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Vikings Defeat Detroit 20-13, Claim Spot Atop NFC North

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 30, 2012 – 6:31 pm

A sensational special teams performance that included two return TDs carried the Vikings to a 20-13 victory over the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Sunday, the team’s first division win since 2010 and their first division win on the road since 2009. A sound defensive effort and a relentless ground attack complemented the return TDs, allowing the Vikings to fly home Sunday afternoon with a 3-1 record and a seat atop the NFC North standings.

Not all aspects of the victory were pretty, but there are no style points in the rough and tough NFC North. The Vikings defense kept a high-octane Lions offense out of the end zone until the end of the game, and the offense relied on superstar workhorse Adrian Peterson to move the ball on the ground. Peterson traditionally fares well against Detroit, and he did so on Sunday with his best outing of 2012 – 102 yards rushing on 21 carries. While the offense generated just 111 yards passing and didn’t find the end zone, it should also be noted that they did not turn the ball over and they put WR Jerome Simpson – in his first regular season game with the Vikings – in a position to make an impact.

But make no mistake, the story of Sunday’s win was the performance by the Vikings special teams. Percy Harvin fielded the opening kick 5 yards deep in the end zone, started left and then veered right, using a perfectly executed blocking scheme to gain the corner and outsprint the Lions coverage group. The result was a 105-yard return TD and a quick 7-0 Vikings lead.

The Lions responded on their opening series, sending All-Pro WR Calvin Johnson deep and drawing a 56-yard pass interference penalty on their first offensive snap. But the Vikings defense, in a sign of what was to come, withstood that initial shot and forced Detroit to kick a 40-yard FG just 3 plays later. The teams exchanged punts on each of their next possessions, and then Blair Walsh salvaged a Vikings scoring drive by converting a 49-yard attempt, increasing the Vikings lead to 10-3 with 1:21 to play in the 1st quarter.

The Vikings defense forced a Lions 3-and-out on the next series, and Walsh hit another FG – this one from 27 yards – to increase the Vikings lead to 13-3. The Lions tacked on a FG late in the half to make the score 13-6 in favor of the Vikings heading into the locker room at halftime.

Just as they did in the 1st half, the Vikings scored a TD in the 2nd half without their offense seeing the field. Detroit opened the 3rd quarter with a 16-yard connect from QB Matthew Stafford to TE Tony Scheffler. The Vikings defense stonewalled the Lions on the following three plays, though, and Nic Harris punted away to Marcus Sherels. On his 26th birthday, Sherels fielded the Harris punt and danced his way through the Lions coverage group to score a 77-yard TD, riling up the Vikings sideline and giving the visitors a commanding 20-6 lead that would not be relinquished.

After the Sherels return TD, the teams exchanged two more punts each, setting the stage for the Vikings defense to put their stamp on the game. On 3rd and 8 from their own 45, the Lions looked to have something going when Stafford found RB Mikel Leshoure coming out of the backfield. Leshoure advanced well past midfield, but then Vikings S Jamarca Sanford hit him and jarred the ball loose. Sanford also recovered the fumble, giving the ball back to the Vikings and killing the small bit of momentum Detroit was trying to build. The Vikings missed a FG try on the ensuing drive, giving the ball back to Detroit on their own 36 with 13:15 to play in the game.

Stafford drove Detroit 57 yards in 10 plays, setting up a 4th and 5 from the Minnesota 7. With the game virtually on the line, Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams dialed up an aggressive blitz that the Lions couldn’t cover up. DE Everson Griffen came untouched across the line of scrimmage and smashed an unsuspecting Stafford, ending the drive and giving the Vikings offense the ball.

A Vikings punt gave the Lions the ball back with 6:08 to play, trailing by 14. Stafford drove his team down for a TD, pulling to within 20-13, but the Vikings would give no more ground. The game ended with another sack by Griffen as Stafford was setting up for a desperation heave toward the end zone. The Lions were forced to begin their last drive on their own 2 after a perfect punt by Chris Kluwe was downed by Robert Blanton before going into the end zone.

Outside of Peterson’s 100-yard rushing performance, the 28th of his career and the 6th he’s logged against the Lions, the Vikings offense didn’t include any standout, signature moments or performances from skill position players. But it was apparent that the Vikings offensive line played well, as they pushed back a stout Lions defensive front to the tune of 127 yards rushing on 28 attempts. QB Christian Ponder finished with modest numbers – 16 of 26 for 111 yards with no TDs – but he took care of the ball and still has not thrown an INT this season. Simpson was the team’s leading receiver with 4 grabs for 50 yards, but his impact was even greater because he drew a pair of long pass interference penalties through the game as well.

Defensively, LB Chad Greenway led the team in tackles with 11. LB Jasper Brinkley and CB Antoine Winfield each had 10 stops. Griffen tallied a pair of sacks, as did DT Letroy Guion. Jared Allen also got to Stafford once, registering his 2nd sack of the season. Credit goes to the Vikings starting safeties, too, as Sanford and Harrison Smith did a good job of roaming the middle of the field to defend the end zone. The combined to knock a TD catch out of Johnson’s hands in the end zone, and overall Johnson was held in check with 5 catches for 54 yards.

The Vikings returned home Sunday afternoon to enjoy their win, and they’ll begin preparations this week to host the AFC South’s Tennessee Titans on Sunday. We’ll have more reaction to Sunday’s game tonight and this week, so be sure to stay tuned to vikings.com for more coverage.


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Harvin 105-Yard Return TD Paces Vikings To 13-6 Halftime Lead

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 30, 2012 – 12:29 pm

Percy Harvin has been an invaluable player for the Vikings offense in 2012. To open Sunday’s game at Ford Field in Detroit, Harvin reminded everyone just how invaluable he is on special teams, too.

Harvin returned the opening kickoff 105 yards for a TD, staking the Vikings to an early 7-0 lead. The Lions responded on their first series, using a 56-yard pass interference penalty to set them up for a FG. Blair Walsh tacked on a pair of FGs in the 1st half and Detroit also got another one in the 2nd quarter, and the Vikings led 13-6 at halftime.

The Vikings defense held Detroit’s offense to just 15 yards rushing in the 1st half, but Matthew Stafford kept the Lions offense in motion with 116 yards on 12 of 17 passing. Stafford’s counterpart – Vikings QB Christian Ponder – was 10 of 15 in the opening 2 quarters for 59 yards. But the Vikings passing offense was more productive than the numbers indicated. WR Jerome Simpson, playing in his first regular season game as a Viking, drew a pair of long pass interference penalties to help the Vikings move the ball.

Also helping the Vikings move the ball in the first 2 quarters was superstar RB Adrian Peterson, who broke tackles constantly and had 52 rushing yards on just 7 carries.

Aside from the pair of FGs, one of which was 49 yards, Walsh is also impressing in Detroit with 3 touchbacks on kickoffs. He now has 18 touchbacks on the season, an incredible number considering the Vikings had just 19 all of last year.

The key for the Vikings in the 2nd half will be to keep the Lions passing game at bay while turning those FG tries into TDs.


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Today’s Inactives

Posted by Ryan Cardinal on September 30, 2012 – 9:29 am

Here are the Vikings inactive players for today’s game at Ford Field against the Lions:

QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson, WR Stephen Burton, WR Jarius Wright, S Andrew Sendejo, S Mistral Raymond, LB Erin Henderson, and OL Mark Asper.

Lions inactives are as follows: Safety Louis Delmas, defensive tackle Corey Williams, linebacker Travis Lewis, offensive tackles Jason Foxand Corey Hilliard, safety Amari Spievey and quarterback Kellen Moore.


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Vikings Welcome Simpson Back To Lineup Today vs. Lions

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 30, 2012 – 9:22 am

You may have seen him at training camp or even briefly during the preseason. But you haven’t seen WR Jerome Simpson during the regular season.

Until today.

Simpson makes his Vikings regular season debut today against the Detroit Lions amid much fanfare and anticipation.

A 2nd-round pick of the Bengals in 2008, Simpson had his best season a year ago when he hauled in 50 receptions for 725 yards and 4 TDs. That production, along with his tremendous athleticism, appealed to the Vikings this past offseason as they looked to add explosiveness to the passing game. The design is for Simpson to provide the Vikings offense with the outside, field-stretching explosiveness it needs to complement a strong running game that features Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart and also a pair of other pass-catching playmakers in wide receiver Percy Harvin and tight end Kyle Rudolph.

“It adds another chapter to our offense,” Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave said. “He’s got more burst and more top-end speed than any of the receivers we have on the roster right now. We’ll look to utilize his strengths and add him into the mix.”

Often times coaches will downplay the addition of a new player to the plan, with the intention of disguising strategy and decreasing the pressure for that player to live up to external expectations. But the Vikings did not shy away from explaining the impact they expect from Simpson’s return to the lineup.

“We’re going to use him quite a bit,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier explained. “We want to get him involved and a lot of it will depend on how he does this week in practice, his first action back, but we definitely want to get him involved.”

Added Musgrave: “We’re expecting big things out of Jerome. He has had a good offseason. He had a terrific training camp in Mankato. We’re hoping that translates to more production on game day.”

The Vikings signed Simpson last April and he immediately developed a rapport with QB Christian Ponder. Simpson flashed frequently during the offseason program and training camp. Then he gave the Vikings a glimpse of what he can provide during Week 2 of the preseason. Against the Buffalo Bills in the second exhibition game, Simpson caught a quick slant, hurdled a Bills defensive back and sprinted downfield for a 33-yard gain.  That’s the kind of athletic, game-breaking play that has many expecting Simpson to add flare to this Vikings passing attack.


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Don’t Miss Vikings Radio, Television Programming Today

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 30, 2012 – 7:13 am

It’s game day for the Vikings and for Vikings fans, and the action isn’t limited to the time between kickoff and the clocking striking 00:00. Here’s a quick rundown of all the Vikings programming you can check out today…

Vikings GamePlan
Airs: Sunday, 10:00 a.m. on KARE11 and 10:30 a.m. on Fox Sports North
Summary: This is Vikings Entertainment Network’s (VEN) pre-game show and is hosted by Vikings Radio Network play-by-play extraordinaire Paul Allen. The show features interviews with current players, game film review with Head Coach Leslie Frazier, expert analysis and more.

Vikings: Beyond The Gridiron
Airs: Saturday, 12:00 p.m. KARE11 and re-airs Sunday, 10:00 a.m. Fox Sports North
Summary: This is VEN’s new show and features a documentary-style format that focuses on the rare inside access that a team network can provide. Vikings: Beyond the Gridiron uses voice narration as well as the topic interview subjects to tell each story rather than a traditional show “host.”

Verizon Wireless Winning Formula
For more in-depth pre-game analysis, check out our Verizon Wireless Winning Formula segment, which is hosted by PA. This segment is part of Vikings GamePlan, but we also post each week’s segment on its own. Click here to watch this week’s segment.

Vikings Radio Network Game Broadcast
You can also catch today’s Vikings-Lions game on the Vikings Radio Network – KFAN-FM 100.3/KTCN-AM 1130 locally. Paul Allen and Pete Bercich will call the action from the booth and Greg Coleman will handle sideline reporting duties. The Vikings Radio Network pregame show, with Mike Mussman as host, begins at 10:00 a.m. CT and features yours truly at around 11:20 each week.

Vikings-Lions TV Broadcast
Thom Brennaman will handle play-by-play duties and former Vikings Offensive Coordinator and Baltimore Ravens Head Coach Brian Billick will provide the analysis. Laura Okmin will provide reporting from the sidelines.

Team Hotel Interview – Jerome Simpson
Each road trip we have a tradition of conducting a hotel room interview, where we find a Vikings-relevant guest immediately after arriving at the team hotel and ask that guest about the next day’s game. This week we tracked down WR Jerome Simpson to speak with him about being back with the team, what he adds to the offense and more. Click here to watch the Simpson interview.


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Musgrave Discusses Key To Ponder’s Improvement

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 28, 2012 – 5:48 am

Christian Ponder completed 21 of 35 passes for 198 yards with 2 TDs in last week’s victory over the San Francisco 49ers. There have been other games during Ponder’s young career when he has completed more passes (twice) and thrown for more yards (six times) and TDs (once).

But from the sounds of it, there may not have been any other game in which Ponders’ coaches were more pleased with his performance.

Both Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier and Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave intimated on Thursday that Ponder’s performance against the stingy 49ers defense last weekend was the best they’ve seen their young passer. Frazier discussed the topic during Thursday’s taping of Vikings Live From Winter Park, and Musgrave was asked about it while meeting with reporters on Thursday morning.

Musgrave pointed out that Ponder has had gaudier numbers in the past, but that too frequently those impressive statistics were accompanied by mistakes such as fumbles, INTs, penalties and sacks.

“I would say it is, all in all,” Musgrave said when asked if that’s as well as he’s seen Ponder play. “He played well against Green Bay last year, he threw for 381 yards against the Denver defense last year. But there were those mistakes that made it tough for us to get the victory. The quickest way to lose in this League or at any level is to beat yourself. And last year, we did some good things, but we had some untimely mistakes that caused it to be really tough for us to get the outcome that we want. And we want to keep playing at a high level, but number one, we don’t want to beat ourselves.”

The Vikings did not beat themselves last Sunday, which led to them beating the 49ers instead. Ponder threw no INTs and wasn’t sacked, which made the Vikings just the second team in the 49ers last 19 games to hold them without either an INT or a sack. The Vikings also committed just one offensive penalty (for 10 yards).

To beat a tough Lions team on the road this weekend, the Vikings won’t necessarily need gaudy numbers from Ponder. They just need to not beat themselves.


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Programming Note: “Beyond The Gridiron” Airing At Earlier Time On Saturday

Posted by Ryan Cardinal on September 28, 2012 – 5:17 am

The initial airing of this weekend’s “Beyond The Gridiron,” which typically airs at Noon each Saturday on KARE 11, will air at 6:30 AM this Saturday due to NBC’s coverage of the Ryder Cup.  The show will re-air on Sunday as usual on FSN at 10 AM.

Fans can learn more about the show and watch segments from it here.


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Young Kicker Walsh Meets Great Kicker Hanson This Week

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 27, 2012 – 4:54 pm

Viking Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer has had a great deal of success in his brief time working with rookie K Blair Walsh. Through three regular season games, Walsh is a perfect 7 of 7 on FG tries and his 15 touchbacks this year are already approaching the Vikings total (19) from all of last season.

Walsh has made routine kicks – he’s 3 of 3 from within 39 yards. Walsh has made long kicks – he’s the first kicker in franchise history to have a FG of 50+ yards in 3 consecutive games.  And Walsh has made clutch kicks – a 55-yarder to send the game into overtime and a 38-yarder to win the game in overtime against Jacksonville in Week 1.

Things are definitely looking up for Walsh in his young career. But how great can Walsh be? We don’t know, yet. The Vikings 6th-round kicker has only played in 3 games. But the Vikings opponent this week – the Detroit Lions – have a kicker on their roster whom Walsh should admire – Jason Hanson.

Priefer himself pointed this out, paying perhaps the highest compliment possible to a NFL player.

“Nothing he does any more surprises me,” Priefer said. “He’s kind of like a Hall of Fame-type guy to me. I know they haven’t had a lot of great teams in the past there. He’s been on a few good ones and obviously, lately, very good. But to me, he’s a Hall of Fame-type performer.”

Hanson, who turned 42 in June, is now in his 21st season and is the Lions all-time scoring leader with 2,053 points. He is only the sixth player in NFL history to connect on 400 career field goals and the eighth to make 600 PATs. With a 50-yarder vs. San Diego in December of 2011, Hanson became the first player in NFL history with 50 FGs of 50+ yards. He holds the NFL record for the most games played by one player with one team (310), and he is the first player in NFL history to play 300 games with one franchise.

The superlatives on Hanson could go on and on. Even so, Hanson managed to do something last week that even he, in 20+ NFL seasons, had only done 12 times before – he punted. Ben Graham, who was the Lions punter, was injured during last week’s game and was forced out of action. The Lions called on Hanson to fill in, and he stepped up to the challenge.

“He’s amazing,” Priefer said. “What an athlete, too. To come in and punt the ball like he did last week with those three punts. And I read somewhere he didn’t think they were good punts. I thought they were outstanding punts. They were high, short, really un-returnable, fair catch balls, and had one inside the 20.”

Vikings fans should be excited about their young kicker and the success he’s had through three games. And while it’s too early to start comparing him to all-time greats or even current solid professionals, it is exciting to see what Walsh is doing when you consider the kind contributions Hanson has given to the Lions over the course of two decades.


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Three Offensive Starters Return To Practice For Lions

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 27, 2012 – 12:46 pm

The Detroit Lions got some good news on Thursday as they continued preparations for Sunday’s game against the Vikings. QB Matthew Stafford and two other offensive starters returned to practice after sitting out on Wednesday.

Stafford had been dealing with a hip injury before last week, but he aggravated the during Sunday’s loss in Tennessee and wasn’t able to finish the game. He sat out of practice on Wednesday, leaving some to wonder if he’d be available for the game this weekend. As we said earlier on Thursday, though, Stafford has a reputation for playing through pain and the Vikings were preparing for him to start.

“Yeah, it was good,” Lions Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan said, according to Tim Twentyman of the team’s website. “He got a lot of work in. Jim (Schwartz) can give you a status update today. But, he was out there and I think he feels a lot better.”

Two other offensive starters who also sat out on Wednesday returned to practice on Thursday. WR Titus Young (knee), an important part of the Lions #1-ranked passing offense, was back on the field and so too was TE Tony Scheffler (calf). Scheffler missed last week’s game because of the calf injury. Brandon Pettigrew and Scheffler are both listed as starting TEs on the team’s website depth chart.

The Lions didn’t get the same kind of good injury news with their defense on Thursday. Twentyman reported that S Louis Delmas (knee), DT Corey Williams (knee) and LB Travis Lewis (quad) all were not practicing. Furthermore, the Lions later announced that Williams, a starter along with N’Damukong Suh in the middle of Detroit’s stout defensive line, underwent knee surgery and will be unavailable for Sunday’s game.

We’ll have more on that as well as plenty of Vikings updates from practice later today, so stay tuned.


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Vikings Expect Lions QB Stafford To Start Despite Injury

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 27, 2012 – 6:23 am

An injury prevented Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford from finishing last week’s game against the Tennessee Titans, and that has some wondering whether Stafford will start this week’s game against the Vikings.

Stafford left the Tennessee game with what was described as a strained leg muscle, according to the Detroit Free Press’s Dave Birkett. On Wednesday, Stafford did not participate in Detroit’s practice and he was listed on the injury report with a “hamstring” designation. But in his report, Birkett also noted that there’s been ambiguity about what exactly is bothering Stafford – some have referenced a hip, others the hamstring, and then last week’s in-game announcement was “strained leg muscle.”

While there may be ambiguity about what is holding Stafford back for the moment, the Vikings have clarity about what they expect on Sunday at Ford Field.

“We’ll prepare as if he is going to start,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. “We’ll, of course, look at tape on Shaun Hill as well, but yeah, we’re expecting Stafford to be the starter and then we’ll have to adjust if it’s Shaun Hill.”

The Vikings are taking the prudent course of action in assuming Stafford will play. Stafford has dealt with injuries at various points in his career, but he has a reputation for being able to play – and play well – through pain and injury. Stafford said on Wednesday that he feels “better today than I did on Sunday” and that it’s taking it “day-by-day.”

In 4 career games against the Vikings, Stafford has completed 63.5% of his passes and averages 245.3 yards per game with 6 TDs and 2 INTs.

As Frazier mentioned, if Stafford is unable to play it will be Hill who replaces him. Hill went undrafted out of Maryland in 2002 and made his NFL debut with the Vikings. He played in Minnesota through 2005, and has also spent time with the San Francisco 49ers (2006-09) and now the Lions. For his career, Hill has completed 61.9% of his passes and has a 41-23 TD-INT ratio.

 


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