The Minnesota Vikings won't have guard Charlie Johnson nor linebacker Anthony Barr for Sunday's game at the Miami Dolphins.

Barr won't play in the Week 17 season finale, either. The team decided to shut him down so that he could undergo what coach Mike Zimmer told reporters was a "very minor" procedure on his knee.

Barr, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2014 draft, originally suffered the injury in Week 11 and hasn't played since Week 14. Prior to the injury, Barr showed promise as a playmaker -- recording four sacks, forcing two fumbles and returning one for a game-winning touchdown -- and also was among the Vikings' leading tacklers with 70 in the first 12 games.

Meanwhile, tight end Kyle Rudolph returned to practice Friday to test his injured knee and ankle but is listed as doubtful to play on the final injury report of the week. Safety Robert Blanton (ankle), who also returned to practice, is listed as questionable.
The Minnesota Vikings have won only once in South Florida, and that game was 38 years ago, but they are due for a breakout Sunday at Sun Life Stadium.

They seem to be in a good place spiritually after a 4-3 stretch, with all three losses coming by one score, and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is eagerly awaiting playing in front of his hometown friends and family. Contrast that with the Miami Dolphins' uncertainty -- coach Joe Philbin might not make it to a fourth season -- and you have a game ripe to be stolen on the road.

From a matchup standpoint, Bridgewater will have his hands full against a defense that ranks fifth in the NFL by allowing just 5.73 yards per dropback, via ESPN Stats & Information. But Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill is a rhythm thrower himself, and the Vikings rank No. 5 in the NFL by sacking the quarterback on 7.5 percent of dropbacks. Their pass rush could keep Tannehill from establishing that rhythm.

My prediction: Vikings 24, Dolphins 17
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Norv Turner arrived in Minnesota this year with a well-earned reputation as a downfield passing savant, a quarterback guru and, more recently, a media analyst.

As you might remember, Turner took note of a training camp report last summer -- when he was the Cleveland Browns' offensive coordinator -- that suggested receiver Josh Gordon was loafing during practice. When Gordon developed into a dominant force, Turner belatedly but triumphantly discredited the report.

Bridgewater
Earlier this season, Turner joined Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer in disputing the grading methods of website Pro Football Focus, particularly as it related to left tackle Matt Kalil's play. And Thursday, Turner opened his weekly media availability with a 550-word statement about quarterback Teddy Bridgewater's play.

As we discussed Sunday, Bridgewater had three game-changing misfires but otherwise played well in a pass-first game plan against one of the NFL's top defenses in a 16-14 loss to the Detroit Lions. Turner used the opportunity to react obliquely to analysis presumably produced earlier this season on Bridgewater's rookie performance.

"We've started eight different offensive linemen," Turner said. "We've obviously started three different tight ends. We've started three different running backs, played five different running backs. Over the last five weeks, our leading wide receiver is a guy we signed in late September/early October off the Cleveland Browns practice squad and you throw a rookie quarterback into that. I've seen a bunch of guys really, really have a tough time with that and a bunch of guys that are good players.

"It's pretty incredible to me what he's done, how he's handled it, the things he's gotten done and what he's really done is made everyone around him better, and that's a quality that you're looking for."

The Vikings are asking Bridgewater to "carry this group," Turner said, in stark contrast to the paths taken by other successful young quarterbacks he has coached. In Dallas, Troy Aikman had Emmitt Smith. Frank Gore was Alex Smith's running back with San Francisco. Philip Rivers had LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego.

In Minnesota, Turner said, "We've kind of had an interesting group, and the people we've played on offense has been wide-ranging, and to do the things he's done, it just tells you something about the type of person he is, the type of player he is. ... He does it with people around him, he does it with people hitting him, he does it when he has to slide in the pocket. He knows how to play football, and that's the starting point of the quarterback position. He's got the intangibles you need and he's going to continue to get better and better."

I appreciate Turner's attempt to steer the conversation, but my feeling is that Bridgewater has already done that. It's no secret he has been the NFL's best rookie quarterback this season.

Vikings vs. Dolphins preview

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
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When: 1 p.m. ET Sunday. Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens. TV: Fox.

Two teams out of playoff contention will meet in South Florida on Sunday when the Miami Dolphins (7-7) host the Minnesota Vikings (6-8).

These are two clubs who represent the up-and-down middle class in the NFL. Despite good moments, neither team has been able to reach the consistency it takes to make the postseason.

Who will come out on top? ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker and NFL Nation columnist Kevin Seifert breakdown the matchups:

Walker: Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is a South Florida native with plenty of interest out of Miami. How is his development in his rookie season?

Seifert: He has really come on, via a steady ascendance that makes him without question the best of the rookie quarterbacks in 2014. The Vikings' major goal for Bridgewater's first season was to keep him from getting beat up and beat down. Coach Mike Zimmer was especially cognizant about not ruining him behind a bad offensive line or on a bad team or putting him on the field before he was ready to succeed. That's why the Vikings began the season with Matt Cassel as the starter.

Bridgewater got on the field earlier than they expected because of Cassel's Week 3 injury, and after some expected early struggles -- most notably on deep accuracy -- Bridgewater has gotten on a nice little run. The Vikings are 4-3 in his past seven starts, he has completed at least 70 percent of his passes in his past three starts and thrown for at least 300 yards in his past two. Most recently, the Vikings trusted him in a pass-first game plan against the Detroit Lions' stout defense. He completed 31 of 41 passes for 315 yards, the highest completion percentage for a rookie in a game when throwing at least 40 passes in NFL history. People in South Florida know Bridgewater has a calm personality that allows him to navigate pressure situations well. The early returns are that the Vikings have found their starter for a long time to come.

The Vikings are protecting Bridgewater with three backups on their offensive line, at right tackle, right guard and left guard. Are the Dolphins still as strong up front defensively as they were earlier this season?

Walker: It's an interesting question, because a month ago I would have pegged this as a huge advantage for Miami. However, its defensive line has mostly disappeared the past several games. It has been a mystery here in Miami, because that was the strength of the team in the first half of the season. The Dolphins got zero sacks on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady last week and he put up 41 points. Before that, Miami allowed 661 rushing yards in a three-game stretch from Weeks 12-14. Teams have pretty much done what they wanted against Miami's defense, which at one point was ranked as high as No. 2 in the NFL. The Dolphins are running on fumes, and it is most evident on the defensive line. On paper, it's still an advantage for Miami, but the group must prove it on the field.

Although it doesn't always show in the standings, the Vikings are playing solid football in the past month. What's led to their recent surge?

Seifert: A few things, with Bridgewater's development being the most significant. When you're getting production from that position, everything else is a little easier. It took some time for the Vikings to recover schematically from the suspension of tailback Adrian Peterson. They've used a backfield-by-committee system, getting 538 yards from rookie Jerick McKinnon, who is now on injured reserve, and 421 yards (and seven touchdowns) from Matt Asiata. Dolphins fans can expect to see a mix of Asiata, veteran Ben Tate -- claimed off waivers from the Cleveland Browns -- and Joe Banyard. Bridgewater has benefited from the emergence of receiver Charles Johnson, who was signed off the Browns' practice squad earlier this season. Johnson has replaced the disappointing Cordarrelle Patterson in the starting lineup and has 19 receptions for 355 yards in his past five games. Finally, the Vikings' defense has begun taking the form Zimmer wanted to see when he took over the team this year. Zimmer still calls the defensive signals, and he has helped mold a pair of youngsters -- defensive end Everson Griffen (12 sacks) and cornerback Xavier Rhodes -- into frontline players. The Vikings' three losses over the past two months have all been by one score or less. Even after losing Peterson and Cassel in the first month of the season, they've got a chance to finish .500.

How should we expect the Dolphins to respond emotionally in this game? They're all but eliminated from the playoffs. Do you think they'll pack it in? Will they fight for Joe Philbin's job? Or has the decision already been made?

Walker: I will start with the last question. The decision has not been made officially on Philbin, but the gears are beginning to click in motion. The past two weeks were an eye-opener for the decision-makers in the organization. The team didn't show up in two huge games against the Baltimore Ravens and Patriots. Philbin now has a three-year record of 22-24 and hasn't made the playoffs. His teams play their worst football when it matters most, in key games late in the season. That's not good enough for Miami owner Stephen Ross.

The best Philbin can do is prove he can motivate the Dolphins to play well in these final two games when nothing is at stake. That will be a challenge in itself. A 9-7 season at least gives Philbin a leg to stand on, although I'm not sure that will be enough without making the playoffs. I expect Miami to play for Philbin because he is well-liked in the locker room. But if things get really difficult in this game -- like it has the past two weeks against the Patriots and Ravens -- I'm curious to see how the players respond.

I would be remiss if I didn't ask about the Peterson controversy. Has that worn off on the team, even with new details emerging?

Seifert: I think it did hang over the locker room and the coaching staff for a long time, mostly because there were several stops along the way when it seemed as if Peterson's return was imminent. There were some genuinely shocked players and coaches when the final ruling came down that Peterson would not return this year. Now, I think everyone is past it. The appeals, accusations and lawsuits are all essentially irrelevant to the Vikings' 2014 season. Peterson isn't going to be on the field this season, and he might never be in a Vikings uniform again. My perception is that most of the players and coaches who will decide the outcome of this game Sunday are well beyond worrying about it.

The Vikings are tied for sixth in the NFL with 38 sacks but Ryan Tannehill has taken the sixth-fewest sacks in the league. What has been the key for the Dolphins' pass protection, and do you think it'll hold up against the Vikings?

Walker: The numbers are a bit skewed due to a stellar first half of the season. The Dolphins' pass protection was very good when Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert was healthy and guarding Tannehill's blindside. A strong case can be made that Albert was Miami's first-half MVP. However, a season-ending knee injury to Albert exposed some holes on Miami's offensive line. Rookie Ja'Wuan James moved from right tackle to left tackle and the struggling Dallas Thomas was put at right tackle. Since Albert went down in Week 10, Miami has allowed 21 quarterback sacks in five games. That's a little more than four sacks per game. The Patriots and Ravens registered 10 combined sacks. I do expect the Vikings to get pressure on Tannehill.

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The NFL Live crew make their picks for Minnesota at Miami.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- In the long and winding 54-year history of the franchise, the Minnesota Vikings have won exactly one game when playing at the Miami Dolphins. That victory came 38 years ago, on Dec. 11, 1976, followed by losses in 1982, 1988 and 2006.

(I'll spare you the usual quotes of gas prices and Billboard rankings at the time of that win. Sorry. Cliché bank is empty today.)

Is it particularly difficult for a Minnesota team that practices predominantly indoors to play a late-season game in the heat of South Florida? It's a reasonable theory, considering the Vikings absorbed a December loss in 1982 and another one in November 2006.

So with a high of 21 degrees Wednesday in Minneapolis, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer closed the doors of the team's indoor facility and cranked the industrial heaters. His goal was to ramp it up to 80 degrees, but during the portion of practice open to reporters, the temperature in the 22-year-old building was 67 degrees.

Sunday's high in Miami is expected to be 79 degrees with mostly sunny skies.

Zimmer has prepared the coaching staff to rotate players a bit more than normal Sunday, but he doesn't want to make it too big of a deal, either.

"I don't know," he said. "It seems like an old guy like me, the cold affects me a lot more [than the heat]. I don't know about the players."

Note: Vikings defensive tackle Sharif Floyd returned to practice Wednesday. I didn't see linebacker Anthony Barr (knee), safety Robert Blanton (ankle/knee), guard Charlie Johnson (ankle) or tight end Kyle Rudolph (ankle/knee) on the field, either.

Vikings' pass protection has helped Teddy Bridgewater develop

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
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ESPN reporter Kevin Seifert discusses how the Vikings have helped Teddy Bridgewater during his rookie season.
Moments before his most impactful play in three months, Cordarrelle Patterson received an odd request. Minnesota Vikings special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer, and the rest of the team's kickoff return team, asked him to join their huddle on the sideline.

Patterson
Typically, Patterson jogs onto the field separately from his blockers. But the Vikings had just fallen behind the Detroit Lions with three minutes, 43 seconds remaining, and if there was ever a time for Patterson to emerge from a disappointing season, it was now.

According to Patterson, teammates encouraged him to trust their blocks and use his open-field running to set up a potential game-winning drive. The Lions' kickoff traveled only two yards deep into the end zone, giving Patterson his opportunity.

He took off up the middle before noticing a hole just to the left of Joe Banyard. The ensuing 51-yard return, a season-long for Patterson, set up the Vikings at their 49-yard line. An injury to receiver Jarius Wright on the first play of the possession forced Patterson onto the field again, and he responded with catches on the next two plays. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater also targeted him on a fourth-down pass that fell incomplete.

"Maybe I need to start coming into the huddle more often," Patterson said afterward.

Among the Vikings' top priorities for their final two games should be resurrecting Patterson's production enough to send him into the offseason on a positive note. Coach Mike Zimmer seemed to agree on Sunday, indicating the Vikings would look for more ways to get Patterson involved in the offense starting Sunday at the Miami Dolphins.

QB snapshot: Teddy Bridgewater

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
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A quick observation of Teddy Bridgewater and how he played in the Minnesota Vikings' 16-14 loss in Week 15:

Bridgewater
We spent some time Sunday discussing the advanced conversation Teddy Bridgewater has prompted with his continued ascendance this season, one that merits play-by-play inspection rather than the more general debate about whether he can play. It's true that Bridgewater missed on three passes with significant impact on the outcome, but it's also important to note what he did with the rest of his 41 throws.

Bridgewater connected on 31 of them, giving him a career-high completion percentage of 75.6 to go along with 315 yards. There are a few things we can say about the performance to put it into historical context, which I realize can be somewhat skewed given the recent rise in NFL passing efficiency.

First, it was the fifth-highest completion percentage for an NFL quarterback this season who threw at least 40 passes in the game, according to the Pro Football Reference database.

Second, it was the highest completion percentage in a game for a rookie quarterback with at least 40 attempts in NFL history.

What does this mean?

Bridgewater brought with him from college a reputation for exceptional short- and midrange accuracy. A quarterback doesn't have to throw the ball 15 yards downfield on every play to put up a 300-yard game. In fact, Bridgewater averaged 3.88 air yards per attempt Sunday, the lowest of any quarterback in Week 15, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

There are plenty of ways to peel an apple, and the Vikings are moving closer to understanding how best to do it with Bridgewater.
Join us Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PT) for ESPN NFL Nation TV’s Spreecast, as episode No. 36 will cover the latest from the NFL.

Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) will be joined by Pat McManamon (Cleveland Browns reporter) as he talks Johnny Manziel, who was more Johnny Rotten than Johnny Football in his NFL starting debut.

Also, Mike Reiss (New England Patriots reporter) stops by to discuss Tom Brady's slow-motion run that sent a message, while Pat Yasinskas (Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter) opines on whether Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota is on the Bucs’ radar should they get the No. 1 overall pick.

Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers reporter) will break down Aaron Rodgers' subpar showing in Buffalo and how it might affect not only the Pack’s shot at landing home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs but also Rodgers’ MVP candidacy. And Josh Weinfuss (Arizona Cardinals reporter) will have the latest on Ryan Lindley's shot at pulling the upset in Seattle and solidifying the Cardinals’ standing as the NFC’s top seed, while Gutierrez will break down the latest with the 49ers and Jim Harbaugh’s future.

Viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature.

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Bob Ley discusses the reaction to the release of a recorded conversation between NFL Exec Troy Vincent and Adrian Peterson. Adam Schefter, Andrew Brandt and Roger Cossack join to discuss.
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Bob Ley talks with NFLPA's George Atallah about the union's reaction to a tape of NFL Exec Troy Vincent talking with Adrian Peterson.

Blair Walsh: 'A strange two weeks'

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Local dailies have touted it as a slump. Yours truly felt compelled to note Sunday that the Minnesota Vikings have no concerns about place-kicker Blair Walsh, who has converted only one of his past six field goals over two games.

Kicking is among the many foreign languages of football, so there can be a barely-decipherable line between a player who is struggling and one who has been victimized by a confluence of unfortunate factors. The question in these parts: Where does Walsh's two-game stretch fit in?

Three of Walsh's misses have been from 53 yards or longer. The other was from 39 yards, and a 26-yarder was blocked. His one conversion came from 20 yards.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer had enough confidence in Walsh to let him attempt from 68 yards on the final play of a 16-14 loss to the Detroit Lions, choosing that option over a Hail Mary pass. Walsh's attempt was a few yards short, not surprisingly, and Zimmer dismissed questions about his confidence in Walsh moving forward.

For his part, Walsh said Monday that "it's been a strange two weeks, honestly" and added: "I don't think I'm hitting the ball poorly, but my results say otherwise."

Walsh said he felt so good during pregame warmups Sunday at Ford Field that he extended his usual routine to about 69 yards, attempting his final kick from almost the exact spot where he tried the potential game winner. The practice kick sailed through the uprights, and Walsh said he lobbied Zimmer for the end-game opportunity.

The NFL doesn't officially keep track of length of field goal attempts, but it's safe to say that Walsh's was one of the longest (serious) kicks in league history. The chart, provided by John McTigue of ESPN Stats & Information, lists the five longest attempts since ESPN started independently tracking in 2001.

Sebastian Janikowski's 76-yard attempt in 2008 was viewed mostly as a shot toward then-owner Al Davis from lame duck coach Lane Kiffin. The next two attempts, 71 yards by Phil Dawson and 69 yards by Mason Crosby, were "free kicks."

So in the big picture, Walsh followed a 82-for-93 start to his career with a 1-for-6 stretch. It hardly seems time to panic.

"You're not in this profession to make excuses for yourself," Walsh said. "You've got to hold yourself to that standard and hold yourself to a higher standard for performing, especially when you've done it before."

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