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Pair Of Rookies, Ponder Push Vikings To Victory Over Bills

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 17, 2012 – 10:53 pm

Vikings GM Rick Spielman and Head Coach Leslie Frazier are in the midst of reforming the Vikings roster into a young group of individuals who will play together for a long time. Such a strategy cuts both ways – a young team is prone to mistakes born from inexperience, and a young team is capable of jumping up suddenly and displaying what can happen when things begin to click.

If Friday night’s preseason game at Mall of America Field is an indication of what’s to come from this young Vikings team, the 2012 season and many campaigns after that should be full of excitement. Paced early by second-year QB Christian Ponder and third-year RB Toby Gerhart, late by rookie LB Audie Cole and all throughout the game by rookie K Blair Walsh, the Vikings logged a lopsided 36-14 victory over the AFC East’s Buffalo Bills.

The action started with Ponder and Co. taking first possession. And they didn’t mess around. Ponder found WR Percy Harvin for a 21-yard gain on the second play from scrimmage and then two plays later he found speedster Jerome Simpson for a 33-yard burst on a play that saw Simpson showcase his athleticism by hurdling a would-be tackler to extend the play. Gerhart ripped off a 16-yard a few moments later and before you knew it, Ponder floated a pass to FB Jerome Felton for a TD and early lead.

Walsh salvaged the next drive with a 22-yard FG to give the Vikings a 10-0 lead in the 2nd quarter. That concluded the action for Ponder and Gerhart. Ponder finished going 10 of 13 for 136 yards with 1 TD and 0 INTs, hitting 8 different receivers on the night. Gerhart’s line was 6 carries for 30 yards, bringing his preseason total to 11 carries for 61 yards.

As for Walsh, he missed his next attempt. It was a 49-yarder and sailed wide right. But that was his lone blemish on the evening. Walsh came on to hit FGs from 45 and 47 yards in the 2nd quarter and then he was good from 40 yards in the 3rd quarter and 30 yards in the 4th quarter. Walsh was also solid on his kickoffs during the game, with Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer asking Walsh to execute a variety of different approaches on those kickoffs. In total, Walsh was 5 of 6 on FG tries and 3 of 3 on PATs.

Walsh’s 4th-quarter FG from 30 yards pushed the Vikings lead to 22-14 midway through the final period. But any thoughts Buffalo had of mounting a late-game rally to steal a victory were quickly eliminated by another Vikings rookie. In back-to-back plays late in the 4th quarter, LB Audie Cole sealed the Vikings victory and took a huge step in sealing a roster spot for himself.

Cole intercepted a pass and returned it for a TD – twice – in the game’s final moments, giving the Vikings their winning 36-14 cushion. The first INT came on a 2nd and 10 play from the Buffalo 11-yardline. Former Vikings QB Tyler Thigpen dropped back and quickly threw a pass intended for WR Naaman Roosevelt, but Cole jumped the route to grab the INT and sprinted toward the goal line. On the ensuing Bills drive, Brad Smith replaced Thigpen at QB and Cole intercepted his first pass, another quick throw intended for Roosevelt. This time Cole sprinted to the end zone uncontested and was greeted by a throng of teammates in the back of the end zone.

The daily double INT-for-TD from Cole capped an exciting night at Mall of America Field that saw the Vikings play in front of their fans for the first time since last season and also log their first win of the preseason. The Vikings are now 1-1 this preseason, and next week they’ll remain at home to host the AFC West’s San Diego Chargers.


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Audie Cole Steals The (4th Quarter) Show

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 17, 2012 – 10:23 pm

Seventh-round picks often times live a life of anonymity when they first enter the NFL. That type of existence ended suddenly for Vikings rookie LB Audie Cole on Friday night at Mall of America Field. Intercepting a pass and returning it for a TD – twice – will do that for a guy.

That’s what Cole did late in the Vikings second preseason game of the 2012 season, right in front of thousands of Vikings fans who decided to stick around for the late stages of the exhibition game, a contest the Vikings won by count of 36-14. Even more remarkably, Cole’s two touchdowns came on back-to-back plays, increasing the Vikings lead from 22-14 to 36-14 instantaneously.

Cole’s first INT came on a 2nd and 10 play from the Buffalo 11-yardline. Former Vikings QB Tyler Thigpen dropped back and quickly threw a pass intended for WR Naaman Roosevelt, but Cole jumped the route to grab the INT and sprinted toward the goal line. Cole was tackled as he extended the ball toward the goal line, and officials ruled the play a TD. After a replay review, the call was upheld. On the ensuing Bills drive, Brad Smith replaced Thigpen at QB and Cole intercepted his first pass, another quick throw intended for Roosevelt. This time Cole sprinted to the end zone uncontested and was greeted by a throng of teammates in the back of the end zone.

“To see Audie do what he did, that’s a big deal,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. “You could see the jubilation from his teammates. Everybody on the team was in the end zone with him on that second one. It’s pretty impressive. We’re excited for him.”

Frazier also astutely pointed out that Cole has a knack for the big play, referencing the sack Cole registered last week against the San Francisco 49ers in his NFL debut.

The general takeaway from Friday night’s game will be how sharp the Vikings first-team offense looked, with QB Christian Ponder going 10 of 13 for 136 yards with a TD and RB Toby Gerhart rushing for 30 yards on 6 carries. But for the late part of the 4th quarter, anyway, it was Cole who stole the show.


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Ponder, 1st-Team Offense Sharp vs. Bills

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 17, 2012 – 7:54 pm

Once the regular season begins, Vikings coaches will want to see the Vikings 1st-team offense this sharp for four quarters. On Friday night against the Buffalo Bills at Mall of America Field, though, a quarter and a half was enough.

After putting up 6 points in two drives a week ago against the San Francisco 49ers, starting QB Christian Ponder and Co. found the end zone once and settled for a FG another time against the Bills. Ponder was sharp in the outing, completing 10 of 13 passes for 136 yards with 1 TD and 0 INTs. The TD toss went to FB Jerome Felton on a 1st and goal from the 1-yardline. The scoring play to Felton capped an 8-play, 59-yard drive, the first of the game, and included a 21-yard gain to Percy Harvin and a 33-yard burst to WR Jerome Simpson in which Simpson hurdled a would-be tackler to extend the play.

The highlight-caliber play by Simpson energized the crowd and set up RB Toby Gerhart for a 16-yard rush two plays later that ultimately set up the Ponder-to-Felton score. Gerhart finished the night with 30 yards on 6 carries, bringing his two-game preseason total to an impressive 11 caries for 61 yards.

On the next drive, Ponder rallied the offense for 12 plays to get down to the Buffalo 4-yardline, but the drive stalled there after a pair of incompletions in the end zone (passes intended for TE Kyle Rudolph and Simpson). K Blair Walsh, who had another impressive night, came on to salvage the drive and give the Vikings a 10-0 lead late in the 1st quarter. Through halftime, Walsh was 2 of 3 on FGs, hitting from 45 and 47 yards and missing from 49; he also had a touchback and was 1 of 1 on PAT tries.

In all, it was a very good outing for the Vikings starters and an improvement on what was also a solid outing a week ago against the 49ers. The 1st-team offense has 4 preseason drives and has scored on each of them (1 TD, 3 FGs).


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5 Positives To Watch For Tonight

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 17, 2012 – 2:14 pm

The Vikings will open up the home part of their preseason schedule tonight by hosting the AFC East’s Buffalo Bills, with kickoff at Mall of America Field slated for 7:00 p.m. CT. If you aren’t able to watch the game on TV, be sure to go to the vikings.com home page to find alternative ways of catching the action. You can subscribe to Preseason Live and watch all preseason action for a small fee, and/or you can join us in the live game chat that will be held right here on vikings.com during the game.

As for tonight’s game, kickoff is fast-approaching. While you’re waiting for the game to begin, though, here are 5 positives to watch for tonight as the Vikings and Bills battle at Mall of America Field…

Finish Drives With Touchdowns
The Vikings 1st-team offense did a nice job of moving the ball against the vaunted San Francisco 49ers defense last week, but a pair of drives stalled and had to be salvaged by K Blair Walsh with FGs. It was great to see Walsh come on and finish the job, but it’d be even greater to see Christian Ponder and Co. finish drives tonight on their own with TDs. When the Vikings get into scoring range, keep your eye on TE Kyle Rudolph. He’s one of the Vikings best offensive weapons, and he becomes especially lethal in crucial situations such as 3rd downs, in the red zone and near the goal line.

Remain Gap Sound On Defense
The Vikings have long been one of the NFL’s premier run defenses, but they didn’t look the part last week against the 49ers. That has to change this week against Buffalo. Lots of talk this offseason was about the Vikings improving against the pass, but any improvements the secondary has made the past several months will be negated if the defense can’t first stop the run. Watch for the Vikings 1st-team defense to perform much better tonight than they did a week ago at Candlestick Park.

Big Return On Special Teams
Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer has seen his groups have a solid offseason program and training camp for the most part. Now it’s time to take the step from being solid to being spectacular. Expect Walsh to be as good or better than he was last week and expect P Chris Kluwe to take a major step forward this week as the Vikings play in the controlled environment of Mall of America Field. Beyond that, though, I’m looking for a big return, either on kickoff or punt (both would be nice, though). It’s appeared during training camp practices that the kickoff return and punt return blocking units have done a nice job, so now it’s time for one of the Vikings returners to stick their foot in the ground and rip off a big return.

Debut Of CB Josh Robinson
There has been lots of talk about Josh Robinson’s speed (he was the fastest player at the Combine this year), but now it’s time for the talk to give way to the action. Robinson was held out of last week’s preseason game, but he should be on the field tonight and see an expansive role. I expect he’ll see quite a few snaps on defense and I also expect he’ll be involved in the return game. Robinson has big-time upside and it’d be great to get a look at it tonight.

Harrison Smith A Starter?
I won’t be surprised if rookie Harrison Smith lines up as a starter tonight at safety. He’s had a good training camp and played very well last week against San Francisco. He did not start last week, though, and since last week he’s seen even more time with the 1st-team defense. This leads me to believe that he’ll be a starter in tonight’s game – just a guess. If he does start, I expect Smith to be a standout. He strikes me as a player who gets better as the game goes along because he’s a cerebral player who picks up on patterns and tells in the offense’s attack. Smith is not the kind of ballhawk who will grab a bunch of INTs, but he is the kind of player who is not afraid to mix it up in the run game or punish a receiver coming across the middle.


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