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Ponder Produces Best Game In Biggest Moment

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 31, 2012 – 7:36 am

Sunday’s win-and-in, season finale against the Green Bay Packers was a big moment for the Vikings organization. Having won just 9 of their previous 32 games entering the 2012 season, the Vikings won 9 games in 2012 alone and needed a 10th victory in the season’s final week to qualify for the postseason.

They did it. The Vikings registered a thrilling, instant classic 37-34 victory that included a walk-off 29-yard FG from their rookie Pro Bowl kicker – Blair Walsh. The game also included a historic performance from RB Adrian Peterson, as he rushed for 199 yards and a TD on 34 carries. In the effort, Peterson became just the 7th player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards.

In mentioning the individuals who were instrumental in guiding the Vikings to victory, Peterson and Walsh should be near the top of the list. At the top of the list, though, you’ll find QB Christian Ponder. He’s been much-maligned at times in Minnesota, producing uneven results in 25 career starts entering Sunday. He’s had ups and downs. He’s been criticized plenty. Some say he cost the Vikings a victory earlier in the season at Lambeau Field with costly 2nd-half interceptions that spoiled a 210-yard rushing output by Peterson.

But on Sunday, in what was the biggest moment yet in his young career, Ponder gave us his best performance. He was 16 of 28 for 234 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs, good for a 120.2 passer rating. He took just one sack, had no turnovers, and made clutch throws in crucial moments. On 3rd downs, Ponder was 8 of 11 for 87 yards with 1 TD, no sacks and no INTs. Of the 8 completions on 3rd downs, 6 resulted in 1st downs.

“He made so many big plays at the quarterback position, some of the throws,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. “He’s playing at a high, high level at this point. We needed that today against a high powered offense with an excellent quarterback. He did a terrific job. He’s playing very good football at the right time for us.”

The key moment of the game came at the 2-minute warning, and all the pressure was on Ponder. Facing a 3rd and 11 from the Minnesota 27 with 2:00 to play and the game knotted at 34, Ponder dropped back, pump faked, and found WR Michael Jenkins in between defenders for a 25-yard completion. That led to the eventual game-winning FG by Walsh. Earlier in the 4th quarter with the game tied at 27, it was Jenkins who was on the receiving end of a 3-yard TD toss from Ponder after the QB had avoided pressure and scrambled to his left to buy time. That Ponder-to-Jenkins TD play also came on a 3rd down.

“He’s grown a lot,” Jenkins, a 9-year veteran, said in the locker room after the game. “A lot of people outside of this locker room have written him off. That was tough to see him kind of go through that, but he persevered through that. He battled. It was probably his best game today.”

It was definitely his best game. As I wrote in the Monday Morning Mailbag, Sunday was certainly a Top 3 performance for Ponder when you look at the raw numbers. He’s thrown for more yards on seven occasions, but he’s never had a higher single-game passer rating (120.2) and the performance against Green Bay is the 2nd time he’s had 3-plus TD passes in the game. But when you consider the circumstances in concert with the raw numbers, there’s no question that Sunday’s win over Green Bay was the best performance of Ponder’s career. Given what transpired before the Vikings even kicked off, with both Chicago and the NY Giants winning, the Vikings were in a true win-and-in scenario, where there was no way for them to qualify for the postseason with a loss.

This game will go down as one game in his entire body of work as the Vikings evaluate him going into the offseason. But the quarterback position, more than any other, is evaluated with careful consideration to “clutch moments,” and Sunday’s game against Green Bay represented as clutch a moment as Ponder has seen in his career. Ponder played his best game in the biggest moment.

 

 


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Vikings Power Past Packers To Playoffs With 37-34 Win

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 30, 2012 – 8:29 pm

Game Highlights >>
Box Score >>
Game Photos >>
Postgame Pressers (Frazier / Ponder / Peterson) >>

A Vikings team that’s proven resilient throughout the 2012 regular season needed every ounce of it they had left to qualify for the postseason. When all was said and done, the Vikings defeated a high-powered Green Bay Packers team that showed no quit themselves by a count of 37-34 in front of a frenzied Mall of America Field Crowd on Sunday.

“Just a great job by our football team,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said moments after the game. “I’m so proud of our guys. A complete team effort all the way across against a very good football team. For our guys to be as resilient as they were throughout this ballgame…our fans were terrific throughout this game. It’s the first time in a long time I felt like, playing against Green Bay and being at home, we truly had home-field advantage because our fans were loud, they made it hard for their team to really function at times, and we needed that. I’m very, very grateful to our fans that really had an impact on this ballgame at Mall of America Field.”

There’s no question the Vikings heart and their home crowd’s noise made a difference in Sunday’s outcome. But the Vikings also needed firepower to get the job done, and that came from the arm of QB Christian Ponder, the legs of RB Adrian Peterson and the right foot of rookie Pro Bowl K Blair Walsh. Ponder, playing in the biggest game of his young career, came up big by completing 16 of 28 passes for 234 yards with 3 TDs and no INTs – good for a passer rating of 120.2.

“He’s playing at a high, high level at this point,” Frazier said. “And we needed that today going against a high-powered offense with an excellent quarterback. He did a terrific job. He’s playing very good football at the right time for us.”

As for Peterson, he’s been the heart and soul of the Vikings all season, and was in Sunday’s win as well. The best RB in the NFL carried the ball 34 times and continuously pounded a game Packers defense. He finished with 199 yards rushing and 1 TD, while also adding a receiving TD to his box score. Peterson became just the 7th player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a single season and he came up 9 yards short of breaking the NFL single-season rushing mark.

Defensively, the Vikings had a hard time containing Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay’s explosive passing game. Rodgers finished going 28 of 40 for 365 yards with 4 TDs and 0 INTs, good for a 131.8 passer rating. But there were moments when the Vikings defense combined with a raucous Mall of America Field crowd to come up big. Green Bay was forced to punt after their first three possessions, and that allowed the Vikings to build up a 13-0 lead.

On top of that, Rodgers was pressured for much of the day. The Vikings registered 5 sacks of Rodgers, with 3.0 of them coming from Everson Griffen and 1.0 each coming from Jared Allen and Brian Robison. It was Robison who sacked Rodgers and forced a fumble in the 3rd quarter that led to a TD pass from Ponder to Peterson and a 27-17 lead. LB Erin Henderson led the Vikings in tackles with 7 and Kevin Williams had a big pass defensed early in the game on a 3rd down.

The most important sequence of the game came at the end, following a cold-blooded offensive series by Rodgers and the Packers that resulted in a 2-yard TD toss to WR Jordy Nelson and a tied game at 34 with 2:54 to play. Marcus Sherels returned the ensuing kickoff 29 yards to the Minnesota 28, setting up Ponder and Co. with a 1st and 10 and an opportunity to march for a game-winning score.

And that’s exactly what happened, thanks in large part to a crucial 3rd-down throw by Ponder. After bouncing a pass incomplete to Peterson on 1st down and then Peterson losing a yard on a 2nd-down carry, the Vikings faced a 3rd and 11 at the 2-minute warning. The worst-case scenario for the Vikings was an incomplete pass that forced them to punt the ball to Rodgers, who could put together a game-winning drive of his own. Rodgers never got that chance, though, and it’s because of a perfectly-placed pass by Ponder to WR Michael Jenkins down the left sideline that yielded 25 yards, a 1st down, and hope within the stadium.

From that point on, the Vikings wisely rode the legs of Peterson, giving it to him 4 times and watching him rip off 37 yards to put the Vikings on the Green Bay 11. Walsh, who had already hit from 54 and 37 earlier in the game, handled things from there, converting a 29-yard game-winner as time expired to give the Vikings their 37th point, their 10th win, and their first trip to the playoffs since 2009.

Sunday’s win and the subsequent postseason berth is a remarkable accomplishment for a team coming off a 3-13 season a year ago. This is a team that, prior to the season starting, many thought would be an afterthought by this time. But these Vikings are anything but an afterthought at the moment.

They’re a playoff team.


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Vikings-Packers Rematch Slated For Primetime On Saturday

Posted by Ryan Cardinal on December 30, 2012 – 8:03 pm

The NFL has announced that the Vikings-Packers Wild Card game will take place in primetime on Saturday, Jan. 5 at 7 PM CT on NBC.  The game will be broadcast on KARE 11 in the Twin Cities and throughout the state of Minnesota.

Needless to say, much more on this rubber-match between the two teams throughout the week on vikings.com.


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Peterson Goes Over The 2,000 Yard Mark In Third Quarter vs. Green Bay

Posted by Ryan Cardinal on December 30, 2012 – 5:19 pm

Early in the third quarter of Sunday’s game vs. Green Bay, Adrian Peterson ripped off a 20-yard run to both go over the 100-yard mark on the day and push his season total to over 2,000, making him just the seventh back in the history of the league to run for 2,000 yards in a single season.

UPDATE: Peterson fell just nine yards short of the record as he went for 199 yards in Sunday’s win.  His 2012 season ranks second all-time behind Eric Dickerson’s all-time record of 2,105 which he set in 1984.


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Vikings-Packers Inactives

Posted by Ryan Cardinal on December 30, 2012 – 2:01 pm

Here are today’s inactive players for the Vikings and the Packers.

Packers
WR Randall Cobb
DB Charles Woodson
CB Davon House
RB James Starks
LB Terrell Manning
WR Donald Driver
DT Jordan Miller

Vikings
QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson
WR Stephen Burton
CB Brandon Burton
S Robert Blanton
LB Audie Cole
OL Troy Kropog
DE D’Aundre Reed


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Greenway: “We Have To Take Advantage Of Our Home Field”

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 30, 2012 – 1:35 pm

I made note of a quote from Vikings LB Chad Greenway earlier in the week when he appeared on NFL Network, and I haven’t found a spot to put it in the blog. Now is the time, with kickoff only hours away and the frenzied environment that will be Mall of America Field about to unfold.

The Vikings are 7-1 at home this season, and Greenway stressed the importance of the Vikings using their home-field advantage to their advantage against Green Bay this week.

“Obviously we have to take advantage of our home field,” Greenway said. “That’s the biggest thing for us. We know how good Green Bay is. They’re rolling right now. They’ve got things clicking late in the year and this is when you want to be playing your best football. I think for us it’s about going out there, using our home-field advantage. This is where we feel most comfortable…where we play our best ball. We’re looking forward to being in front of our home-field crowd and taking advantage of it.”


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Fast Starts A Strength For Both Vikings Offense, Packers Defense

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 28, 2012 – 11:39 am

One objective every team has for every game in every sport is to “start fast.” But of course it’s one thing to say you want to do it, and it’s an entirely different thing to actually go out and do it.

The Vikings offense has been one of the NFL’s best at registering an early score. They rank 3rd in the NFL with 48 points scored on opening drives and 3rd in TDs scored with 6. Of late, the Vikings have been especially sharp on opening drives, scoring TDs on the first offensive series in each of the last 3 games – all wins.

“It’s been impressive,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. “It’s exactly what we’ve needed. We talked all along about being able to start fast on offense and defense and we’ve gotten that done as of late. We’re going to need it again against a high powered offense and a very good defense. We’ve always put the time in trying to come up with what we think would be a good way to start games, it just so happens we’ve been clicking of late. We’re going to need it again this Sunday.”

The trouble this week, though, is that the Green Bay Packers defense has been one of the NFL’s best at preventing opposing offenses from registering an early score. Green Bay ranks 4th in points allowed on an opponent’s first offensive possession, and they rank 1st in opponent’s punts on the first possession. Also, Green Bay is one of just 4 teams to not even allow a FG attempt on an opening possession this season.

It’s a strength vs. strength scenario in this regard on Sunday when the Vikings and Packers conclude their regular seasons with another Border Battle. The team that can execute better in this phase will have an early advantage at Mall of America Field.

 


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Will Cobb’s Availability Impact Vikings Approach?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 28, 2012 – 7:28 am

The Packers have 13 players listed on this week’s injury report, many of them key players. Many of those key players are making progress and should be available for Sunday’s season finale against the Vikings.

K Mason Crosby (illness) and G Josh Sitton (concussion) went from not practicing on Wednesday to being limited on Thursday, and C Evan Dietrich-Smith (knee) and DEs CJ Wilson (knee) and Jerel Worthy (hamstring) went from limited on Wednesday to full participants on Thursday. On top of that, WR Jordy Nelson looks to be on track to play after missing the past 3 games with a hamstring injury.

Another important name to watch with regard to availability on Sunday is Randall Cobb. He injured his ankle on a 3rd quarter punt return during last week’s win over Tennessee, forcing him out of the game. Listed on the injury report with a knee and ankle injury, Cobb practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and did not practice on Thursday. Earlier in the week, Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said the team would test Cobb’s knee on Friday to gauge his availability for Sunday.

“I think it’s a possibility,” Cobb told Packers.com on Thursday after he observed practice. “We’re going to take it day by day and see where we are on Sunday.”

If Cobb is on the sidelines rather than on the field Sunday, it will help the Vikings. Cobb averages 25.4 yards per kickoff return and 9.4 yards per punt return, both solid numbers. In fact, Cobb is the caliber of returner that the Vikings could alter their approach on kickoffs based on Cobb’s status. If Cobb plays, the Vikings may elect to have K Blair Walsh attempt to blast his kickoffs out of the end zone for touchbacks. If Cobb doesn’t play, perhaps the Vikings will elect to have Walsh put hang time under his kicks, land them just inside the goal line, and then rely on the coverage team to make a play – something they’ve done frequently this season, as illustrated by the fact that no one has returned a kickoff past the 25-yardline against the Vikings since October 7.

How the Vikings approach kickoffs this week, whether Cobb plays or not, remains to be seen. And Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer did not tip his hand on Thursday.

“Randall Cobb is a great returner,” Priefer said. “I know he’s a little banged up right now, but I expect him to play. I would expect him to be back there because this game is big for them as well. I think touchbacks are fine with a returner like that, but we’re going to kick it high and deep and we’re going to cover them and when he brings them out we have to be there to make the play.”

Also keep in mind, this season has been Cobb’s best on offense. He ranks 1st on Green Bay in receptions (80), targets (104), receiving yards (954) and 20-yard receptions (17).

Expect some news to develop on Friday afternoon regarding Cobb’s availability. But it won’t be a surprise if the Packers wait until 90 minutes prior to kickoff before making public their decision on whether Cobb will play or not.


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The Hard Count, Paying Felton’s Fee & A Great Decision In Houston

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 27, 2012 – 1:54 pm

As they do each Thursday before a Sunday game, the three Vikings coordinators met with reporters inside the Winter Park field house. Here are a few of the notable discussion points from each of their conversations…

The Hard Count
One of the nuances fans can pick up by watching games on television is the different cadences of QBs across the NFL. Many QBs have non-descript cadences, but some have a distinct pattern and/or tone. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is one with a distinct cadence, and it caused the Vikings some trouble in the Week 13 game at Lambeau Field.

In going through that game’s play-by-play, I counted 5 times in which the Vikings were flagged for defensive offsides. Some of those penalties were declined, some were accepted. But all of them were because of how good Rodgers is at what they call the “hard count” to try and draw the defense across the line before the snap, sometimes resulting in a “free play” for the offense and often times resulting in a 5-yard penalty.

“You’ll see time and time again the defenses that are jumping offsides in the neutral zone,” Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams noted on Thursday. “We want to make sure we key the ball and get off on the ball and not any voice reflections and that type of thing.”

Working on this is nothing new for NFL teams. The Vikings have made that a focus of practice every week of the season, it’s just that Rodgers is better than most at drawing opponents offsides.

“He’s one of the masters at it,” Williams said of Rodgers, “and we have to make sure that we hold our water and not jump and shoot ourselves in the foot because we did do that the last time we played them.”

Paying Felton’s Fee
Vikings FB Jerome Felton was named to his first Pro Bowl on Wednesday, a well-deserved honor for the hardworking 5th-year pro. Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave was asked a few questions about his all-star fullback, and within one of the answers he provided a funny story from his time in Jacksonville.

“When I was in Jacksonville, James Harris, our General Manager, used to say you have to pay the fullback’s fee at times for all that blocking that they do,” Musgrave explained. “It’s nice to hand them a belly every once in a while, a dive, throw the ball out there to him in the flat. We haven’t paid Jerome his fee very often and he continues to do a good job.”

No Problem In Houston
A key moment in last week’s win over the Houston Texans came in the 4th quarter, with the Vikings leading 16-6 and facing a 4th and 9 from the Houston 40. For most teams, that’s an automatic punting situation. But with Blair Walsh on the team, the Vikings aren’t most team. Earlier in the game, Walsh blasted a 56-yard FG through the pipes, giving him a NFL-record 9 FGs of over 50 yards on the season.

Had the Vikings decided to trot Walsh and Co. out onto the field from the 40, it would’ve been about a 58-yard try that, if converted, would’ve extended the Vikings lead to 19-6. If it was off the mark or short, Houston would’ve taken over at their own 40 trailing by 10 with roughly 12:30 to play.

The Vikings decided to punt. And the decision paid off.

“Coach (Frazier) and I talked about that,” Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer explained. “And the risk-reward, the risk was higher than the reward at that point in my opinion. The way our defense was playing, he and I talked about it, he made a great call and a great decision on going ahead and punting it there in that situation. Because of the situation, the way our defense was playing, pin them back deep and let’s go. Kluwe had a great punt, Josh Robinson made a really nice play for us.”

Kluwe’s punt landed at around the 5 and Robinson sped down the field to down it at the 1. Houston went 3-and-out, punted the ball away, and the Vikings offense marched onto the field and then marched down the field on a 10-play, 64-yard TD scoring drive that was capped by a 1-yard Toby Gerhart plunge. The score put the Vikings ahead 23-6, the drive took 6:01 off the game clock, and the decision to punt rather than try a 58-yard FG turned out to be the right one.


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Packers Injury Report: CB Woodson Ruled Out, But DL Getting Healthier

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 27, 2012 – 8:00 am

Future Hall of Fame CB Charles Woodson did not play in the first Vikings-Packers matchup of the season because of a broken collarbone suffered against the St. Louis Rams in Week 7. And he won’t play in the second Vikings-Packers matchup, either, because of the injury.

Sunday will mark the 9th game Woodson has missed because of the injury. The Packers were hopeful that Woodson would make his return this week for the season finale, hoping the game would serve as a tune-up for the team’s postseason run.

“We were hopeful this was going to be the game,” Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “This is his fourth week now going through practice. I know he’s disappointed. This is a game he’d really like to play in.”

Elsewhere, though, Green Bay is getting healthier. That is especially the case along the defensive line, where starter CJ Wilson returned to practice after missing the past 4 games and rookie DE Jerel Worthy also returned to work after missing last week’s game. Wilson is one of Green Bay’s top run stoppers, and his absence from the first border battle was a plus for Adrian Peterson and the Vikings as they ran up and down Lambeau Field. Worthy is a high-performing member of the DL rotation and one of several contributors from the Packers 2012 draft class.

Green Bay has 13 players listed on its injury report. Listed as out was Woodson. Listed as non-participants in practice were K Mason Crosby, G Josh Sitton and RB James Starks. Listed as limited participants in practice were WR Randall Cobb, G Evan Dietrich-Smith, CB Davon House, Wilson, Worthy and C Jeff Saturday. Full participants were TE Tom Crabtree, RB Alex Green and WR Jordy Nelson.

For the Vikings, DE Jared Allen, RB Adrian Peterson and CB Antoine Winfield did not practice. DE Brian Robison was limited, and P Chris Kluwe, RT Phil Loadholt and CB Marcus Sherels were full participants.


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