian Peterson (groin/foot) listed as doubtful, the Vikings are expected to start Matt Asiata against the Lions on Sunday in what will be the final game in the 31-year history of the Metrodome.
It would be be Asiata's second career start and second in three games. With Gerhart and Peterson out two weeks ago against the Eagles, Asiata carried the ball 30 times for 51 yards and three touchdowns in a 48-30 win.
Meanwhile, coach Leslie Frazier said cornerback Xavier Rhodes (ankle) "did OK" in practice today and will be evaluated again on Saturday. Rhodes hasn't played the past two games because of a sprained ankle. Even with the two missed games, Rhodes' 23 passes defensed leads the team by nine.
The Vikings also placed linebacker Audie Cole on injured reserve (ankle) and signed cornerback Robert Steeples as a corresponding move on the 53-man roster. Frazier announced on Monday Cole would be out against the Lions.
UPDATE: NT Letroy Guion (quadriceps) didn't practice again on Friday and is listed as doubtful. Rhodes (ankle) and CB Shaun Prater (ankle) were limited in practice and are questionable. Everyone else not mentioned above who are dealing with injuries have been listed as probable.
For this week’s edition of “Behind Enemy Lines,” we reached out to Josh Katzenstein, Lions beat writer for the Detroit News. Here are five questions we posed to Katzenstein in advance of Vikings-Lions and the final game in the Metrodome on Sunday
1. What happened in the final six weeks of the season that led to the Lions’ fall from first place in the NFC North?
JK: It didn’t seem like they were taking any of their opponents lightly. It was more just an in-game focus issue. The offense in the last six games had 21 turnovers averaging 3.5 turnovers and lost five of those games. On defense, they only forced three turnovers in those six games. They were just throwing possessions away and weren’t doing anything to get them back. Eventually those mistakes are going to cost you.
2. How much of this collapse is on head coach Jim Schwartz’s shoulders?
JK: The mood around Detroit is that Schwartz won’t be back next season but of course there’s nothing official to that. I think everything in the Lions’ locker room has been taking the blame. They’re saying that they’re the ones out there playing and the coaches coached them up enough. But at some point, you do have to question some of the decisions Schwartz and the coaching staff has made over the last six weeks just because it seemed there were times where they weren’t always ready for the opponents.
3. Is it time to question quarterback Matthew Stafford’s ability and decision making?
JK: I think those questions have already surfaced. Just watching Stafford even beyond the turnovers (19 interceptions and 12 fumbles), he makes a lot of really questionable decisions. He seems to rush throws at times, he seems to make off balanced throws at times. The Lions have locked him in for the future (three-year extension in the offseason with $41.5 million guaranteed) and certainly he’s going to be there for the next handful of years, but at some point you’re going to have to question exactly what his ceiling is. At times he looks like the sky is the limit but at other times it looks like the guy is throwing away the season. If you want to blame anyone more than Schwartz, it would have to be Stafford for the late season collapse.
4. What’s been the overall issue with the defense?
JK: I think consistency has been the main problem on defense. Even though the Lions’ run defense is good (fourth in the NFL allowing 94.8 yards a game) the front four has not lived up to expectations this year. They’re tied for 29th in the NFL in sacks this season and really had one dominant game and that was against the Packers on Thanksgiving when they had seven sacks. At times they’re not getting enough pressure and even when they are there seems to be a problem in the secondary.
5. What’s the mood around the team as it plays the final game at the Metrodome without playoff implications?
JK: The mood has been kind of down this week compared to the last couple months because I think guys are upset they don’t have a shot at making the playoffs. I think they are looking forward to getting back and regaining some of the pride that’s maybe been lost these last six weeks. I’ve been asking some guys about Metrodome memories, and I think they do know it’s going to be a tough test because the Vikings have been playing for pride these last several weeks and playing really well. All these guys see that on film and they know it’s going to be a crazy crowd. They just got to find a way to tune it out and hopefully finish this thing strong.
Vikings defense end Jared Allen could play his final game in purple on Sunday, but he’s more focused in taking part of the final game at the Metrodome at the moment.
“I'm trying to go out the way I want in this Metrodome and have this last game be something special,” Allen said. “Kevin [Williams] and I talked about it earlier this week, saying we just want to let loose and make it a game to remember, from a win standpoint, from our performances, the crowd, the energy level, all of that.”
Allen will be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason and did spend time discussing the uncertainty around his career. The 10th year veteran wants to play again next year, but the free agency process will be less stressful.
“When you’re younger you’re trying to figure out all this craziness, and when you look back you realize there’s a plan and it’s better than any kind I could’ve hatched,” Allen said. “So I’m just enjoying the ride, honestly. If this ends up being my last game here, then it’s been one of the greatest rides I’ve ever been on. It’s been a great six years.”
Allen has yet to play in a Super Bowl however, and he said that will play a big factor into what occurs in the offseason. He’s had four postseason appearances in his career, reaching the conference championship game once with the Vikings in 2009.
“Heck, everybody would love to retire like Ray [Lewis] and [Michael] Strahan, right?” Allen said. “Win a Super Bowl and call it quits. So that’ll be on my mind, and that’ll definitely be a place when you get older, like I said, the later you get in your career that becomes more the main focus of how do you get to a championship.”
Here's the injury update from both teams:
Vikings: LB Audie Cole (ankle), RB Toby Gerhart (hamstring), DT Letroy Guion (quadriceps) and CB Shaun Prater (ankle) and G Charlie Johnson (not injury related) did not practice Thursday. RB Adrian Peterson (groin/foot), RB Matt Asiata (ankle), LB Larry Dean (knee), DT Fred Evans (knee), CB Chris Cook (knee), S Harrison Smith (foot/groin) and CB Xavier Rhodes (ankle) were limited participants. FB Jerome Felton (knee), G Brandon Fusco (knee), WR Cordarrelle Patterson (chest) and CB Marcus Sherels (shoulder) were full participants.
Lions: TE Dorin Dickerson (concussion) and TE Brandon Pettigrew (ankle) went on injured reserve. CB Bill Bentley (concussion), S Louis Delmas (knee), WR Calvin Johnson (knee), LB DeAndre Levy (foot), S John Wendling (ankle), CB Chris Houston (toe), G Dylan Gandy (illness) and T LaAdrian Waddle (ankle) did not practice. S Louis Delmas, RB Joique Bell (knee), CB Jonte Green (shoulder), DE Israel Idonije (neck) and CB Darius Slay (knee) were limited participants.
At 4-10-1 and coming off a lackluster 42-14 loss at Cincinnati, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier decided today was the time to address his job status with his players.
"It's like the elephant in the room," Frazier said when asked why he chose today to bring it up in a team meeting. "I just felt like I needed to get that addressed. Looking back at it, I probably should have dealt with it a week ago. I don't want those guys to be distracted. I want them to focus on the opponent. I felt like we got a little distracted last week. I want to make sure that we're all focused on one thing and that's winning this game against Detroit."
Frazier is 20-33-1 heading into Sunday's game at Mall of America Field. His contract runs through the 2014 season, but NFL coaches typically don't coach in what would be a lame-duck season. And Frazier obviously isn't in position to receive a contract extension.
Quarterback Matt Cassel said he didn't think the team was distracted by Frazier's contract status.
"I didn't sense that at all," he said. "I think the last game came down to pure execution. We didn't execute and it showed on third down and throughout the course of the game. We had [four] turnovers. Obviously, myself, I have to do a better job of taking care of the football. We just have to play better football."
Linebacker Erin Henderson said Frazier's comments weren't necessary.
"That was just something he wanted to do, that he felt was necessary," Henderson said. "We just go out and play football and control what we can control. [Frazier’s job status] is something that’s very far from our hands. We’re just focusing on Detroit."
Linebacker Chad Greenway also said it wasn't a significant distraction.
"Maybe it is from the perspective of answering questions and stuff like that for him," Greenway said. "But for us, we have jobs to fight for too so we’re trying to do our job as well we can."
Gerhart looking doubtful for Sunday: In other news, Frazier said it's looking doubtful that running back Toby Gerhart (hamstring) will play on Sunday in what could be his final game as a Viking. Neither Gerhart nor Adrian Peterson (foot/groin) will practice today. But Frazier was expecting cornerback Xavier Rhodes (ankle) to practice today. Rhodes has missed the past two games because of an ankle sprain.
Also not practicing today were Harrison Smith, cornerback Shaun Prater, linebacker Larry Dean, linebacker Audie Cole and nose tackles Fred Evans and Letroy Guion.
The Vikings will issue their first injury report of the week on Wednesday.
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