After the Eagles lost quarterback Carson Wentz because of a season-ending ACL tear in his left knee against the Rams on Sunday, the Las Vegas sports books now have the Vikings as the NFC favorite to reach the Super Bowl.
It seems likely that if they are going to reach that game — to be played in the Vikings’ U.S. Bank Stadium on Feb. 4, Case Keenum is going to be the quarterback to take them there. His statistical performance this season remains one of the best in recent Vikings memory.
He is 11th in the NFL in passer rating at 96.2, just ahead of the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson (95.5) of Seattle and right behind the Chargers’ Philip Rivers (97.2). He remains third in ESPN.com’s Total QBR ranking, behind injured Deshaun Watson of the Texans and Wentz.
But what is going to be the big test for the Vikings is if they can protect Keenum as they had done all season before giving up six sacks against the Panthers on Sunday.
Keenum still is tied with Rivers for fewest sacks in the league for quarterbacks with at least 200 pass attempts with only 15, and that has been a big key to his success. It’s the fewest sacks the Vikings have allowed for a quarterback with at least 11 starts in any season. Fran Tarkenton has the next-lowest mark, when he was sacked 17 times in 13 games in 1974.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said the team looked at tape from the Carolina game and recognizes what needs to change to get the pass protection back to where it was, no matter who is starting on the line. Three starting offensive linemen were out because of injuries at one point against the Panthers.
“Some guys got beat that don’t normally get beat,” Zimmer said. “We had some mental errors, we might have been late pushing out to a guy or something like that. But that’s mostly what it was.”
Keenum had one of his worst statistical starts of the season in the Vikings’ 31-24 loss to the Panthers, completing only 61.4 percent of his passes and posting a 75.9 passing rating, his third-lowest marks this season in both categories. But anyone who watched the game would be hard-pressed to say that Keenum isn’t the right quarterback for the Vikings going forward.
Offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles said Keenum took an unfair share of the blame for the Vikings’ first loss in nine games.
“I think he had played tremendous,” Sirles said. “He was under duress for a lot of the day, and he made some big-time throws when we needed them. He came to the huddle and kept saying, ‘It’s not over, boys.’ And it wasn’t. We all knew it wasn’t. Case was out there and we were going to keep fighting for him because we knew he was going to keep fighting for us.
“That’s what I love about this offense and this group of guys. There’s no quit in any of us. It didn’t matter if we were down by 10 points or 30 points, we’re going to fight.”
Sirles said Keenum was hard on himself after the loss.
“Absolutely, that’s who Case is. He’s his worst critic,” he said. “He’s going to [take] the blame and shoulder the load even though we know we need to continue to play better so he can play the way he has.”
Boone, Twins talked
Twins President Dave St. Peter said this week that newly named Yankees manager Aaron Boone interviewed for a Twins front office position for seven hours before eventually taking the Yankees job. If the Yankees job hadn’t opened up, Boone might have joined the Twins in some capacity.
“I know that has been reported and I’ll confirm that,” St. Peter said. “We did have dialogue with Aaron Boone, this is before the Yankees had made the decision they did on [former manager] Joe Girardi, so at the time the Yankees job wasn’t available to him. But Aaron I knew firsthand, just in the dialogue that took place, that he had an interest in getting out of the broadcast booth and getting back involved with a team.
“At the time it wasn’t as much of an on-field focus with the Twins, it was more of a off-field focus, front-office type role. [Boone was] just impressive and has a lot to offer.”
One person who played a big role in the Gophers football team’s outstanding recruiting weekend was Zack Annexstad, the Mankato, Minn., native who committed to the Gophers in September as a preferred walk-on and played at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., this season.
Annexstad helped get high school teammates Curtis Dunlap, a four-star, 6-4, 368-pound guard who had offers from Arkansas, Florida and South Carolina, among others, and Daniel Faalele, a three-star, 6-9, 400-pound tackle with offers from schools such as Alabama, Arkansas, and Georgia.
Annexstad posted a picture of the three players together on Twitter and wrote, “High school football is done. Next stop … #RTB”
RTB is the abbreviation for Gophers coach P.J. Fleck’s big catchphrase, “Row the Boat,” which he has used in recruiting.
• Wolves forward Andrew Wiggins went 8-for-24 from the field, 1-for-7 on three-pointers and 3-for-5 from the free-throw line in the Wolves’ 118-112 overtime loss to the 76ers on Tuesday. Wiggins’ shooting has been off all season, and he has posted career lows in field-goal percentage (43.5), three-point percentage (29.8) and free-throw percentage (63.4). “That’s basketball,” Wiggins said. “Every night your shot’s not going to fall. We didn’t shoot great from the three-point line [5-for-29], but that’s basketball. You’re not going to make all the shots.”
• At 32, Taj Gibson is playing some of the best basketball of his career for the Wolves. He is averaging a career-high 33.5 minutes per game; his previous high was 28.7 in 2013-14 with the Bulls. Gibson fouled out with seven points and 12 rebounds against the 76ers and looked exhausted at the end of the game after playing 40 minutes. “Minutes are minutes,” he said. “You’ve just got to go out there and play through them. The coaching staff sees what’s going on.”
• Karl-Anthony Towns played some of his best individual defense of the season against Sixers star Joel Embiid, and the ESPN broadcast team took notice. But Towns, who finished with 19 points, 16 rebounds, three blocks and four steals, wasn’t having it. “Tried to stop [Embiid] by all means necessary,” Towns said. “Just tried to make it difficult to get any sort of space, make it difficult for him to catch it and make it difficult for him to make any dribbles. I didn’t do good enough.”