Dan Wiederer began covering the Vikings in 2011, enthusiastically delivering insight on the team across the Star Tribune's print and digital products. Prior to joining the Access Vikings team, he spent seven seasons covering ACC basketball at The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer. He also covered the Chicago Bears in 2003 and 2004. Follow him on Twitter @StribDW.
Mark Craig has covered football and the NFL the past 20 years, including the Browns from 1991-95 and the Vikings and the NFL since 2003. Since 2008, Craig has served as one of the 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. He can be followed on Twitter at @markcraignfl.
Five thoughts while the Vikings were losing to the Bucs 36-17 on Thursday night at Mall of America Field:
1. Just run the ball
After starting the game with three consecutive three-and-outs in which Christian Ponder went a combined 0-for-5, the Vikings finally — finally! — turned to Adrian Peterson on back-to-back carries. He ran for 11 yards. And then he ran for 11 more to the Minnesota 42. Both times right up the middle. On the next play? Drop back with Ponder scrambling to get back to the line of scrimmage. On the play after that? A short pass to Jerome Simpson — Ponder’s first completion of the game — for a 4-yard gain and a fumble. The first half ended with Ponder dropping back to pass 20 times and Peterson running 10 times. This team isn’t built to win that way. At least not until they draft an elite receiver to team with Percy Harvin.
2. Boos for Kluwe
Fans definitely weren’t yelling “Klooowe” when punter Chris Kluwe left the field after two of the worst back-to-back punts he’s had in his stellar eight-year career. The first was a 20-yard shank out of bounds. The second was a sickly 39-yarder that was muffed and ended up as a 35-yard net. With two short fields, including one start at the Vikings’ 48-yard line, the Bucs were able to jump out to a 10-0 lead before the Vikings registered their first first down of the game. Ouch.
3. Talk about a buzzkill
Jared Allen’s seventh sack of the season had the Metrodome as loud and as rabid as it has been since the 2009 Monday nighter against Green Bay. It came with 3:15 left in the third quarter, one play after he had his helmet ripped off and the bridge of his nose bloodied in an altercation with left tackle Donald Penn, a former Vikings’ practice squad player. Allen was penalized for hands to the facemask, while Penn was flagged for unnecessary roughness. After some colorful language on both sides, some bickering amongst the Bucs’ linemen and a Tampa Bay time out to try and quiet the crowd, the 270-pound Allen bullrushed the 340-pound Penn backward and then had an open lane to the quarterback when Josh Freeman had to step up to avoid Everson Griffen’s inside rush. But the mood inside the dome died quickly three plays later when center John Sullivan bounced a shotgun snap off Christian Ponder’s left ankle. Ponder, who didn’t appear ready for the snap, fell on the ball and the Vikings punted. Talk about deflating a prime opportunity.
4. Vikes help Bucs cure third-down woes
The Bucs went into Thursday’s game ranked 30th in the league in third-down conversions. They had converted just 29.2 percent of them (21 of 72). But they sure didn’t look that pitiful on the fourth-quarter drive that KO’d the Vikings with a touchdown and a 36-17 deficit with 7 minutes, 3 seconds left in the game. The Bucs converted all five third-down situations while going 87 yards in 16 plays and 9:09 of clock time. Freeman completed a 14-yarder to Vincent Jackson on third-and-6, a 12-yarder to Tiquan Underwood on third-and-10, a 34-yarder to Mike Williams on third-and-10 and an 11-yarder to Williams on third-and-9. Running back Doug Martin took it from there, scoring on third-and-goal from the 1.
5. Where’s the tight end-friendly offense?
Whatever happened to Ponder’s so-called security blanket. You know, Kyle Rudolph? Giant catch radius? Big, soft bucket-sized hands? The guy who caught two touchdowns in the Week 3 upset of the 49ers? Suddenly, coordinator Bill Musgrave’s tight end-friendly offense isn’t so kind to Rudolph. After going without a catch last week against Arizona, Rudolph had only two catches for 17 yards, including a 5-yarder with less than 2 minutes left against the Bucs. There are a lot of things to fix with this offense, starting with getting Ponder’s head right again. And the player Ponder is most comfortable throwing to and moving the chains with is his big friend from Notre Dame.
Vikings outside linebacker Erin Henderson missed practice because of a concussion that presumably was sustained in Sunday's loss at Indianapolis. He'll have to pass the NFL-mandated post-concussion tests before being allowed back onto the field.
Center John Sullivan (ankle) was limited in practice. Everyone else had full participation, according to today's injury report.
Defensive starters Chris Cook (biceps) and Brian Robison (elbow) were among six other players on the injury report that had full participation. The other four -- safety Andrew Sendejo, tight end Rhett Ellison, linebacker Marvin Mitchell and receiver Jarius Wright -- have ankle injuries.
The Vikings offense is sure catching some big breaks early in the season. Last week, the Vikings had a chance to face a Jaguars defense that was without top linebacker Daryl Smith and established cornerback Derek Cox. Today, the Vikings have received word that Colts rush linebacker Dwight Freeney won't play in Sunday's Week 2 game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Freeney suffered a high ankle sprain early in last weekend's 41-21 loss in Chicago and did not practice this week.
That will leave the Colts short-handed again, a week after giving up 428 total yards to the Bears. Earlier this week, Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano said that Jerry Hughes, Mario Addison and Justin Hickman would all be Plan B options at outside linebacker if Freeney couldn't play.
Said Vikings coach Leslie Frazier after Friday's practice: "Dwight Freeney has been a special player in our league for a long time ... So we'll adjust accordingly."
The Vikings have few injury worries at this stage. Only two players are listed on the official injury report as questionable. Linebacker Marvin Mitchell and receiver Jarius Wright are both still working back from ankle injuries they suffered in the preseason finale two weeks ago in Houston.
Probable for the Vikings this week are center John Sullivan (ankle), running back Adrian Peterson (knee), cornerback Chris Cook (biceps), cornerback Josh Robinson (hip), tight end Rhett Ellison (ankle) and safety Andrew Sendejo (ankle).
On the Colts injury report guard Joe Reitz (knee) and linebacker Pat Angerer (foot) are listed as out. Receiver Austin Collie (head) is doubtful. Receiver T.Y. Hilton (shoulder) is questionable. Offensive tackle Winston Justice (concussion) is probable.
Center John Sullivan was given a day to rest his injured ankle, but is expected to practice Friday and play in Sunday's game at Indianapolis, coach Leslie Frazier said after practice today.
"He was sore after the game [on Sunday] and was limited [Wednesday], so we felt it would be wise to give him a day to rest," Frazier said.
Cornerback Antoine Winfield also missed practice to attend the funeral of his younger brother, Anthony Travis, who was shot and killed in Akron, Ohio last week. Winfield is expected to practice on Friday.
Meanwhile, cornerback Chris Cook, who was limited on Wednesday because of a biceps injury, had full participation today. Linebacker Marvin Mitchell (ankle), safety Andrew Sendejo (ankle) and receiver Jarius Wright (ankle) all were limited in practice today.
If for some reason Sullivan can't play, he would be replaced by veteran Joe Berger, who filled in capably as a starter at all three interior positions during last season.
Meanwhile, from the Colts' injury report following today's practice:
|Vikings (3324)||AFC (80)|
|Bears (393)||Ex-Vikings (37)|
|Football on TV (45)||Lions (297)|
|NFC (1237)||NFL draft (232)|
|NFL post-season (28)||Packers (437)|
|Super Bowl (222)||Vikings coaches (62)|
|Vikings defense (225)||Vikings fans (108)|
|Vikings injury report (248)||Vikings management (25)|
|Vikings off the field (246)||Vikings offense (316)|
|Vikings quarterbacks (219)||Vikings road games (61)|
|Vikings rookies (23)||Vikings roster moves (30)|
|Vikings special teams (34)||Vikings training camp (124)|
|Injury report (304)||Off the field (122)|
|On the road (73)||Quarterbacks (281)|
|Rookies (72)||Roster moves (15)|
|The draft (283)||Trade talk (2)|
|Vikings players (696)||Adrian Peterson (826)|
|Anthony Herrera (161)||Antoine Winfield (407)|
|Ben Leber (97)||Bernard Berrian (213)|
|Bobby Wade (16)||Brad Childress (634)|
|Brett Favre (802)||Brian Robison (148)|
|Bryant McKinnie (106)||Cedric Griffin (194)|
|Chad Greenway (174)||Chester Taylor (79)|
|Chris Kluwe (114)||Darrell Bevell (109)|
|E.J. Henderson (182)||Heath Farwell (49)|
|Jared Allen (361)||John Sullivan (188)|
|Kevin Williams (188)||Leslie Frazier (800)|
|Madieu Williams (78)||Pat Williams (150)|
|Percy Harvin (665)||Phil Loadholt (145)|
|Ray Edwards (172)||Ryan Longwell (145)|
|Sage Rosenfels (102)||Sidney Rice (271)|
|Steve Hutchinson (188)||Tarvaris Jackson (169)|
|Tyrell Johnson (151)||Visanthe Shiancoe (216)|
|Brad Childress (638)||Darrell Bevell (110)|
|Leslie Frazier (805)||Lynx (1)|