Erin Henderson dressed, but he didn’t play a down in the Vikings’ 23-20 victory over the Bears on Sunday at Mall of America Field.
Henderson was the starting middle linebacker two weeks ago, but after missing a game because of personal reasons, he was a spectator Sunday as Audie Cole took over and played the entire game. Cole finished third on the team with nine tackles and had another impressive performance that has assured him of lots of playing time in the season’s final month.
“I can’t say today if this is for the rest of the season, but we’ll talk about it some more,” coach Leslie Frazier said Monday of the switch. “But he’s playing.”
Frazier won’t decide until Wednesday who will start at middle linebacker, but Cole’s play Sunday kept Henderson on the bench.
“Even though we gave up some yards, [we] did a great job of keeping the points down, great job on third down,” Frazier said. “Just liked the way [Cole] was leading out there.”
Henderson moved to middle linebacker this season after starting as an outside linebacker in 2012. Frazier said Monday he would consider getting both Cole and Henderson on the field at the same time during the Vikings’ final four games.
Henderson missed the Vikings’ tie at Green Bay on Nov. 24 for personal reasons that he said were not related to his arrest on suspicion of drunken driving and possession of a controlled substance on Nov. 19 in Eden Prairie.
Frazier said he planned to speak to cornerback Chris Cook about his ejection during the third quarter of Sunday’s game. After being beaten for the second time in the quarter by Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery for a touchdown catch, Cook made contact with side judge Laird Hayes.
“You’re going to get beat sometimes in the NFL as a corner,” Frazier said. “The best do, so you’ve got to be able to handle it the right way and there is a way to handle it. He knows that.”
Jeffery’s first touchdown was an 80-yard catch-and-run during which he beat Cook out of the slot on a pass from Josh McCown. On the second, Jeffery leapt over Cook for a 46-yard scoring play.
Cook has played in 31 games as a Viking and has no interceptions. He also has missed 29 games because of injuries and legal troubles.
The Vikings have allowed 34 sacks this season (10th most in the NFL), but 11 have come in the past two games.
Quarterbacks Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel were sacked a combined five times Sunday, a stat that concerns Frazier.
“Any time your quarterback is getting hit, it causes problems for him where if he’s not careful he’s going to start getting happy feet and not going through his progressions,” Frazier said.
Ponder was sacked three times on third down before he left the game because of a concussion. Frazier said those sacks were a result of blocking assignment errors, but not every sack has been the offensive line’s fault.
“Sometimes our tight ends are involved, sometimes our running back, sometimes our quarterback holding the ball too long and not stepping in the right direction,” Frazier said. “So there are some things that we’ve got to get corrected, because 11 sacks in two ballgames, that’s a lot.”
Frazier said he has replayed Blair Walsh’s game-winning 34-yard field with 1:43 left in overtime in his mind, but not a previous 39-yard kick that was nullified because of a penalty.
Tight end Rhett Ellison was called for a facemask penalty with 8:04 left in overtime that wiped out Walsh’s kick on third down. After the smoke cleared from the celebratory fireworks and the flag runners sprinted off the field, Walsh missed a 57-yard field goal attempt two plays later.
“It was a good call,” Frazier said. “[Ellison] held on to the facemask. Maybe if he lets it go, they might not call it. But he held on to that facemask too long.”
Cordarrelle Patterson played a season-high 48 snaps and displayed the same versatility for which he was known at Tennessee. He became the first Vikings rookie to score a touchdown in three different ways (rushing, receiving and kickoff return) after a 33-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
Patterson has more than 40 snaps in three consecutive games (all starts) after beginning the season in a limited offensive role behind wide receiver Jerome Simpson.
“The fact that we’ve built a foundation a while back in the OTAs and training camp early in the season getting him up to speed on the NFL game and the coverages and what we try to do from week to week game-plan-wise,” Frazier said. “And now to see the fruit of our labor beginning to show up, it’s great.”