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.
First, Adrian Peterson runs for 2,097 yards a year after having major knee surgery. Then he does something almost as amazing: Getting 50 reporters from theNFL media world to agree on something.
All 50 members of the Associated Press' All-Pro selection committee, including myself, picked Peterson for their All-Pro team. The only other unanimous All-Pro selection was Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, an NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate with 20.5 sacks and 16 pass deflections. Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, who had 122 catches for an NFL-record 1,964 yards, fell one vote short of a unanimous selection.
Meanwhile, Vikings rookie kicker Blair Walsh was named to the first team with 42 votes. Vikings fullback Jerome Felton and outside linebacker Chad Greenway were named to the second team.
Felton got 12 votes and finished behind Ravens fullback Vonta Leach, who received 26. Greenway received only two votes, which was enough to earn second team behind first-teamers Von Viller of Denver (48 votes) and Aldon Smith of San Francisco (47). The other second-team outside linebackers -- Green Bay's Clay Matthews, Dallas' DeMarcus Ware and San Francisco's Ahmad Brooks -- each received one vote.
At quarterback, Peyton Manning earned first team with 43 votes. Aaron Rodgers made second team with only four votes. Tom Brady received only three votes.
Vikings center John Sullivan was thought to have a shot at one of the top two teams, but fell short. Seattle's Max Unger made first team with 16 votes, while Pittsburgh's Maurkice Pouncey was second team with 10 votes.
Sullivan received seven votes, which tied him for third. Here's the breakdown of votes by position.
Most NFL players love being picked for the Pro Bowl, but hate actually playing in the Pro Bowl. So alternates tend to have a very good chance of ending up in the game.
The Vikings have three alternates. They are linebacker Chad Greenway, who made his Pro Bowl debut last year; rookie left tackle Matt Kalil; and center John Sullivan, who would be making his first appearance.
Greenway's Pro Bowl debut came when he had 174 tackles a year ago. This year, he's even better with more big plays, not to mention a career-high and team-leading 181 tackles. He'll finish as the team's leading tackler for the fifth straight season, second-longest in team history behind the six straight years that Scott Studwell led the team in tackles.
Kalil has started all 15 games and hasn't had his name mentioned much in a long time. Unlike rookie QBs Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck, not getting noticed sort of defines outstanding play for a rookie left tackle.
If Sullivan gets in, it would be his first Pro Bowl in a five-year career that's saw him go from being a sometimes overmatched smallish late-round draft pick early on to a legitimate long-term answer as Matt Birk's replacement. A Pro Bowl berth for Sullivan also would be a deserving feat considering he's the best and most consistent linemen on a team that has a running back that's 102 yards from becoming the seventh player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards.
Yesterday, it was announced the defensive end Jared Allen, kicker Blair Walsh, fullback Jerome Felton and running back Adrian Peterson had been voted into the Pro Bowl.
Chris Cook is looking for redemption Sunday when the Vikings meet the Packers.
The Vikings’ third year cornerback was torched during his rookie season by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Cook, coming off early season arthroscopic surgery on both knees, was pulled by coach Brad Childress after Rodgers lit up the visiting Vikings for 166 passing yards in the first quarter of a 28-24 victory on Oct. 24, 2010.
Things got worse six weeks later when the Packers beat the Vikings 31-3 at the Metrodome. Cook gave up receptions of 47 and 39 yards to James Jones, and was pulled by Childress after Jones caught a 3-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Cook was yelled at by teammate Ray Edwards on the sideline, and after the game both Cook and cornerback Asher Allen were criticized by teammates.
Childress was fired the next day.
Cook missed both meetings last season after an arrest for domestic assault on the eve of the first Packers game, which he spent in jail. He was inactive for the rest of the season, and missed the Vikings’ 23-14 loss to the Packers two weeks ago because of a broken arm.
“I’ve been looking forward to this game,” Cook said. “My rookie year, I was coming off both my knee surgeries, and they were picking on me – a lot. I expected that coming off two knee surgeries. But I don’t have knee problems now, so we’ll see how it goes this week.”
Cook said Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL.
“He’s Brett Favre-like, but I feel he makes better decisions at times,” said Cook. “He’s crazy accurate, that’s the thing that stands out. He can put balls in places the other guys can’t put it in. It’s amazing to me to me. Every time I watch him I think, man, this guy, he’s great.”
Houston running back Arian Foster bought Segways for his offensive linemen, so the question about what Adrian Peterson will do for his offensive line has been bandied about at Winter Park.
“We’ll see how it all plays out, how many yards he gets, when we win the game,” said center John Sullivan. “All I’m hoping for is a good performance from him and our offense and our entire team. The playoff berth is all we reaIly care about. I don’t really care about presents. I’m not too focused on that right now.”
Robison, Winfield ready
Defensive end Brian Robison (sprained shoulder) missed the Vikings’ 23-6 victory over the Texans on Sunday, which was doubly troubling to him because he played college football at Texas. He expects to play Sunday against the Packers.
“I’m doing much better, doing a lot of stuff hard in the rehab room, just trying to get it back,” Robison said. “I feel like I got a good range of motion, it’s just getting the strength back in it.”
Cornerback Antoine Winfield, who fractured a bone in his right index finger, expects to play Sunday with his right hand padded.
The Pro Bowl rosters will be announced tonight, and Vikings rookie kicker Blair Walsh has an outside chance of making the NFC team. Walsh has an NFL record nine field goals of 50 yards or longer.
“It’s one of those things where it happens, it’s awesome, if it doesn’t happen, keep on pushing,” Walsh said. “I’m more focused on what I have to do in practice. Accolades are great and all, but this game is more important.”
After a poor senior season at Georgia, it was a bit of a surprise when the Walsh was drafted by the Vikings in the sixth round. He has made 32 of 35 field goal attempts, however, and all 32 conversion attempts.
“I knew I was capable of doing it from the start,” Walsh said. “The biggest surprise is the number of attempts we’ve gotten. Thirty-five attempts is a lot. It’s a different beast at this level, each kick is so important, it matters so much when the game is so close.”
Veteran Ryan Longwell, who was cut to make room for Walsh, tweeted his support for Walsh’s Pro Bowl candidacy on Sunday.
“It was one of the most humbling things I’ve ever had said about me by anyone,” Walsh said. “My response was 100 percent truthful -- guys like him have set the bar for other kickers who come in the league, and they hold us to a higher standards, and we try to emulate careers like his.”
The Vikings signed tight end Chase Ford to their practice squad. Ford, a rookie from Miami, has been on both the Philadelphia and Dallas practice squads this season. Tight end Allen Reisner, who has been on and off the Vikings’ roster the past two years, was claimed by Jacksonville after the Vikings cut him on Saturday. The Jaguars also signed guard Mark Asper, who had been waived by the Vikings.
Adrian Peterson’s quest for the NFL rushing record has taken center stage. But there is another pretty good running back to watch in this weekend’s Vikings game: Arian Foster.
Entering this week’s games Peterson has a league-best 1,812 rushing yards, and is within Eric Dickerson’s NFL-record 2,105. But Foster, who first came to the Texans as an undrafted free agent, has put up some strong numbers, too.
Foster is fourth in the league with 1,313 yards. Now, to show just how much Peterson has lapped the field this season, those 1,313 are precisely the same number Peterson has had since Week 7.
Still, Foster’s numbers are impressive. His 1,493 yards from scrimmage is fifth in the league – Peterson’s 2,023 is No. 1 – and if Foster scores a TD this week he will become the sixth player in NFL history to score 50 TDs in his first 50 NFL games.
“The scheme they run really fits what he does well,” Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway said of Foster. "He’s really patient, good at finding cut-back lanes. They throw the ball well out of the play-action game and bootleg game, and that serves Foster well in the run game as well.”
The Vikings have seen their share of good running backs this season, going up against five of the top 10 NFL rushers this season in Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch (second), Washington’s Alfred Morris (third), Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin (fifth), Tennessee’s Chris Johnson (seventh) and Frank Gore of San Francisco (ninth). Lynch ran for 124 yards, Morris had 57, Martin 135, Johnson 24 and Gore 63.
And now they get Foster.
Houston coach Gary Kubiak said he saw some similarities between Foster and Peterson.
“The thing about Adrian is that he has the home run speed,” Kubiak said. “Arian is one of those guys where it seems, the more he carries it, the stronger he gets. These are two guys who, the more they touch it, the more difficult it is to tackle them. Just two great players.”
(Almost) no comment
Christian Ponder’s marriage was not something many Vikings players wanted to discuss in the locker room.
Some, like center John Sullivan and guard Brandon Fusco, simply changed the subject.
“My focus right now is just going and grabbing some lunch and relaxing before practice,” safety Mistral Raymond said. “That should be dealt with somewhere else.”
Fullback Raymond Felton said he heard about it in the media like everybody else. Reaction? “I congratulated him,” Felton said. “Several people have congratulated him. So, obviously, whatever makes him happy we want that for him. It was a big day for him, and we’re happy for him.”
Of course, if anyone was going to have a little fun about the situation, it was punter Chris Kluwe, who wondered openly where he might find a gift registry. As for the present he planned on buying?
“Maybe a tea cozy,” he said.
Wins, not records
After winning NFC special teams player of the week honors for the second time this season, Vikings kicker Blair Walsh talked about winning, not records.
Specifically when he was asked whether he thought about making the Pro Bowl in this, his rookie season. “Yeah, it would be awesome, but that’s not my main goal right now.”
Walsh hit all five of his field goals last week, three in the 50-yards-plus range. He is now 8-for-8 from that distance, which ties him with Morten Andersen and Jason Hanson for most field goals of 50 or more yards in a season. He is one away from holding that record alone.
“I’m just wishing we win,” Walsh said. “I don’t’ care about the records. My whole deal with the records is that they’re meant to be broken. It would be nice to have, but I’d rather win.”
Walsh is 29-for-32 on field goals this season and is fourth in the NFC in scoring among kickers. He said the snap and hold has been perfect for every attempt this season, and that his three misses were entirely his fault.
So the question is, in a dome, in ideal circumstances, what does he think his limit is? “I think 65 (yards) and in I can at least give it a realistic shot,” he said.
Doing his part
Felton said he, along with the linemen and the rest of the team, are pulling for Peterson to break Dickerson’s record. But will he feel he earned a part of that record should it happen?
“A little bit,” he said. “I’ll be able to tell my grandkids about it. So, obviously, I think it’s important for our whole team. And the most important thing is getting wins. But when Adrian is successful that helps our team. That’s what we’re focused on.”
Meanwhile, it appears the work Felton has done has probably put to rest the question of whether Peterson prefers a fullback or running out of one-back sets. Felton said he’d seen a stat that indicated the Vikings gain better than 7 yards per rush with a fullback and 3-plus yards out of one-back sets.
The word is out: Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder is now a married man.
Signed, sealed, delivered.
A day after the Vikings scored a decisive 36-22 win in St. Louis, Ponder used part of his “Victory Monday” to venture to a courthouse in Hudson, Wisc., where he tied the knot with ESPN reporter Samantha Steele.
Ponder’s hope in taking the nuptials into Wisconsin?
“We tried to limit the attention on us,” he said during his regular weekly press conference Wednesday.
Well, so much for that.
This is, of course, another odd twist in a high-profile relationship that began earlier this season. And Ponder no longer has any hope of dodging the barrage of public attention that inevitably comes with this news.
Word of the marriage spread across the Internet early Wednesday, prompting the expected outside speculation and rush to judgment.
Certainly, the timing is peculiar. The marriage comes during a week in which the Vikings are facing a stiff road test in Houston, a game that will have huge ramifications on their playoff hopes. And Ponder himself continues to refer to this weekend’s game as the biggest of the year and of his career. So he was asked Wednesday why he chose this week to legally complete his union with Steele.
“It was important for us to get it done before the holidays,” he said. “A lot of personal reasons that went in to it.”
Ponder insisted that his marriage this week, a quick and easy legal procedure that went down without any family or friends, would not be a distraction.
“It hasn’t deterred from what I did with my routine every Monday and Tuesday,” Ponder said. “I was in here and got my film work in. And obviously, it was a big deal. But it wasn’t a distraction at all.”
To lighten the mood, one reporter asked Ponder how tying the knot with Steele compared with being drafted in the first round in 2011. Ponder laughed.
“That’s a tough question,” he replied. “I mean I liked being drafted No. 1. We’ll see how this marriage thing goes.”
Center John Sullivan, a close friend of Ponder’s, refused to answer any questions about his quarterback’s marriage. “Just focused on Houston,” he said.
As for coach Leslie Frazier, he was asked whether he received an invite to the wedding. Frazier, too, seemed uncomfortable answering questions on Ponder’s personal life.
“I’m happy for him,” Frazier said. “Happy that he’s no longer single. I mean, he’s a young man. I’m sure he put a lot of thought in it and consulted with the right people. So, I’m happy for him. … I knew it was on the radar. Didn’t know when. So he got it done.”
Ponder blushed throughout his discussion of the event. Certainly, he had to know that a move of the magnitude was going to draw significant attention, didn’t he?
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