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.
It's official: Percy Harvin will not play Sunday in Green Bay.
After declaring Harvin doubtful on Friday's injury report, the Vikings have now downgraded their top receiver to out, leaving them short-handed once again heading into a key divisional game on the road.
Harvin hasn't played since spraining his left ankle during a 30-20 loss in Seattle on Nov. 4. He has practiced just once since, a limited effort Wednesday that did not produce the positive signs the Vikings wanted to see. Harvin is still having difficulty pushing off and cutting and has not made the recovery progress that was hoped for.
Harvin, who has 62 catches for 677 yards and three touchdowns this season, missed only three game in his first three NFL seasons -- one as a rookie in 2009 and two more the following year. Now he will miss his third consecutive game with the Vikings in the middle of a treacherous schedule.
Sunday's road game against the Packers will be the Vikings' third of four consecutive NFC North games. They beat Detroit 34-24 at home on Nov. 11, then absorbed a 28-10 beating in Chicago last Sunday.
At 6-5, the Vikings are still alive in the chase for an NFC playoff berth. But trying to steal a road win without their top receiver will be a major challenge. Since the start of the 2010 season, the Vikings are 5-16 in true road games.
Harvin's absence will open up additional opportunity for rookie receiver Jarius Wright. A fourth-round pick out of Arkansas, Wright has contributed 10 catches for 114 yards and a touchdown the last two weeks, earning additional trust from the coaching staff to become a bigger part of the offensive attack.
Said Leslie Frazier: "You can see it in practice. We’re relying on him a little bit more in some of the things we’re doing. We’re actually putting in some plays directly for him because of the confidence he’s shown and the confidence we’ve developed in him.”
A lot has already been said and written about the Vikings’ lackluster 28-10 loss in Chicago on Sunday. And until the Vikings flip the page this weekend in Green Bay, a whole lot more will be said and written about what all went wrong.
But perhaps the simple solution to ceasing all the frantic discussion is with this simple recognition: Chicago is undeniably a better team than the Vikings in all three phases. Done and done.
Still, the Vikings’ failed to light the wick for their upset bid at Soldier Field in big part because they delivered a dud effort offensively in the first half, falling behind 25-3 and never getting back on track. The Vikings had seven possessions before halftime and did next to nothing with any of them.
Just like that, they were buried on the road.
Here’s a snapshot of how the first half in Chicago fell apart offensively.
Three plays, 4 yards
Time of possession: 1:48
End result: Punt
Place the blame on: Right guard Brandon Fusco
Worst mistake: On the first play, with an empty backfield and five receivers spread wide, Christian Ponder had barely caught the shotgun snap when he was devoured by Henry Melton for a 9-yard sack. Melton used a basic swim move to slither past Fusco. Center John Sullivan failed to redirect Melton as well. And that was that. Facing second-and-19 and third-and-18, the offense had little chance to make up for the offensive line’s malfunction.
Four plays, 6 yards
Time of possession: 0:50
End result: Field goal
Place the blame on: Receiver Jerome Simpson
Worst mistake: A Chad Greenway fumble recovery put the Vikings in ideal position to deliver an early uppercut. Taking over at the Chicago 28 should have been just the kind of jolt the Vikings needed to jumpstart their day. Instead, on third-and-4, Christian Ponder’s slant dart to Simpson hit the inconsistent receiver in the hands, then hit the ground. Opportunity squandered.
One play, 1 yard
Time of possession: 0:06
End result: Fumble
Place the blame on: Running back Adrian Peterson
Worst mistake: Peterson was simply carrying the ball too loose and light contact from linebacker Nick Roach jarred it loose. Peterson lost control of the football, the first of his two fumbles on the day and an indication that Peterson might not have had his usual focus. Don’t forget, he also missed the team bus from the hotel to the game and had to take a taxi to Soldier Field.
Three plays, 9 yards
Time of possession: 1:32
End result: Punt
Place the blame on: Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave
Worst mistake: After a 1-yard completion to Simpson on first down, it’s hard to know what the objective was on second-and-9. Musgrave went with two tight ends but kept both Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson in as blockers. That left the Vikings with Simpson trying to get open against Tillman and Michael Jenkins working against Tim Jennings. Jenkins wasn’t even out of his break yet when Ponder bolted from the pocket and rolled right – signs of the receiver’s lack of speed and the quarterback’s impatience. Eventually, Ponder threw the ball out of bounds. A third down completion to Jarius Wright on a drag route netted 8 yards but not enough for a first down.
Nine plays, 53 yards
Time of possession: 3:32
End result: Blocked field goal
Place the blame on: Receiver Jarius Wright
Worst mistake: Technically, you could easily point the finger at Fusco and Phil Loadholt, who both failed to slow the push of Julius Peppers on Blair Walsh’s 30-yard field goal attempt. Peppers blocked that kick. But the Vikings were only left to attempt that after stalling inside the red zone. Most confounding: on second-and-4 from the Chicago 12, Musgrave called in a play that seemed to show his desperation with Percy Harvin out and no other reliable receivers to turn to. Instead, the Vikings only had one receiver on the field: Wright, a rookie, who didn’t really do anything wrong but couldn’t get open in the middle of Chicago’s zone. The Vikings had four other potential pass catchers on the play, including three tight ends. But John Carlson was slow getting off the line, was only 2 yards down field when the pocket began to cave and was knocked off his path by Lance Briggs. Rhett Ellison was still early in his route and Kyle Rudolph was never open. Ponder ended up under-handing an incompletion out of bounds just to avoid a sack.
Five plays, 14 yards
Time of possession: 2:06
End result: Interception
Place the blame on: Quarterback Christian Ponder
Worst mistake: On an afternoon where Ponder never seemed settled and his pocket poise was absent, his worst throw cost the Vikings dearly. On a second-and-10 from the Vikings 25, Ponder felt pressure from Nate Collins and tried to gun a pass to Devin Aromashodu on a dig route 18 yards down the field. But Ponder’s pass sailed way over Aromashodu’s head and hit Bears safety Chris Conte right in the numbers. Conte returned the ball to the 13. And Chicago scored on the very next play. Ponder said after the game that he has to learn not to force the ball downfield. But in truth, the throw was far more worrisome than the decision. Also worth noting: Collins stunted and ran right over Fusco, who had been beaten a play earlier by Israel Idonije.
Three plays, 5 yards
Time of possession: 0:27
End result: Punt
Place the blame on: Ponder
Worst mistake: After taking possession with 1:48 left before halftime, the Vikings inability to run more than 27 seconds off the clock before punting was inexcusable. On first down, Ponder had no one open and skipped a pass in the direction of Wright. On second down, Ponder got pressure from Shea McClellin and airmailed Rudolph on a deep ball down the seam. On third down, Ponder settled for a 5-yard safety valve completion to Wright. The Vikings’ third three-and-out of the day was a fitting way to end the half.
What else would you rather do on a Friday morning than watch a poor man swing away at his weekly NFL Picks and Power Rankings? We’ll even throw in some extra purple with Three Reasons for Optimism and Three Reasons to Go `Uh-Oh.’
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