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.
Tags: Audie Cole, Blair Walsh, Christian Ponder, Jerome Felton, Jerome Simpson, Toby Gerhart
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