Of course, Mike Wallace is frustrated by his recent disappearing act. What NFL wide receiver, especially a former Pro Bowl player, would be completely content with one catch in two games?
But Wallace knows the fans, the media and probably even some of his Vikings coaches and teammates are eyeing him up, watching to see if the Mike Wallace who was run out of Miami, the one who fairly or not was labeled as a selfish teammate, finally emerges.
So far, though, that Wallace has also been nowhere to be found here.
Midway through his first season in Minnesota, the statistic that Wallace is quickest to point out when a microphone is shoved toward his expressionless mug is the Vikings’ first-place record. In a recent conversation, half of his comments ended with a variation of “We’re 6-2 and that’s all that matters.” His production, he insists, is secondary.
“When you play football, you always want to do well and make big plays,” the 29-year-old speedster said. “But you can only control what you can control. I’ll have my time.”
In recent weeks, rookie Stefon Diggs soared past Wallace to lead the Vikings in receptions and receiving yards. And Wallace is still stuck on one touchdown catch.
Wallace did not record a reception in the Week 8 victory over the Chicago Bears. And in last week’s overtime win over the St. Louis Rams, he caught just one pass for 4 yards. During that two-game span, nine other Vikings had more receptions than Wallace even though he was targeted 10 times, tops among the pass-catchers not named Diggs.
Wallace dropped a pair of passes in the Bears victory. But the biggest missed opportunity, the one that sums up Wallace’s recent stretch, was the deep ball quarterback Teddy Bridgewater sailed over his head when Wallace was alone behind the Bears secondary.
“Those are big plays when you hit those. That’s kind of what people expect. Things would be viewed a little bit different [if that pass had been completed],” Wallace said. “But at the end of the day, I’m doing what I’m being asked to do and we’re winning.”
So what exactly is Wallace being asked to do? Mostly, he has been a $10 million decoy.
During their four-game winning streak, the Vikings have had more rushing attempts than passes. So Wallace, one of the league’s most feared deep threats, has been doing a lot of downfield blocking for Adrian Peterson and Co. And when they have thrown the ball, only 10.3 of Bridgewater’s pass attempts traveled at least 20 yards past the line of scrimmage, per Pro Football Focus.
Wallace, who grumbled about missed opportunities downfield while playing with Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, is actually being targeted less frequently deep by Bridgewater. Wallace has been targeted 20 or more yards downfield only eight times this season. Just one of those passes was completed, for a gain of 22 yards.
So yeah, Wallace would like to chase after more deep balls. But he said that doesn’t mean he marches into Norv Turner’s office and demands that the offensive coordinator chuck it deep more often.
“I’d probably own the team if I could do whatever I wanted,” Wallace said. “That’s just not the way it goes. I’m doing what I’m asked to do. We have half a season left and hopefully some playoff games, so we have a long way to go until it’s all said and done.”
‘Just keep working’
Turner concedes that the Vikings “haven’t been giving him [Wallace] enough opportunities,” but that’s because they are relying on their second-ranked scoring defense and the NFL’s leading rusher to win games.
“I think his production will go up when we need it to,” Turner said.
Wallace got used to playing in the postseason during his early years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, so he has said that he spoke his mind in Miami because the Dolphins weren’t winning. His lack of production on a winning team here will put that explanation to the test. But so far, coach Mike Zimmer insists Wallace has not been a problem.
“I talk to him all the time. He’s good. I think he likes winning, he likes competing,” Zimmer said. “Yeah, I’m sure he wants the ball more. But like I told him, ‘Just keep working and things will happen.’ ”
Wallace is on pace for career lows in catches, receiving yards and yards per reception in what could be his only season in Minnesota. But he believes he is close to clicking with his quarterback and that he will make major contributions down the stretch.
“I think we’ll be fine. We have a whole half of a season left to go. That’s a long way to go,” Wallace said. “We’re 6-2 at the time. And that’s all that matters.”