The Vikings offense has struggled this season, ranking second to last in the NFL in total offense, but there’s no question tight end Kyle Rudolph has benefited from the offensive scheme and the play of quarterback Sam Bradford.

Rudolph, who is in his sixth season, already has set career highs in receiving yards (513) and receptions (54), and he still has four games to play.

Despite those stats, Rudolph said the recent stretch of the season has been the most frustrating.

“It’s hard, any time you don’t accomplish what you set out to accomplish at the beginning of the year is difficult,” he said. “But we can’t look back at what we didn’t do or did do. We have four games left in this season and the playoffs start now for us.”

When it comes to the difference in losing six of the past seven games after the Vikings’ 5-0 start, Rudolph said the team’s problems have been self-inflicted.

“When you really look back at the games we lost, we’re beating ourselves a lot of the time,” he said. “Coach [Mike Zimmer] put a saying up that said, ‘You can’t start winning until you stop losing.’ That really kind of puts the last month or two into perspective. We just have to get back to not beating ourselves.”

Rudolph was asked if there have been too many small mistakes.

“That’s what I’m saying. We’re making mistakes that we haven’t made when we were winning games,” he said. “We have to get back to playing the type of football that we’re accustomed to playing, getting games into the fourth quarter and winning close games.”

Rudolph said it was those minor mistakes that led to the 17-15 loss to the Cowboys last week.

“It was tough, but we beat ourselves, missed opportunities, penalties, not taking advantage of situations to score points,” he said. “When you give a good team like Dallas that many opportunities, it’s hard to beat them.”

Familiar situation

Like owner Zygi Wilf, Rudolph sees a lot of similarities between the Vikings’ current predicament and 2012, when the team won their last four regular-season games to make the playoffs.

“We have four games left and we’ve been in this situation before,” he said. “In 2012, we were 6-6 and we had to win our last four and kind of let the chips fall where they may. We have to do that again this year.”

So he believes there’s still a chance?

“Yeah, we just have to go out and take care of business, and that starts this week going to Jacksonville and getting a win,” he said. “All you have to do is get in [the playoffs]. Once you get in, everybody has a chance.”

Rudolph pointed out that while Jacksonville might be 2-10, there’s no way the Jaguars will be an easy foe.

“They have one of the best defenses in football,” he said. “It will be a great challenge for us on offense, we have to go down and play well.”

Rudolph was asked how he feels about his own play this season thus far.

“It’s all right. I need to get better each and every week,” he said. “These next four games will be big, and I need to play better for us to win more games.”

Does Rudolph still see a bright future for this Vikings squad?

“Oh absolutely,” he said. “You know, this is one of the best teams we’ve had around here in a long time and that’s why I have faith that we’ll go out and take care of business these last four weeks.”

Rudolph also talked about some of the charitable work he and his wife are doing over the holidays.

“My wife, Jordan, and I work with the Children’s Hospital and we host holiday events — whether it’s around Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween, a couple things — delivering toys to kids,” he said. “We have a few things we’re doing with the Children’s Hospital, just trying to make their life a little better.”

Gophers connections

As the Gophers football coach, Jerry Kill didn’t have any luck beating TCU. But now as an associate athletic director at Kansas State, he watched the Wildcats post a 30-6 victory over TCU in their final regular-season game. Now Kansas State will face Texas A&M, coached by my good friend and former Gophers assistant Kevin Sumlin, in the Texas Bowl on Dec. 28.

Sumlin was coaching the University of Houston when former Gophers coach Glen Mason was fired after the 2006 season. I called Sumlin to see if he was interested in the Minnesota opening. “I know why you are calling,” he said, “and the answer is ‘not interested.’ ” Sumlin married a woman from Minneapolis and visits here often.


• A lot of ink was given to Moritz Bohringer, the Vikings wide receiver from Germany, when he signed and apparently he is making some progress on the practice squad and has a future with the team.

• The Prep Bowl set a total attendance record this year at U.S. Bank Stadium at 47,309. The previous high was 38,089 in 1986, when the event featured only five games, at the Metrodome. Last year at TCF Bank Stadium the attendance was 24,917, but that was with cold outdoor weather.

• Ishmael El-Amin, the 6-1 Hopkins senior point guard and son of former UConn and Minneapolis North star Khalid El-Amin, has committed to play for Ball State. El-Amin has scored 59 points in two games this season. … The Timberwolves Shootout for high basketball teams, usually held in January, will not be played for the first time in 20 years.

• Another member of the highly praised Gophers baseball recruiting class is Minnetonka pitcher/outfielder Sam Thoresen. Ranked as the No. 6 prospect in Minnesota according to Prep Baseball Report, Thoresen is the son of Brian Thoresen, who played for the Gophers hockey team in the 1980s.

• Former Gophers basketball coach Tubby Smith is 6-2 at Memphis, with one of those victories coming against Iowa. I have been covering the Gophers for 70 years, and I rate the firing of Smith and Mason as two of the most unfair dismissals of any coaches.

• Frank Ragnow, a former Chanhassen offensive guard, started every game this year for Arkansas. The word is he would go high in the NFL draft if he decided to pass up his final two seasons of eligibility.

• Former Lakeville North standout J.P. Macura is having a great season for No. 13 Xavier. The junior guard is averaging 14.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game, second on the team in each of those categories. Those are all career highs and Macura has become one of the team’s stars.


Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m.