Hoping to ride the momentum generated from a strong showing against the Buffalo Bills a week ago, the Vikings offense opened Week 3 of the 2012 preseason with the ball and designs of setting the tempo for their exhibition game against the San Diego Chargers. Instead of creating tempo, the Vikings offense generated too many turnovers and wasn’t able to gain any rhythm in a 12-10 loss at Mall of America Field on Friday night.
“We never really got a rhythm,” Vikings QB Christian Ponder said. “When we get the ball first in a game, it’s always important for us to set a tone. Not only did we go three-and-out on the first drive, but on the second drive as well. It started off with an incompletion on the very first play, and that set a tone for the rest of the game.”
There were flashes of efficiency for the Vikings. Ponder found WR Percy Harvin deep down the right side for a gain of 40 yards and FB Matt Asiata flashed a bit in the 2nd half, but overall the offense didn’t perform up to par after a standout performance last week that left many optimistic in the young group’s potential.
“We made plays,” Ponder explained. “We ran the ball well. Just four turnovers, and penalties at inopportune times make it tough to overcome. It’s frustrating when we only put, for us (first-team offense), three points on the board. We ended up scoring a touchdown at the end, so ten points. It was a little disappointing, but it shows us that we have a lot to work on. We wish we would’ve performed like we did the first two weeks, but we know we have the capability to do so, we just gotta get better.”
Ponder is the first to claim responsibility for the offense’s shortcomings. Asked if pressure was getting to him – he was sacked three times in the 1st half and five times overall – Ponder was quick to point out he shared some of the blame for the pressure.
“I got myself in trouble. We talked about it on the sidelines,” Ponder said. “I was getting back on the top of my drop and just sitting there. That puts a lot of pressure on our (offensive) tackles. I could do a lot better job of stepping up, moving forward…It’s on me. I’ve got to get better in the pocket. Usually I don’t do that. I don’t know why it happened this game. It’s something to work on in practice and get better at.”
Ponder is likely too hard on himself, but the Vikings can take solace in the fact they have a QB who takes pride in his on-field work, takes blame when things don’t go right and is determined to fix them the next week in practice. Expect Ponder and Co. to do just that and have a solid week of practice leading up to their Week 1 home opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
In addition to too many sacks allowed, the Vikings also committed too many turnovers. The Vikings saw three drives end in San Diego territory, including two inside the red zone and one inside the 5. Another drive ended via an INT after the offense had driven 47 yards in just 4 plays. Those turnovers will cover up many of the stretches in which the Vikings offense was moving with efficiency and explosion.
“Probably the thing that defines (the game) the most for us were the mistakes,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. We turned the ball over four times. Whether it’s the preseason or regular season, it’s hard to win in our League when that happens.”
It looked as if the Vikings would be able to overcome their turnover-riddled performance and emerge with a victory after QB Sage Rosenfels drove the offense down the field and found Asiata for a 1-yard TD. That score and the resulting PAT by K Blair Walsh gave the Vikings a 10-9 lead with 1:54 to play. But Chargers reserve QB Jarrett Lee put together a drive that was aided by a Vikings personal foul penalty and ended with a 45-yard game-winning FG as time expired by Nick Novak.
The highlight of the night for the Vikings was the performance by their first-team defense, which suffocated the Chargers offense. Granted, San Diego held out many of its starters, but the Vikings did exactly what they should have done under the circumstances. San Diego was just 3 of 16 (19%) on 3rd downs, they gained just 2.8 yards per rushing attempt and the Vikings sacked Chargers QBs six times.
LBs Jasper Brinkley and Erin Henderson clearly had their best performances of 2012, combining for 9 tackles. Brinkley had 2.0 sacks and Henderson was a disruptive force on multiple occasions. DE Jared Allen was up to his old tricks with a pair of sacks and three of his four tackles resulting in a loss of yardage for San Diego. The Vikings also got a sack from DT Fred Evans, who started in place of an injured Letroy Guion.
“Our first defense, they played extremely hard,” Frazier said. “They kept us in the game. Real good on third down. Didn’t come up with the turnovers that we would like. But I thought our first unit did everything that we asked.”
The Vikings move to 1-2 this preseason and will conclude their exhibition struggle on Thursday by traveling to Houston for a contest against the Texans, with kickoff slated for 6:00 p.m. CT.
Tags: Christian Ponder, Erin Henderson, Fred Evans, Jared Allen, Jasper Brinkley, Leslie Frazier
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