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.”
Tags: Blair Walsh, Christian Ponder, Leslie Frazier
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