Walsh’s Impact Not Limited To FGs

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 10, 2012 – 1:41 pm

All the talk about Vikings K Blair Walsh after the game centered on his clutch FGs, a 55-yarder as time expired in the 4th quarter to send the game into overtime and then a 38-yarder to give the Vikings a lead and, ultimately, a victory in overtime.

Walsh’s teammates and his head coach showered him with praise in the moments after the game.

“There were clutch plays all over the place, and I can’t say enough about Blair Walsh,” QB Christian Ponder said in his post-game press conference. “For him to nail the field goal that was 55 yards, in his first real action, was unbelievable. For him to put us ahead in overtime was great. Obviously, he’s a great weapon for us to have on offense. He takes the pressure off of us because we know if we’re close, he’s going to get us points regardless.”

Frazier gave credit to Walsh, as well as to those who felt strongly in the pre-draft process that Walsh had the ability to kick in the NFL.

“You have to credit Rick (Spielman) and Mike Priefer and our scouts for finding him and having confidence that he was the right guy for what we wanted to do going into this season,” Frazier said. “Blair, there is no need to say it, but it was outstanding to come away and kick the way he did at the end of regulation and then to hit the game-winning field goal in overtime.”

That’s all well and good. Walsh came up big with his FG kicking, converting all 4 of his tries on the day, and has eased a lot of the worry for those who questioned the Vikings decision to select him last April. But Walsh’s influence on Sunday’s season-opening win was not limited to FGs. Walsh, as the team expected when they used a 6th-round pick on him, was also a difference-maker on kickoffs.

Walsh had 6 kickoffs in the game, with 5 of them reaching the end zone and 3 of them resulting in a touchback. His combination of depth and hang time on kickoffs will cause the opposing offense to begin drives deep in their own territory, which will make life easier for the Vikings defense.

The Jaguars average starting field position on Sunday was the 19.5-yardline, with 2 of their 3 drives that began after a kickoff return starting inside the 20. Those drives resulted in a punt and the end of the 1st half, while the Jaguars drives that started on the 20 resulted in a fumble, FG and punt. On their 6 drives that began at or inside the 20, the Jaguars produced just 3 total points.

The statistics listed in the two preceding paragraphs represent marked improvements from last year for the Vikings. While it’s just a one-game snapshot, it’s a sign that the Vikings have things going in the right direction when it comes to the kicking game.

After Sunday’s game, Walsh was clearly thrilled to be able to provide the contribution he did. The Vikings put together a solid 2nd half after starting slowly, and it appeared for a moment as if victory would slip through their hands after a late TD by the Jaguars. Ponder and Walsh led scoring drives to save the win late in the game.

“It is awesome,” Walsh said in the locker room after the game. “We came out and fought so hard for this victory, and we worked so hard in the offseason, and this is the first time it actually counted. It is awesome to just go out there and get a win for these guys.”

As we mentioned on Monday morning, Ponder displayed on Sunday publically the improvement and progress he’s displayed privately to coaches and teammates over the course of the offseason and preseason. Frazier explained after the game how he anticipates Ponder leading the team to victories like Sunday’s for many years to come.

And Ponder explained that he sees Walsh kicking the Vikings to victory for many years to come, too.

“For a guy that is so young to handle that pressure in his very first game was a testament to him and how good he is,” Ponder said. “I think he’s going to be a Viking for a long time.”

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Ponder Pivotal In Vikings Victory After Slow Start

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 10, 2012 – 8:47 am

With everything that happened on Sunday at Mall of America Field during the Vikings season-opening win against the Jaguars – Adrian Peterson’s return and new team rushing record, Blair Walsh’s clutch kicking, implementation of new overtime procedures – there is one important aspect of the Vikings performance that has been overshadowed. And that’s the performance of Vikings QB Christian Ponder.

Ponder’s stat line at the conclusion of the game read: 20 of 27 for 270 yards with 0 TDs and 0 INTs. It was a solid performance for the second-year passer, especially when you add in how he was able to put the Vikings in position to try a game-saving FG as time expired.

But it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine for Ponder. He and the offense got off to a slow start before they put the pedal to the metal in the 2nd half. Ponder’s numbers were pedestrian in the first two quarters, as he went 7 of 11 for 78 yards. The Vikings ran just 10 plays and picked up only one first down in their first three drives, and their fourth drive went for 6 plays and 24 yards before ending in a punt.

After the game, Ponder pointed the finger at himself.

“It didn’t start off that well and a lot of that has to do with me,” Ponder explained. “I have to set the tone for this offense and play with a sense of urgency. And I didn’t.  We changed that around going into that last drive of the first half and continued that into the second half.”

Indeed, the Vikings last drive of the 1st half was pivotal. The Vikings defense forced a 3-and-out and a Jaguars punt with 2:40 to play in the 2nd quarter. Ponder and Co. took possession at their own 41 with 2:28 to play, needing to put something on the board after going scoreless up to that point.

“We hadn’t had points all game, and they were up 9-0,” Ponder said. “We knew we had to get points on the board. We went into two-minute offense, and when you do that, things are naturally going to pick up. I think that was a great starting point to set the tone for the second half. I think that definitely changed the momentum.”

Ponder began the drive with an 11-yard completion to Percy Harvin, then Adrian Peterson dashed for an 8-yard gain to the Jaguars 27. Another Ponder completion, this one to Michael Jenkins for 14 yards, put the Vikings in the shadow of the Jaguars goal line. Peterson finished the drive two plays later with a 3-yard TD run, giving the Mall of America Field crowd some optimism and the Vikings some confidence heading into the locker room at halftime.

The Vikings offense hit the ground running in the 2nd half, and Ponder was a big reason for that. He was 13 of 16 for 192 yards in the 2nd half, including 2 for 2 on the drive late in the 4th quarter that set up Blair Walsh for the game-tying 55-yard FG. Ponder found Devin Aromashodu for 26 yards and then Kyle Rudolph for 6 more, advancing his team from their own 31 to the Jacksonville 37 in just 10 seconds.

At that moment, it was apparent to Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier that his young quarterback was displaying to everyone the growth and progression he had displayed to teammates and coaches during the offseason program, training camp and the preseason.

“Christian has grown so much and we felt that was true when we had him in the offseason and watching him in the preseason and some of the things we were doing in practice,” Frazier explained. “But you also want to see it in game situations, and I just thought he did a terrific job throughout of managing the game and then making plays for us when we needed some big plays, and none any bigger than that last drive with 20 seconds to go.

“He’s growing up right before our eyes, and we really feel like he’s the guy who can lead us to big places and today was a big step towards seeing that happen.”

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