ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- It appeared Sunday would be another rough day for Minnesota Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who had hit just three of his first 11 passes and threw interceptions on back-to-back plays in the second quarter. But the progress Bridgewater made later in Sunday's game, including his first NFL touchdown pass, came after what could be an important realization in the quarterback's development.

Bridgewater threw the first of his two interceptions to Leodis McKelvin after he appeared to pass up a deep shot to Jarius Wright down the middle, firing late to Chase Ford on a ball that was tipped and intercepted. McKelvin also undercut an out route to Adam Thielen that Bridgewater appeared to throw late after hitching twice. The problems led the rookie to think back to what he was doing in training camp during a stretch of interceptions in early August, and what he experienced at that point ultimately helped him turn things around on Sunday.

"That was just me trying to be perfect," Bridgewater said. "I think I went back to old training camp days of trying to be perfect in every area, instead of just trusting my God-given ability and trusting the offense and trusting the system. I am going to continue to get better; just get a rhythm."

After the two interceptions, Bridgewater found one. He hit 12 of his final 15 throws for 136 yards and a touchdown, making arguably his best throws of the day to extend drives on third downs. He hit Greg Jennings up the seam for 38 yards on third-and-7, found Wright on a gorgeous 28-yard back-shoulder throw on third-and-18, and hit Wright on the same drive for 14 yards on third-and-10. After a loss to the Detroit Lions in which he went just 2-for-8 on throws longer than 10 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Bridgewater hit several throws downfield on Sunday, connecting with Jennings, Wright and Cordarrelle Patterson on 12 of his 15 completions.

"After the second interception, Greg came up to me and told me, 'Hey, whatever is going on up in that head, up in that computer of yours, just reboot it,'" Bridgewater said. "Hearing that coming from a veteran, that was just telling me to relax and just play football."

Bridgewater overshot a deep ball to Patterson that might have sealed the game on the Vikings' final drive, and he was sacked five times on a day where he said he still held the ball too long on several occasions. He also blamed himself for a red zone sack in the fourth quarter where he had a run-pass option and kept the ball instead of handing off to Jerick McKinnon. "I should have left the run on, but that's a play where I was trying to think too much," Bridgewater said. "I need to give my guys a chance [to make a play]."

If the game baked some progress into Bridgewater's game, in a season that increasingly looks like it will be about developing young players for the future, the Vikings will be better for it. On Sunday, there was reason to think Bridgewater made some progress after an ugly start to his day.

"I thought he settled down better in the third quarter and end of the second quarter," coach Mike Zimmer said. "We continue to have high expectations of him, and he needs to keep being put in these situations, as well."
videoORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Mike Zimmer became the Minnesota Vikings' head coach in no small part because of games like these. His predecessor, Leslie Frazier, presided over a team that blew five last-minute leads in 2013, effectively handing over their chance to win a mediocre division in a series of miscommunications, coverage breakdowns and missed chances to salt away games. Zimmer and Frazier will share a field next Sunday in Tampa, and the closing touchdown drive the Vikings allowed in a 17-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday shares some DNA with the ones that helped send Frazier back to being a defensive coordinator.

But the Vikings' problems were spliced in between a set of commanding plays from an aggressive defense, and they put a sour finish on a performance that looked nothing like the tepid defensive efforts the Vikings had last season. The Vikings put the Bills on the brink several times on Sunday, and came tantalizingly close to taking the game for themselves.

That they didn't ultimately shows how much of a work in progress they remain.

"You check off every thing you wanted to do, you do it -- other than maybe stopping the run as well as we would like," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "But the game wasn't over. There was time on the clock, and they were able to make some key throws there at the end."

The Vikings' performance, which featured six sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception, will ultimately be remembered for the throws Bills quarterback Kyle Orton made, especially in situations where the Vikings had the Bills dead to rights. Greenway was targeted on one of those throws -- a fourth-and-20 strike to tight end Scott Chandler, who got just behind the linebacker after it appeared Greenway was still communicating defensive adjustments to teammates when the ball was snapped.

"You can't have it," Greenway said. "It's a situation where you've got to get off the field. I thought I was in a good spot. Perfect throw-and-catch. That's what sucks about this game; you play good for a long time, and you end up losing."

Three plays later, cornerback Josh Robinson was matched against wide receiver Sammy Watkins on third-and-12; Robinson had inside leverage on Watkins in man coverage, but Watkins beat a quick jam from Robinson and got inside on a slant route for 18 yards. Then, on second-and-20 after an intentional grounding penalty that forced 10 seconds off the clock, Orton hit Chris Hogan on a jump ball over Xavier Rhodes. Two plays later, the Bills were in the end zone, on a touchdown pass to Watkins that Orton squeezed past Rhodes with one second left.

"I've just got to make the play on the ball," Rhodes said. "No matter if it was good coverage, I've got to make the play."

Coming into Sunday's game, the Vikings were tied for the second-worst conversion rate in the league on third downs of 10 yards or longer, giving up first downs on nine of their 27 attempts. They'd forced a fumble on a third-and-10 in the first quarter, and sacked Orton on a third-and-10 and third-and-17 in the fourth quarter. But then came the fourth-down completion to Chandler, the third-down slant to Watkins and the second down jump ball to Hogan, and the Vikings' progress was tough to remember.

"We probably need to be better in some of those long-yardage situations than we have been," Zimmer said. "That's kind of been the Achilles heel. But, if you go back and look at the things we're working on: playing the run. Other than the one long run [by C.J. Spiller], I thought we played the run well. The third-down conversions have been better. Defensively, I think we continue to work towards where we have to get to. Our guys have to continue to have confidence in themselves that they can make these plays at the end of the ball game."

Jim Basquil and Merril Hoge break down the Bills' 17-16 win over the Vikings.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Minnesota Vikings' 17-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday:

Zimmer: Not coaching was never a thought: Coach Mike Zimmer had a "minor procedure" to deal with kidney stones on Friday but told Fox's broadcast crew in a production meeting that he'll need more work done to remove them on Tuesday. He coached in some pain on Sunday, but Zimmer said there was never any doubt he'd be able to coach on Sunday. "I'll be all right," Zimmer said.

Greenway on fourth down: "You can't have it" -- The mood was somber in the Vikings' locker room after a loss in which the team gave up a game-winning touchdown with one second left. It was a defeat eerily similar to the five games where the Vikings blew last-minute leads last season, and the Bills extended this drive on a couple of key plays: a fourth-and-20 where Kyle Orton found tight end Scott Chandler just behind Chad Greenway, and a third-and-12 that got the Bills to the Vikings' 20. "You check off every thing you want to do, you do it -- other than maybe stopping the run," Greenway said. "The game wasn't over, and they were able to make some big throws at the end. The [fourth-and-20], you can't have it. It's a situation where you've got to get off the field. I thought I was in a good spot. Perfect throw and catch. That's what sucks about this game: You play good for a long time, and you end up losing."

Ducasse felt "sharp pain" in knee: Guard Vlad Ducasse, who was already filling in for injured starter Brandon Fusco, left the game with a knee injury late in the first quarter, on the same play that also saw center John Sullivan leave with a concussion. Ducasse wasn't sure how he hurt his knee; "I just went to get up off the ground, and there was a sharp pain in my knee." Ducasse did not return, and Mike Harris played the rest of the game at right guard.

Rapid Reaction: Minnesota Vikings

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- A few thoughts on the Minnesota Vikings' 17-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday:

What it means: In a game that Mike Zimmer coached while dealing with kidney stones, the Vikings left with a gut-wrenching loss that felt all too similar to last season. They missed a chance to put the game away late, and then saw Kyle Orton drive the Bills the length of the field in the game's final three minutes, converting a fourth-and-20 and a third-and-12 in the process, before throwing a game-winning touchdown to Sammy Watkins with one second left. The loss wiped out a day in which Teddy Bridgewater showed some progress after a pair of early interceptions, the Vikings sacked Orton six times and managed to run for 158 yards despite the loss of center John Sullivan and guard Vlad Ducasse to injuries. But a year after the Vikings blew five last-minute leads, they blew yet another on Sunday, missing their chance to get to 3-4.

Late defensive lapses: It had been a positive day for the Vikings' defense, which had created four turnovers and pressured Orton all day. The Vikings were able to get pressure on Orton on the game's final drive, a year after players chafed at a conservative approach from defensive coordinator Alan Williams. But linebacker Chad Greenway and cornerback Josh Robinson appeared to be responsible for the big conversions on the Bills' final drive, and Orton made a perfect throw to beat Xavier Rhodes on the final play.

McKinnon runs for 100: Running back Jerick McKinnon again got the bulk of the work against the league's top running defense, and thanks to a game plan that kept him away from the Bills' impressive defensive tackles, he surpassed 100 yards for the second time this season. McKinnon gained 103 yards on 19 carries.

Game ball: When the Vikings gave Everson Griffen nearly $20 million in guaranteed money in March, they were gambling on a supremely talented, but inconsistent player turning into a force at defensive end. Griffen certainly looked like one on Sunday. He matched his career high with three sacks, and could eventually get credited for another half-sack for a takedown of Orton in the fourth quarter that was initially given to Sharrif Floyd.

What's next: The Vikings (2-5) travel to Tampa Bay to face the Buccaneers next Sunday.

Vikings-Bills halftime thoughts

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- It's been an eventful first half at Ralph Wilson Stadium, where the Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills are tied at 10. The Vikings lost center John Sullivan to a concussion and guard Vlad Ducasse to a knee injury, while the Bills' top two running backs -- Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller -- were carted off the field with injuries. We've had two interceptions from Teddy Bridgewater, two forced fumbles and an interception from the Vikings' defense and a combined nine penalties from the two teams. If it's been full of activity, it hasn't exactly been aesthetically pleasing.

Here are a few observations from the first half:
  • Bridgewater's first interception came on a tipped pass, on a play where he threw late to Chase Ford after looking at Jarius Wright down the seam. Wright was open on the play, but Bridgewater hitched and threw late to Ford. He also had Cordarrelle Patterson open on a sack late in the second quarter, when Bridgewater stepped up in the pocket instead of throwing downfield, but when Bridgewater has trusted himself to throw, he's had opportunities. His first career TD pass was set up by a 38-yard strike to Greg Jennings down the middle of the field, and Bridgewater hit a nice comeback route to Wright on a field goal drive just before halftime. If Bridgewater is assertive, he's got room to work.
  • The Vikings have stayed committed to the run against the league's best rushing defense, and it's paid off so far. Jerick McKinnon has 42 yards on nine carries, as the Vikings have had some success running outside and staying away from the Bills' solid tackle tandem of Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus.
  • Chad Greenway is back on the field, but he hasn't completely returned to his normal role; he's splitting snaps in the nickel defense with Jasper Brinkley.
  • Fox sideline reporter Peter Schrager said early in the broadcast that Mike Zimmer is still coaching with kidney stones on Sunday, and will have them removed on Tuesday. The Vikings said on Friday that Zimmer had a "minor procedure," and the coach returned to work on Saturday, but he's still evidently toughing it out today.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Hello from Ralph Wilson Stadium, where the Minnesota Vikings will try to improve to 3-4 this afternoon against the Buffalo Bills. The Vikings will have linebacker Chad Greenway back on the field for the first time since Sept. 21, as he returns from three broken ribs. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who was questionable to play with elbow and ankle injuries, will also be in the starting lineup for the Vikings.

Defensive end Scott Crichton will be active for just the second time this season, as the main backup for both Everson Griffen and Brian Robison now that Corey Wootton is out with a lower back injury. Crichton said the Vikings worked him at both left and right end this week, and put him on the top field goal unit. Wootton got only 10 snaps last week in relief of Griffen and Robison, but Crichton will likely see some playing time today.

The Vikings could be limited once again in how much they can move Anthony Barr to defensive end on third downs; they'd been doing that when both Hodges and Greenway were healthy, but had to curb it back once Greenway got hurt and Hodges had to play full time, instead of moving to Barr's linebacker spot in the nickel package. It will be interesting to see if the Vikings try to use Audie Cole or Michael Mauti in that kind of a role today, to free up Barr as a pass-rusher.

Here is the Vikings' full list of inactives:
MINNEAPOLIS -- That the Minnesota Vikings were looking to trade Percy Harvin was an open secret in March 2013, when general manager Rick Spielman sent the talented, yet troublesome receiver to Seattle for three draft picks. It seemed like a situation where Spielman would struggle to create leverage, given how apparent a Vikings-Harvin split seemed, but the Seahawks were willing to unload a first-, a third- and a seventh-round pick for reasons that Harvin made obvious during his dynamic performance in Seattle's Super Bowl win in February.

Eight months later, with Harvin on the way to the New York Jets for the paltry sum of a mid-round draft pick, the reasons the Vikings wanted to part with him again seem as obvious as the reasons the Seahawks wanted him in the first place. Harvin leaves Seattle with a fresh set of reports swirling in his wake about how the receiver was a bad fit for Seattle's culture, to the point where the team's front office wanted him off the roster. Now, he goes to a 1-6 team that will owe him no guaranteed money after this season, and especially if the Jets have a new power structure in place next year, Harvin could again be looking for a team to gamble on his immense talent.

That Harvin seemingly couldn't function in the Seahawks' ecosystem -- seen as one of the most player-friendly in the league -- is as dumbfounding as the fact he clashed with a coach as genteel and likable as former Vikings coach Leslie Frazier. It's not as though Harvin's recent stops have seen him matched with coaches regarded as difficult to work with, and even though he seemed thrilled to join the Seahawks when the Vikings dealt him 19 months ago, his durability and behavioral issues surfaced as quickly there as they did in Minnesota.

The Vikings used the picks they received for Harvin on cornerback Xavier Rhodes (who looks like a mainstay in Mike Zimmer's defense), offensive lineman Travis Bond (who was released last year) and running back Jerick McKinnon (who could develop into a solid weapon for offensive coordinator Norv Turner). That remains an impressive haul for a radioactive player like Harvin, and even if Rhodes and McKinnon fail to capitalize on their potential, Spielman appears vindicated by his decision not to consider giving Harvin a lucrative multi-year contract.

Harvin is someone else's problem now, a step further removed from the Vikings and a step closer to an uncertain future in the league. He will return to Minnesota with the Jets on Dec. 7, and even if he makes a few splash plays against his former team (as he did last November in Seattle), it's doubtful the Vikings will miss him much. His abrupt exit from a championship team suggest the Vikings were right to turn him loose, and shrewd to sell as high on him as they did.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was not with the team at its Friday practice, as he underwent what team spokesman Bob Hagan termed a “minor procedure.” Zimmer will be back with the team on Saturday, and plans to coach on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, Hagan said.

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner said Zimmer was at the Vikings' facility on Friday morning, putting together a schedule for the day. "He was uncomfortable. He wasn't feeling real good," Turner said. "I just talked to (athletic trainer) Eric Sugarman, and (Zimmer's) doing great. He'll be ready to go in the morning. He's feeling a lot better."

In an email on Friday evening, Zimmer said he would not have missed practice if he could have waited on the procedure, but added "everything should be fine now."

Turner, who was a head coach with the Washington Redskins and San Diego Chargers, ran the Vikings' Friday practice in Zimmer's absence. Linebackers coach Adam Zimmer, the head coach's son, stayed at practice with the team, and players found out in Friday morning meetings that Mike Zimmer would be gone for the day.

"We've just got to take it in stride. You never know what's going to happen. Life comes up," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "You've got to worry about what you've got to do for your job, and move forward. That's what he'd want us to do."

Asked how practice went without Zimmer shouting orders, Greenway said, "It was strange -- strangely quiet."

Turner brought players in for a huddle as practice concluded; "I told them, 'Six weeks with them, and look what they're doing to the guy,'" Turner said. "Let's go play better and win, right?"


EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Linebacker Chad Greenway was listed as questionable for the Minnesota Vikings' game on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner, speaking in Mike Zimmer's absence as the head coach was having a "minor procedue" on Friday, said Greenway will be a game-time decision on Sunday against Buffalo.

Greenway, however, said he'll play if it's at all possible. "If there's a way," he said, "I promise I'll be out there."

The linebacker has missed the Vikings' last three games with broken ribs, and he would wear some kind of protection if he's on the field Sunday. He was a full participant in practice for the third straight day on Friday and said he continues to feel better. He'd likely return to his starting weakside linebacker spot on Sunday with Gerald Hodges out because of a hamstring injury. If Greenway is unable to go, Audie Cole would be next in line.

Greenway broke three ribs on Sept. 21 against New Orleans, and the Vikings decided to hold him out for the following game against the Atlanta Falcons. "After the New Orleans game, we made the right call," he said. "It needed a few weeks, and it's progressing how everybody thought it would. To me, it's the most frustrating injury I've had, because what do you do? You sit around and wait for it to heal itself."

Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is also questionable for Sunday with elbow and ankle injuries. Defensive end Corey Wootton will miss Sunday's game with a low back injury, meaning rookie Scott Crichton will likely return to the active roster after being deactivated for the last five games.

Crichton said he has been on the first field goal unit this week, and he worked at left end this week,after playing right end all season. The Vikings have used Wootton to spell both Brian Robison and Everson Griffen, and they'll likely move Crichton into that spot this weekend.

"This is the opportunity I've been waiting for," he said.
The Minnesota Vikings will travel this weekend to face a Buffalo Bills defense that shares many of the same traits with a Detroit Lions unit that held the Vikings to 212 yards and three points on Sunday. Former Lions coach Jim Schwartz is the defensive coordinator for a Bills team that has allowed just 2.79 yards per carry this season (the lowest total in the league), while registering 19 sacks, which are tied for the second-most in the league.

The Vikings will return to the running back tandem (Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon) that helped them run all over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 4, but they'll face a much tougher front on Sunday. If the Vikings aren't able to handle defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus, they could find themselves in the same situation they were against the Lions, when they faced 10 third downs of five yards or longer.

Unless the Vikings can keep themselves out of that pattern, they'll have a hard time preventing a repeat of what happened last weekend, when their offense couldn't produce enough to make a solid defensive performance stand up. Prediction: Bills 17, Vikings 10
Welcome to Around the Horns, our daily look at what's happening on the Vikings beat:

It's been a mantra the Vikings' receivers have heard from position coach George Stewart all week, and it was on Mike Zimmer's lips a split-second after he was asked about what the team's wideouts can do to help rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater get the offense rolling:

"I've got four for you: We've got to get into the route, win in transition, we've got to get out of the route and extend for the ball," Zimmer said. "How's that?"

While the Vikings' offensive line has been under scrutiny this week after the team's quarterbacks have been sacked a combined 14 times in the last two games, Minnesota's coaching staff has taken a global approach to fixing the team's pass-protection issues and getting the offense functioning again. A key step in that process has been an emphasis on receivers getting more separation from defensive backs, giving Bridgewater quicker and better options to throw the football. The Vikings' receivers caught just 11 passes for 87 yards last week against the Detroit Lions. They'll have to be better this weekend against another aggressive defense that is the league's toughest against the run and has 19 sacks so far.

"Obviously, we looked hard at everything that happened to us last week and now we’re getting ready for a team that’s very similar to Detroit in terms of their defensive front, their pressure schemes," offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. "We’ve got to do a better job of protecting the quarterback. When we talk about the protection with the quarterback, I know the emphasis, in terms of the conversations, has been the offensive line, but it’s everyone involved in terms of what we’re doing."

Bridgewater has blamed himself for not releasing the ball quickly enough, and if the rookie had one problem last week, Turner said, it was not trusting what he was seeing after throwing an early end-zone interception that was intended for Cordarrelle Patterson. But it's reasonable to expect a quarterback with two-plus games of experience will still be timid about fitting the ball into some tight windows, particularly if he's throwing under duress. The Vikings' receivers also believe they can play a part in making Bridgewater's life easier.

"Everybody's got to do a better job in getting open," Patterson said. "We've got to beat man coverages, beat everything the defense is throwing at us. This week, it's going to be different."

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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The job certainly has changed since Kirby Wilson started.

When Wilson left the Pittsburgh Steelers last winter to become the Minnesota Vikings' running backs coach and work with offensive coordinator Norv Turner, he was also counting on one very sizable perk: the opportunity to work with Adrian Peterson, who had taken almost every carry for the Vikings when he was healthy over the last seven seasons and who figured to be a prominent part of the team's offense again.

[+] EnlargeKirby Wilson
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallKirby Wilson is getting Matt Asiata and the other Vikings running backs up to speed.
"I'm human," Wilson said. "I would have loved an opportunity to see what we could have done together, and as a football team. You sit back, you just say, 'God has given me a tremendous opportunity to work with and develop some new players.' I flipped the script very fast when it came to that, because that excited me to develop two more guys that hadn't really done it."

Instead of coaching a former league MVP, Wilson is working with a running back who had 47 carries before this season (Matt Asiata) and a converted triple-option college quarterback (Jerick McKinnon), trying to remake a ground game that has been the focal point of the team's offense since Brad Childress was the head coach. To this point, that process has been bumpy; the Vikings have run for 534 yards in the five games Peterson's missed, but 241 of those came in a 41-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 28. In the four other games -- all losses - the Vikings ran for 54, 59, 111 and 69 yards, at a time where their offense could use some balance to help rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

The task will remain difficult this weekend as the Vikings face the league's top-ranked run defense. They plan to use both running backs after featuring McKinnon last week, believing they'll fare better with Asiata and McKinnon's complementary styles, but the riddle of how to replace Peterson remains one the Vikings haven't solved yet.

"You're not going to have the dynamic, explosive, spectacular runs and plays that you get out of a player of [Peterson's] magnitude," Wilson said. "We definitely miss that element, but we've moved on to a certain degree."

Wilson said the adjustment has been the largest for McKinnon, who got his first true snaps as a running back at postseason college all-star games and is still learning the fundamentals of the position. "He definitely had no clue as to what's next when [Peterson was indicted on child abuse charges]," Wilson said. "He was probably in more of a shock mode than Matt, but he's done a good job since the initial shock of it all.

"You never want to put the most pressure on the guy with the least amount of experience. You never want to do that. But he's handled it quite well."

McKinnon, who ran for 135 yards in Week 4 and gained 82 all-purpose yards last week, admitted the process of becoming a featured running back has been a "whirlwind," but said he feels like he's becoming more consistent, and while the Vikings want to get Asiata more carries this week, it seems as though McKinnon will be the primary back. He fits well in the read-option looks the Vikings had initially planned in order to spread defenses out and keep them from stacking the box against Peterson. McKinnon can bring back some of the explosive plays the Vikings have been missing in the run game.

Whatever the Vikings do, it likely won't replace what they had in Peterson. Wilson said he still texts Peterson once a week, to let him know he's thinking about him, and it doesn't take long before his admiration for Peterson's on-field work comes up in a conversation.

But until -- or unless -- Peterson returns, the Vikings' running game remains an unknown commodity.

"We're still trying to find out what it's going to be," Wilson said. "We're still trying to massage our way through this right now."