Bud Grant To Serve As Honorary Captain

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 22, 2010 – 7:32 am

The last time the Vikings won an NFC Championship Game to advance on and play in a Super Bowl, legendary head coach Bud Grant was on the sidelines.

On Sunday in New Orleans, the Vikings will try to win another NFC Championship Game and advance on to Super Bowl XLIV. And Grant will be there, serving as the Vikings Honorary Captain.

A Vikings legend who coached the team from 1967-1983 and in 1985, Grant remains to this day one of the most respected and endeared figures in franchise history. He had an NFL regular season coaching record of 158-96-5, including a 10-12 mark in postseason play that led to 4 Super Bowl appearances and an NFL title in 1969.

The Vikings won 11 NFC/NFL divisional championships under Grant.

Grant was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994 and the Vikings Ring of Honor in 1998.

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Mind Over Matter – Just Another Game

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 22, 2010 – 7:04 am

The fact of the matter is that Sunday’s game between the Vikings and New Orleans Saints is not just another game. It’s the NFC Championship game and it pits the conference’s 2 best teams against one another for the right to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLIV.

At this level of the game – just 1 step away from the NFL pinnacle – it’s typical to find elite teams with elite talent. In an environment such as that, the competition is intense and the desire to make a difference or standout or perform at an even higher level is natural.

But sometimes one must take the approach of mind over matter in order to properly prepare for crucial moments such as championship games. While the urge to dial it up a notch is there, the result of such a strategy might actually be counter-productive.

It’s a mind over matter situation at this point for teams, players and coaches still alive in the chase for the Super Bowl. While Sunday’s game is not just another game, that’s exactly how the Vikings are looking at it.

“That’s one of the things I pointed out to them this morning in our defensive meetings,” Vikings assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said on Thursday. “You really just want to be able to perform at the same level you’ve performed throughout the year.  It’s been good enough. And just be on the details of the work, and things will work out just fine.  Just don’t feel like you’ve got to do anything out of body, just do what you’ve been doing.”

One of Frazier’s defensive stars – CB Antoine Winfield – is a playoff veteran who understands the gravity of playoff and conference championship games. But while he has a grasp on the gravity of the game, he’s also embracing Frazier’s message of preparation.

“You can’t get too uptight in this game,” Winfield said. “You have to take it like another game. Although we know it’s the Championship, if you lose you go home. But, we’re all excited. Everyone’s studying, we’re ready to go out there and compete.”

Another Vikings player – WR Sidney Rice – has performed at an elite level this year. He finished the regular season 2nd in receiving yards and he was also named to his 1st career Pro Bowl. Rice set a new franchise playoff record with 3 receiving TDs last week against Dallas. But he’s not letting that record-setting performance go to his head or cause him to place added pressure on himself to perform at an even higher level this Sunday.

“We’re going to treat it as a regular game,” Rice said of Sunday’s upcoming clash with the Saints. “We know what’s at stake here. We know that if you lose, you go home and I feel like there’s no one in our locker room that wants to go home, so I feel like everybody is going to come out and compete and do what they’re coached to do.”

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Harvin Misses Practice With “Headache”

Posted by Ryan Cardinal on January 21, 2010 – 3:10 pm

Vikings rookie WR missed today’s practice with what Head Coach Brad Childress called a headache, according to the Star-Tribune’s Judd Zulgad.  Harvin, of course, missed time earlier this season due to migraines, and has battled them off and on for much of his football-playing career.

His status for Sunday’s game is now up in the air, though Childress said the team expects him to be okay.

The addition of Harvin was the only change from yesterday’s injury report.

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The Key To Taming A Frenzied Environment? Relax

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 21, 2010 – 8:45 am

A crowd of 63,000+ loud, passionate and towel-waving fans packed the stadium last week during the Vikings game. The fans’ energy created an environment that is best described as frenzied while the opponent’s offense was on the field and electric while the home team’s offense was at work.

This Sunday, when the Vikings play the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game, the atmosphere will be quite similar. Except this time the Vikings will be the opponents instead of being the home team and the beneficiaries of that frenzied environment.

Fans at Mall of America Field have built a reputation for being some of the loudest in the NFL. But they are rivaled by fans at the Louisiana Superdome, who’ve gained a similar reputation and will no doubt be looking to validate it on Sunday.

While the Vikings must deal with the disadvantage to playing on the road in a hostile environment, they do have the advantage of a veteran QB who has seen just about anything a defense – and crowd – can throw at him. Brett Favre has been to this point in the season before and he’s played the game in friendly and unfriendly environments.

“I try to keep not only myself but the other guys calm and relaxed,” Favre said of his role as a leader in Sunday’s game. “ It’s OK to be excited, but especially in an environment like we’re going to face and like Tony (Romo) faced coming here last week, to be able to focus – and I’ve played them at home, and I’ve played them away – these games, they’re tough anyway, but they’re really tough on the road, because of the noise.

Another area of focus for the Vikings will be communication. The loud noise makes it difficult for the opposing team to communicate, whether it’s coach-to-player or player-to-player or sideline-to-player.

“It’s always the communication,” Childress, who has also been in a situation such as this in the past, said. “You want to be able to communicate seamlessly.

“I’ve been in an NFC Championship (with Philadelphia) at the Edward Jones Dome, where I had to hand signal the last three plays to Donovan McNabb in a game where I couldn’t hear Andy Reid talking in my ear. Donovan couldn’t hear me. Communication; that’s the significant part of the challenge.”

In order to practice communicating in an environment that makes it hard to communicate, the Vikings have used various methods, including piping in crowd noise during practice to simulate the noise.

“Not only are you playing the Saints, but you’re playing the fans, and all of those things work against you,” Favre said. “I’ll emphasize that during the week.  We’ll practice as much like a game as possible with those elements, but there’s no substitute for the game itself.  So, really, what I will try to do is just keep it relaxed.”

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Childress: Saints Defense Presents “Myriad” Of Looks

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 20, 2010 – 1:07 pm

The Vikings and Saints will bring with them the NFL’s 2 highest scoring offenses from the regular season when they meet on Sunday evening in the NFC Championship Game. A couple of offensive-minded head coaches in Brad Childress and Sean Payton and then also a pair of high-profile and ultra-productive QBs in Brett Favre and Drew Brees are main impetus behind the Vikings and Saints offensive prowess.

While meeting with reporters at Winter Park on Wednesday, though, Childress’ mind was on defense – the Saints defense. Perhaps that’s the offensive side of him coming out – and focusing on the opposing defense – but it was still interesting to note that Childress spent more time talking defense than offense in his opening remarks.

“[I have] a little familiarity with (defensive coordinator) Greg (Williams) and that defense,” Childress said, “most recently with Jacksonville last year and then two years ago he was with the Redskins when they came in with Joe Gibbs, and then the years in the NFC East.”

During the regular season the Saints didn’t rate impressively in overall defense (25th) or scoring defense (20th), but they are a play-making bunch that have given opposing QBs trouble. In fact, the Saints allowed just 15 TD passes this season – 5th best in the NFL – and only 2 teams (Buffalo and Green Bay) intercepted more passes. Also, opposing QBs have a passer rating of just 68.6 against New Orleans, 3rd best in the NFL.

Childress indicated on Wednesday that the Saints defense is versatile in the looks it can show and is also an aggressive bunch. A prime example of that aggression and play-making mentality is S Darren Sharper, a former Viking, who tallied 9 INTs this year and took 3 of those back for scores.

“It’s a multiple defense and one that we’ve got to be ready (for),” Childress said. “They’re an attacking defense and you’ve got to be ready for a myriad of different looks.”

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Vikings Media Schedule For Today

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 20, 2010 – 10:31 am

Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress and QB Brett Favre will meet with reporters at Winter Park today for their usual Wednesday press conferences. Childress’ is scheduled to begin at 11:45 a.m. and Favre’s will follow soon after.

You can watch those live by clicking here.

In addition to Childress and Favre, both DE Jared Allen and RB Adrian Peterson will meet with reporters at the podium, and you can watch those press conferences live on as well by going to the same page.

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Avoiding Déjà Vu With Reggie Bush, Punt Returns

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 20, 2010 – 9:17 am

Last weekend while waiting for their team to play the Dallas Cowboys the next day, Vikings fans may have had a case of déjà vu as they watched the New Orleans Saints take care of the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC’s other Divisional Round playoff game.

In that contest – a 45-14 New Orleans victory – Saints RB and punt returner Reggie Bush dazzled the audience and sliced through the Cardinals special teams unit with an 83-yard punt return for TD in the 4th quarter. As Vikings fans surely remember, Bush had similar success in Week 5 of the 2008 season, when he torched the Vikings punt coverage unit for a pair of TDs and 176 return yards.

In that game, the Vikings punt team did a nice job of limiting returns for most of 3 full quarters. But then P Chris Kluwe boomed a punt 48 yards down to the Saints 29 and Bush took it from there for a 71-yard score to cut the Vikings lead to 3 late in the 3rd quarter. Bush then took the Vikings next punt 29 yards to midfield, which set up a FG and tied the game at 20. Then on the next Vikings punt, Bush did it again, this time going 64 yards for a score to give his team a 27-20 lead and ignite the home crowd.

The Vikings wound up winning the game thanks to 10 unanswered points in the game’s final 7 minutes, 3 of which came on a clutch Ryan Longwell FG. But that didn’t take away from the Vikings frustration in terms of its punt team. Head coach Brad Childress wasn’t happy after the game because Kluwe was instructed to punt the ball away from Bush.

“Both of those kicks are supposed to be out of bounds,” Childress said at the time. “And when you say to somebody ‘kick the ball out of bounds,’ that’s what you expect to happen. That’s what I expect to happen with a professional football kicker.”

Fast-forward to the 2009 playoffs, and Kluwe is coming off an excellent performance against the Cowboys in which the Vikings allowed 0 punt return yards and even pinned Dallas on its own 2 early in the 3rd quarter. A similar performance this week against the Saints – and Bush – is the goal for the Vikings.

“I think that we will go back and revisit our last trip we had to the [Louisiana Superdome] and probably have a little sit down about that to see if either one of us has evolved in our processes in communicating that,” Childress said tongue-in-cheek on Monday when asked about Kluwe and punting to the Saints.

During the regular season with Bush as the primary return man, New Orleans averaged just 4.6 yards per punt return as a team and had 0 TDs. The Vikings were 12th in the NFL in punt return average allowed at 7.9 yards and they gave up 1 TD, a 67-yarder to Cleveland’s Joshua Cribbs in Week 1.

With so much attention bound to be paid to both of these teams’ QBs and explosive offenses, don’t sleep on the special teams units and their potential to impact the outcome of this game.

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Setting The Table For The Saints

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 20, 2010 – 7:48 am

Our weekly “setting the table” blog entries are designed to construct a context around the Vikings upcoming game by pointing out relevant factors and circumstances in the week’s matchup.

But this week I’m fairly certain you don’t need me to set the table too much – it’s the NFC Championship Game and the conference’s top 2 seeds will battle at the Louisiana Superdome for a right to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLIV.

This is a great matchup on so many levels, and we’ll dig deeper into this matchup as the week wears on. Ultimately, though, football fans are in for a treat with this game because the Vikings and Saints were the NFC’s 2 best teams all season and they’ve arrived in the conference championship game after earning 1st round byes and then dominating legitimate challengers in the Divisional Round. Suffice it to say, these 2 teams left no doubt that they are the best the NFC has to offer.

New Orleans marched through the first 13 weeks of the season, going 13-0 before losing their final 3 contests. They finished the regular season as the league’s highest-scoring outfit (31.9 points per game) and ranked #1 in total offense (yards per game). The Vikings, meanwhile, began 6-0 and improved to 10-1 before losing 3 of 4 in December and then finishing with an impressive 12-4 mark. They also have a top 5 overall offense and they are the NFL’s 2nd-highest scoring offense at 29.4 points per game.

So offensively one might give a slight edge to New Orleans, but on the other side of the ball one might favor the Vikings. They dominated an explosive Cowboys offense last week in the Divisional Round, finished 6th in the league in total defense and ranked #2 against the run.

The Saints, meanwhile, don’t rank as impressively in overall defense but they have play-makers who thrive when put in favorable situations. The offense has made a habit of staking the team to large leads and the defense has more than pulled its weight by registering big-time plays. S Darren Sharper, a former Viking and teammate of QB Brett Favre’s in Green Bay, is the face of the Saints play-making style because of his 9 INTs, 3 of which he’s returned for TDs.

There are interesting matchups on special teams as well, with both teams featuring explosive returners and both teams also holding slight edges in other areas of special teams play.

Anyway, that’s enough setting the table for now. We have a lot more to get to, so stay tuned to and the Blog the rest of the week.

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Longwell’s Steady Swing Not Taken For Granted

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 19, 2010 – 10:11 am

NFL kickers often fall into the “don’t notice them unless they mess up” category, along with long snappers, offensive linemen and team website writers.

But that’s not the case in Minnesota, where everyone from the website writer to the head coach has taken notice of the consistency and reliability with which Vikings K Ryan Longwell performs. Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress, when appropriate, includes Longwell and the entire special teams effort in his praise while assessing his team’s performance after a game. And we’re on record here of acknowledging Longwell’s solid performance during the course of the 2009 season.

Longwell had perhaps his best season as a Viking in 2009, converting 26 of 28 FG tries and 58 of 59 PATs to finish 3rd in the NFL in scoring. While not perfect, Longwell’s record this season has been outstanding nonetheless, especially in light of the NFL standard both in the regular season and the postseason.

In going 26 of 28 on FG tries during the 2009 regular season, Longwell made FGs at a 92.8% clip. The NFL average during the regular season was 81.3% (756 of 930). In the playoffs, Longwell is 2 for 2 this year but the league average in the postseason is 57.7% (15 of 26).

“To have a guy like Ryan Longwell be able to bang a couple of those through, it’s a huge factor,” Childress said when asked about his comfort with Longwell. “To go down to the end of a drive and come away with no points is disheartening. To be able to get yourself three points, you would like sevens. It is nice to have a guy that has only missed a couple.”

Of the 2 FGs Longwell has missed this season, 1 was blocked (at home against San Francisco). The only true miss was on the road at Carolina, when Longwell nailed the right upright on a 39-yard attempt. With the only miss of the season coming on the road and with the Vikings history of FG kicking in NFC Championship Games (at the 4:15 mark), the Vikings and Longwell will be mindful of preparation and consistency as they prepare to hit the road again this week and play at New Orleans in the NFC Championship Game.

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Winfield Named To Pro Bowl Squad

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 19, 2010 – 9:24 am

Vikings CB Antoine Winfield was named to the NFC’s Pro Bowl roster, giving the team 10 all-stars this season.

Although he missed 6 games with a foot injury, Winfield still tied for the team lead with 9 passes defensed and he registered 58 tackles. This year’s Pro Bowl nod for #26 is his 2nd consecutive and it makes him the 1st Vikings CB to earn back-to-back Pro Bowl honors since Carl Lee did it in 1989 and 1990.

The Vikings 10 Pro Bowl players this season is the most a Vikings team has had since the 1998 squad also sent 10 after going 15-1 and advancing to the NFC Championship Game.

Cardinals CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was originally on the Pro Bowl roster but I’m guessing the knee injury he incurred in last weekend’s Divisional Playoff game against the New Orleans Saints will preclude him from playing in the Pro Bowl and thus opened up a spot for Winfield.

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