It has been a long time since the Vikings played the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Well, the last time it happened, Christian Ponder had hope, Adrian Peterson had doubters and Blair Walsh presumably had a job in Minnesota for the next 10 to 15 years.
Sept. 9, 2012, was the last meeting before Sunday’s game at Jacksonville. Relatively speaking, if we measured that in NFL years, your dog would be dead.
The season opened that day at the Metrodome with Leslie Frazier as dead-coach-walking after a 3-13 season. Peterson ran for 84 yards and two touchdowns nine months after ACL surgery. And Ponder completed 20 of 27 passes, including two that took only 10 seconds to move the Vikings 32 yards to the Jacksonville 37 with four seconds left and the Vikings having just gone down by three.
That’s when Walsh, the rookie sixth-round draft pick from Georgia, overshadowed everybody with a booming 55-yard field goal. Then he won the game 26-23 with a 38-yarder in overtime.
The Vikings stunned everybody that year. Ponder helped win 10 games and would have made a difference in the playoff loss at Green Bay had he been healthy enough to play. Peterson gave us 2,097 reasons not to doubt his ability to bounce back from ACL surgery. And Frazier saved his job for one more season.
That team was 6-6 after 12 games. This year’s team is 6-6 after 12 games. But the similarities end there. Pretty much everything else, especially the preseason expectations, is opposite.
This team is injury-riddled. This team can’t run the ball. That team clung to Walsh, its All-Pro rookie and unflinching buoy, right down to the game-winning, playoff-clinching 29-yard field goal to beat the visiting Packers as time expired in the regular-season finale. This team was forced to dump Walsh before the buoy-turned-anchor drowned everyone.
“Blair had unbelievable years here, especially 2012,” said Kai Forbath, Walsh’s successor the past three games. “But I always say this is a week-to-week job. I’ve experienced it twice now, in Washington and New Orleans, where I thought I was settled in somewhere and crazy things happened.”
In 2012, the Vikings needed Walsh’s 20-for-20 perfection on field goals (11) and PATs (nine) during their 4-0 stretch run to the playoffs. This year, with the 26th-ranked scoring attack (19.4), they need Forbath’s growing momentum in the wake of Walsh’s toxicity to have any chance of repeating what happened four years ago.
In less than a month, Forbath has gone from being out of work to reinstilling some confidence in coach Mike Zimmer’s decisions to kick field goals. Since poor protection led to a PAT being blocked in his first game as a Viking, Forbath has made nine straight kicks, including all six field goal attempts. Walsh hadn’t made more than four consecutive field goal attempts since missing the 27-yarder in the closing seconds of the 10-9 playoff loss to Seattle in January.
It helps that Forbath, holder Jeff Locke and long snapper Kevin McDermott are old UCLA buddies who already were offseason workout partners. It also helps that Forbath is a streaky kicker who started his NFL career with a then-record 17 straight field goals for Washington in 2012.
The ball from that 17th make was sent to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But Forbath remembers his first miss instead.
“It was my last kick of the season, against Dallas,” Forbath said. “I hit the upright, but I didn’t get the same bounce that I got on that kick against Dallas last week.”
The Redskins made the playoffs. But Forbath didn’t attempt a field goal in the wild-card loss to Seattle.
“It’s funny,” Forbath said. “When I was at UCLA, I never got to attempt a field goal against USC. Pete Carroll was the coach. Before the game, I told him, ‘I’m going to finally get a chance to kick one against you.’ But I still haven’t attempted a field goal against a Pete Carroll-coached team.”
But Walsh has. Unfortunately, the last one was a 27-yard duck hook that started the string of events that has led to Forbath, not Walsh, playing a vital role for another 6-6 team that needs to win four straight.