NFC North: Minnesota Vikings

The Film Don't Lie: Vikings

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
11:00
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A weekly look at what the Minnesota Vikings must fix:

When they face the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday afternoon, the Vikings will line up against a team that hasn't had much success getting to the quarterback this season. That's a welcome development for the Vikings, who probably don't need any more challenges in their attempt to protect rookie Teddy Bridgewater.

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Vikings quarterbacks have been pressured on one-third of their dropbacks this season. That's tied for the fourth-worst rate in the NFL, and it's creating problems for an offense that's already trying to get by without Adrian Peterson and will soon be playing without tight end Kyle Rudolph.

The Falcons have recorded only three sacks this season, and have been among the league's worst teams at getting to the quarterback; their pressure rate of 19.4 percent is the sixth-worst in the NFL. But the Vikings have to figure out what's affecting left tackle Matt Kalil, or leave a tight end or running back in to help him. Their quarterbacks have been blitzed on 40 percent of their dropbacks, so they might find themselves in fewer situations in which they can send numerous players on receiving routes, at least for now. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner's best teams have been able to keep the quarterback upright, and while Bridgewater's fleet feet helped him avoid a sack last week, the Vikings' passing game likely won't come alive without a cleaner pocket.
MINNEAPOLIS -- In coach Mike Zimmer's view, the struggles plaguing Minnesota Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil have little to do with his physical ability, which probably means the Vikings feel they can mitigate what's hindering the fourth overall pick from the 2012 draft. Things will get better, Zimmer said, when Kalil starts to flush his previous struggles more quickly.

He allowed another sack and a quarterback hit in Sunday's loss to the New Orleans Saints, after getting beat by New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones several times in the Vikings' previous defeat. The Saints' Junior Galette also beat Kalil on the play where quarterback Matt Cassel broke his foot, collapsing the pocket with outside pressure and forcing Cassel to scramble.

M. Kalil
Kalil held up well against St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn in Week 1, though the Vikings gave him some help in pass protection. But if he's better about not dwelling on past mistakes, Zimmer believes, his struggles will start to subside.

"He allows one play to affect the second play sometimes," Zimmer said. "He needs to be like a corner -- have a little short memory, forget it and let's go."

The left tackle made the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2012, but he struggled particularly against speed rushers last season, when he played through a knee injury. His problems have lingered into the 2014 season, and both Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner have gone out of their way to defend Kalil on a couple of occasions, particularly in light of criticism during the preseason from Pro Football Focus. It's fair to wonder if those efforts were made to give Kalil a shot of confidence in hopes of getting him back on track.

"He's got all the physical tools to do it," Zimmer said. "It's like the golfer, when he misses the put and goes up on the tee box and hits a bad drive. We're all going to have bad plays, and he has enough athletic ability, and physical skills and mental toughness. He has all those things. Now, he can't compound it by making another mistake."
NEW ORLEANS -- Among the chief reasons the Minnesota Vikings were drawn to Teddy Bridgewater in the 2014 NFL draft was his ability to handle pressure. Bridgewater stood out in the Vikings' extensive study of their quarterback options because of how well he fared against the blitz; his 53.5 completion percentage when blitzed at Louisville last season was the best of any QB in the draft class, and the third-best of any FBS quarterback last year, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Bridgewater
The first test of whether Bridgewater could beat pressure in the NFL came on Sunday, and it was bound to be a stern one: the New Orleans Saints have blitzed quarterbacks more frequently than all but three teams in the league this season, and by the time Bridgewater entered Sunday's game in the raucous Superdome, the Saints had a 10-point lead and some freedom to go after the rookie.

When New Orleans brought extra pressure, though, Bridgewater was on point. He went 6-for-9 against the blitz, throwing for 70 yards, and scrambling once for another 15. He finished the day with a QBR of 68.5 when he was blitzed, after Matt Cassel went 2 of 4 for 36 yards on five dropbacks against extra pressure.

Bridgewater's numbers were dressed up by the 41-yard swing pass he completed to Matt Asiata, but he did a good job of avoiding sacks, getting the ball out quickly and keeping it away from defenders. He spent an average of just 2.18 seconds in the pocket and unloaded in a neat 2.33 seconds when blitzed, according to ESPN Stats & Information. For comparison's sake, those times were almost the same as Peyton Manning's (2.19 and 2.44) on his 11 attempts against the blitz, though Manning was able to push the ball downfield more effectively against extra pressure (he averaged 10 air yards per attempt, to Bridgewater's 6.44). At the moment, though, the fact Bridgewater was able to avoid turnovers, stay on his feet and keep the Vikings out of adverse down-and-distance situations provides a good foundation for how he'll handle pressure.

He'll see a team this week in the Atlanta Falcons that typically doesn't bring as much heat, before facing another heavy blitzing team in the Green Bay Packers. If Bridgewater is consistently able to handle blitzes, though, he'll have figured out one of the important developmental steps for any young quarterback.
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NEW ORLEANS -- The biggest moment of Teddy Bridgewater's college career came on this field, in a Sugar Bowl MVP-winning performance that thrust him into Heisman Trophy conversations and had him among the early favorites to be the top pick in the 2014 NFL draft.

On Sunday, Bridgewater was back in the Superdome, for another career milestone that looked nothing like the last one.

The Minnesota Vikings rookie quarterback made his NFL debut on Sunday in the middle of a game where his mentor had gone down with a broken foot. He operated behind an offensive line that struggled to protect him, with a sometimes-malfunctioning communications system in his helmet and at the end of a week where they took Adrian Peterson out of action. By the end of the game, Bridgewater was without the last two players the Vikings signed to contract extensions -- tight end Kyle Rudolph and right guard Brandon Fusco -- as he tried to engineer a comeback in a stadium that once cheered him but was now snarling at him.

Little about it fit the carefully manicured environment the Vikings had constructed for Bridgewater's development, when they could take advantage of veteran Matt Cassel's presence and bring the rookie along at his own speed. Now, with Cassel likely to miss months after breaking several bones in his foot on a second-quarter scramble, Bridgewater's initiation to the NFL will come through live fire.

"This is where I've always wanted to be," Bridgewater said. "Unfortunately, the way it happened wasn't the way I expected it to. But I was relaxed. The guys put their trust in me. They told me, 'Hey, nothing's changed. The game plan isn't going to change. We're just going to continue to play football.'"

The Vikings have little choice at this point but to throw their fortunes behind Bridgewater, and while their prospects this season will hinge on how effective the rookie can be in the NFL, Bridgewater didn't look rattled on Sunday. He completed 12 of his 20 passes for 150 yards, making several nice throws on the run against a Saints defense that rarely gave him opportunities to set his feet and gaining 27 yards on six rushing attempts, including one designed run. Bridgewater wasn't asked to run much in college, but he was effective doing it on Sunday, largely out of necessity, and he did an impressive job extending plays; running back Jerick McKinnon dropped Bridgewater's final throw of the day, but it should be noted that Bridgewater delivered the ball on third-and-13 after making several Saints defenders miss.

"I thought he was very composed. I didn't see any panic," coach Mike Zimmer said. "I believe he's going to be very good."

The Vikings have believed that since they evaluated Bridgewater before the draft, and in a season where carefully laid plans have already been blown to bits, maybe it's for the best that the team will devote significant resources to Bridgewater's development. The fates of Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman were likely going to hang on Bridgewater at some point anyway. Serendipity has dictated that process will start now.

"He's ready," Rudolph said. "Since he got here in the offseason, he's worked extremely hard to put himself in a situation that when the opportunity came -- he didn't know if it was going to be at all this year, but I felt like he came out there and showed a lot of poise and composure in the huddle. He did well."

Rapid Reaction: Minnesota Vikings

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
3:55
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NEW ORLEANS -- A few thoughts on the Minnesota Vikings' 20-9 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome:

What it means: The game's most significant development came on the Vikings' field goal drive at the beginning of the second quarter, when quarterback Matt Cassel injured a toe on his left foot while escaping the pocket and running for 5 yards. Cassel did not return, and in his place, rookie Teddy Bridgewater admirably tried to sustain a Vikings offense that was missing several playmakers and struggled to protect him. Bridgewater hit 12 of his 20 passes for 150 yards and ran six times for 27 yards. He could make his first start next week.

Stock Watch: The Vikings' defense recovered from two early Saints touchdown drives to keep the team in the game, but a crucial (and controversial) penalty on Captain Munnerlyn helped extend the Saints' final touchdown drive. Munnerlyn and safety Robert Blanton got to Saints quarterback Drew Brees on a third-and-13 play, but Munnerlyn was flagged for unnecessary roughness when he threw Brees to the turf. Brees jumped up, went after Blanton (whom he'd thought had hit him) and proceeded to direct the Saints to a decisive score. The Vikings struggled to stop the run on the first two touchdown drives and were down 13-0 before they could sustain a drive on offense.

Injuries mounting: The last two players the Vikings signed to contract extensions -- tight end Kyle Rudolph and right guard Brandon Fusco -- were unavailable to finish the game. Rudolph left the game in the fourth quarter with a groin injury, and Fusco left with a shoulder injury. In Fusco's place, guard Vlad Ducasse was flagged for holding and a false start on his first drive. The Vikings also had to finish the game without cornerback Josh Robinson, whose recurring hamstring issues cropped up again, and linebacker Chad Greenway, who was already playing with a broken hand.

Game ball: Safety Harrison Smith was again outstanding, making a tackle in run support to force a punt and breaking up a pair of passes, but we'll give it to Bridgewater based on what he had to do with little help in a tough environment. He didn't have much time to set his feet against an active Saints pass rush and will probably want a couple of throws back, but with no Adrian Peterson, an injured Rudolph and a leaky offensive line, Bridgewater acquitted himself well in his debut.

What's next: The Vikings (1-2) return home to face the Atlanta Falcons in a late game next Sunday afternoon.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer still sounded optimistic on Thursday he'd have Chad Greenway on the field this Sunday in New Orleans, despite Greenway's broken left hand. But the Vikings have injuries to several starters to track on the other side of the ball.

Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson was added to Thursday's injury report after being limited in practice with a chest injury, and tight end Kyle Rudolph was again limited in practice with an abdominal injury. Right tackle Phil Loadholt was a limited participant with an ankle injury for the second straight day, though Zimmer thought Loadholt would be ready to go for Sunday's game.

"He'll be fine," Zimmer said. "He's tough."

Cornerback Xavier Rhodes (groin) and wide receiver Rodney Smith (hamstring) returned to full participation on Thursday, while defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd was a limited participant after missing Wednesday's practice. Linebacker Brandon Watts also worked in a limited capacity for the second consecutive day, after returning from a knee injury.

"He's got great speed," Zimmer said of Watts. "He's a young, developing player that I think has a great future in this league. He's got some coverage ability and it's hard to find linebackers with coverage ability nowadays, the way the league is."

Linebacker Michael Mauti was a full participant with a foot injury for the second straight day, and could be in line to make his regular-season debut on Sunday. If Greenway is unable to go, Mauti or Gerald Hodges might start in his place at weakside linebacker, but Zimmer said he thinks Greenway is improving.

"He feels a lot better today," Zimmer said. "He didn't practice, but he feels a lot better. He was running around pretty good, so we'll see how he does tomorrow."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- As he sat on his couch last Sunday, watching a handful of Minnesota Vikings special-teams mistakes in the final game of his suspension, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said he did a fairly good job of following his wife's "lecture" to stay calm in front of his kids.

That is, except for when he saw the Vikings put just nine players on the field for a third-quarter punt return, after the New England Patriots faked a decision to go for it on fourth down and made a late switch to their punt personnel.

[+] EnlargeMike Priefer
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallSpecial teams coordinator Mike Priefer returned to the Vikings this week after completing sensitivity training.
Of his reaction to that play, Priefer said, "I probably can't say it in public."

Priefer has the Vikings' special-teams units back under his control now after he completed sensitivity training to shorten his suspension from three games to two for making a homophobic remark during the 2012 season. The Vikings brought Priefer back to work on Monday, and the coach received a standing ovation from players in his first meeting.

"It was awesome,” Priefer said. “Normally, I’m there three or four minutes before the meeting starts. I walked in right as the meeting started because we had just finished up a staff meeting, and it was really, really a cool thing. It was something I didn’t expect. It was a warm reception and I really appreciated it. I’m an emotional guy and I really did appreciate it. Reflecting back on it, I think that will be one of the great things that’s ever happened to me as a football coach.”

Priefer wouldn't get into the details of what he did during sensitivity training, but said he embraced the training session. "I don't know if I've changed," he said, "but I think I have more awareness of my surroundings and other people around me. I think I'm a better man because of it."

Now that he's back and he's served the full punishment that resulted from a six-month independent investigation into former punter Chris Kluwe's allegations against him, Priefer said he told players the situation is "all behind us. It's over.

"The situation is a dead issue and it’s time to move on. I know it was hard for them. I apologized to them because of what I basically put them through being away for two weeks. But now it’s time to improve and get better. We have a lot of work to do.”
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings were without linebacker Chad Greenway -- because of a broken hand and a rib injury -- at practice on Wednesday, as well as right tackle Phil Loadholt (ankle) and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (shoulder).

Tight end Kyle Rudolph and cornerback Xavier Rhodes joined those three players on a list of Vikings starters who missed practice time on Wednesday. Rudolph was limited with an abdominal injury, which showed up on the Vikings' injury report for the first time, while Rhodes was limited because of the groin injury he played with last Sunday. Coach Mike Zimmer said Rhodes will be "fine" to play on Sunday, after he played last week's game against the New England Patriots.

Linebacker Brandon Watts, who missed the Vikings' first two games with a knee injury, also practiced in a limited capacity for the first time this season. Wide receiver Rodney Smith (hamstring) was limited, and linebacker Michael Mauti (foot) was a full participant.

Zimmer: Chad Greenway has broken hand

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
4:00
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- We'll attempt to squeeze in some football news on a day where most of the news surrounding the Minnesota Vikings is of a different nature. Coach Mike Zimmer said Wednesday that linebacker Chad Greenway broke his hand Sunday against the New England Patriots, though Zimmer is hoping Greenway will be able to play Sunday in New Orleans.

Greenway
Zimmer added that right tackle Phil Loadholt is not practicing Wednesday because of an ankle injury,

Zimmer said he thought Greenway broke his hand early in Sunday's game against the Patriots; Greenway received medical attention in the first quarter but finished the game. Zimmer wasn't sure to what extent the injury will affect Greenway's tackling, a year after the linebacker played much of the season with a broken wrist.

Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd should be ready to play after dealing with a shoulder injury last week, and cornerback Xavier Rhodes -- who was questionable last week with a groin injury -- will be fine for Sunday's game against the Saints as well.

Peterson's future with Vikings unclear

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
10:50
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His face was synonymous with the Minnesota Vikings, splashed across the architectural drawings and promotional materials for the new stadium they will open in 2016. Now, Adrian Peterson's relationship with the team that drafted him has been permanently changed, and the question now is how much longer it will last.

The Vikings' decision to take Peterson off the field while his child abuse case plays out was a startling about-face, less than 36 hours after the team had said Peterson would play Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. There was mounting pressure from sponsors, charitable partners and politicians -- including Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, who led a long legislative fight for the Vikings' new stadium and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with team owner Zygi Wilf at December's groundbreaking.

In the face of that reaction, it seemed the Vikings had two choices: stick to the decision they announced Monday and absorb the damage that came with it or step back and take Peterson off the field.

The decision to put him on the exempt list looks like the prudent one financially, however clumsily the Vikings arrived at it, but now it's fair to wonder whether Peterson has played his final game in Minnesota. He isn't due to make his first appearance in court until Oct. 8 -- his initial hearing was bumped back from Wednesday -- and even if Peterson pleads guilty to one count of reckless or negligent injury to a child, he would then be under the purview of the NFL's enhanced domestic violence policy and could face additional discipline from the league.

If the Vikings are going to keep Peterson beyond this year, they will again have to consider the finances, and much more.

He is due to make $12.75 million in 2015 as a 30-year-old running back, and the Vikings would have to count just $2.4 million of dead money against their salary cap if they were to release him.

There's plenty of rumbling in league circles that if the Vikings did part with Peterson, it would be through a trade rather than a release. While another team would have trouble absorbing Peterson's contract, that problem could be solved easily enough with an extension that cuts Peterson's overall salary, provides him some guaranteed money and spreads the cap hit out over several seasons that Peterson might never play.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsIf the Vikings were to cut Adrian Peterson, he would count as just $2.4 million of dead money against the 2015 salary cap.
The Vikings could use a similar approach to manage Peterson's crushing cap hit -- $15.4 million in 2015 -- and keep him on their roster. The question is, will they want to?

There's no doubt Vikings decision-makers are fond of Peterson. He's been a superstar who hasn't asked to be feted in the way many players of his stature are, and he's been among the team's most active players in the community. One of the greatest difficulties facing team officials this week has been reconciling their impression of Peterson -- a behemoth of a running back who maintains an enthusiasm for the game -- with the revelations brought about in his child abuse case. Some in the organization believe if a contrite Peterson were to return in a Vikings uniform, he could again be a force, for his own redemption on the field and for some positive change off it.

A court will ultimately decide whether Peterson was malicious, or simply misguided, when he disciplined his son so severely, but part of the awkwardness in this process stems from the Vikings trying to balance competitive, corporate, legal and relational interests and assign appropriate weight to each one.

The team wouldn't have tried so hard, and taken so many hits, to keep the 2012 NFL MVP under its control if it didn't have some interest in a future with Peterson, not when releasing him would have been so clean and simple. The fact that the Vikings announced their decision to take Peterson off the field early Wednesday morning, after hours of deliberations and consultations with the league, shows this was not a choice they arrived at easily. It's fair to assume more hard decisions with Peterson are on the way.

The Film Don't Lie: Vikings

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
4:00
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A weekly look at what the Vikings must fix:

Minnesota allowed six sacks Sunday afternoon in a game where the New England Patriots moved Chandler Jones from a 3-4 outside linebacker position to a 4-3 defensive end spot, putting him in position to work against left tackle Matt Kalil for a large portion of the game. Kalil gave up two sacks -- one to Jones on a speed rush, and one to linebacker Dont'a Hightower on a blitz.

Even though the Vikings will face a New Orleans Saints team that has just two sacks this season, they'll be returning to a dome, where noise figures to be a factor in the Saints' home opener. If the Vikings want to avoid a second consecutive loss and get their offense in order after a 30-7 defeat on Sunday, they'll have to do a better job protecting Matt Cassel.

One thing to keep in mind is how much more help the Vikings were able to give Kalil in Week 1 than they did in Week 2 through the use of either tight end Rhett Ellison or Kyle Rudolph in a blocking role. Part of that, of course, was due to the score of the game against the Patriots and the fact the Vikings had to spend much more time in three-receiver sets as they tried to rally than they did in Week 1. But if the Vikings find themselves in that situation again, they have to be able to trust their left tackle to handle his man. It's worth noting, too, that Kalil and Charlie Johnson gave up a combined three quarterback hits and six hurries, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

With Adrian Peterson back this week, the Saints undoubtedly will have more to think about in stopping the Vikings' offense, but if the pass protection isn't better, there's only so much even Peterson can alleviate.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Two days after the Minnesota Vikings made the decision to deactivate Adrian Peterson for Sunday's game against the New England Patriots, those players who would speak about Peterson largely supported the 2012 NFL MVP while doing their best to downplay the effect his absence had in a 30-7 loss on Sunday.

Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson gave possibly the most insightful response when asked about the identity of the Vikings' offense without Peterson. "We've got to get the mindset that (No.) 28 probably ain't going to be here with us," Patterson said, "so we have to come in and do what we do best."

That could be the reality facing the Vikings in at least the near future as the team decides what to do with Peterson after he was indicted on one count of injury to a child in Montgomery County, Texas on Friday. Peterson was booked in the Montgomery County jail early on Saturday morning after a grand jury found he used an unreasonable amount of force in disciplining his son earlier this year. Vikings general manager Rick Spielman told ESPN's Sal Paolantonio on Sunday that the Vikings would determine Peterson's status after the weekend, adding that "all options are on the table." A league source told Paolantonio the Vikings could make a decision as soon as Monday following a meeting with ownership on Sunday night.

Running back Matt Asiata, who filled in for Peterson on Sunday, said he heard from Peterson before Sunday's game, telling him to "just go out and play hard," Asiata said. "We've got his back, and we miss him."

Fullback Jerome Felton also said he sent Peterson a text message before Sunday's game; "Adrian is a teammate and a friend -- sent him a little message, but we’ve got to focus on getting better this week," Felton said. "We talked, but I'll keep all of that between us."

Quarterback Matt Cassel said he was "shocked" to hear the news, "probably just like everybody else," but added the Vikings didn't change their game plan because of Peterson's absence.

"It’s Adrian Peterson. He’s definitely an impact player without a doubt," Cassel said. "At the same time, I don’t think we can use that as an excuse for why we performed the way we did today. The great example was last year, when we lost him for the Philadelphia game, and the team went out and performed well and we won the game without him. That happens sometimes, whether it’s through injury or unfortunate circumstances; you’re going to lose players and you have to learn how to close ranks and move forward.”

Coach Mike Zimmer largely declined to discuss Peterson, saying he would address the situation "Monday or whenever we have the press conference," and bristled at the idea that finding out the news about Peterson on Friday affected the Vikings.

"No, it didn’t affect the team," Zimmer said. "You know what affected the team? Throwing interceptions, getting a field goal blocked, not tackling well enough, having penalties on defense. That’s what affected the team. The team was fine.”
Julian EdelmanAP Photo/Jim MoneVikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes was flagged three times, including twice for pass interference, and had a rough day overall matched up against Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman.
MINNEAPOLIS -- A week after they allowed just six points on the road, the Minnesota Vikings had to apply some perspective to their 30-7 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday. The Patriots started four drives at midfield or better on Sunday, along with two others that began at the New England 39 and 45. That fact, along with Chandler Jones' touchdown return of a blocked field goal, contributed far more to the final score than long drives by Tom Brady and the Patriots' offense.

But the Vikings still had plenty to lament after the loss, in a game where a handful of defensive penalties and an inability to stop the run kept Minnesota from putting too much heat on Brady. The Vikings allowed 150 rushing yards on a day where the Patriots relied heavily on six-lineman formations, and Brady picked on second-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who was playing with a groin injury and was flagged three times, including twice for pass interference.

"They came in, obviously, with a plan to run the football and not let us get into these pressure situations," coach Mike Zimmer said. "They took good care of the ball."

Rhodes was covering Julian Edelman for much of the game, and that matchup led to some of the cornerback's worst moments. He was flagged for a defensive holding penalty that was declined in the third quarter, and was cited for his second pass interference penalty of the game two plays later. Edelman also caught a 44-yard pass when Rhodes, who was trailing him on the play, dove to deflect Brady's pass and missed the ball, giving Edelman room to run on third-and-14.

Asked about the penalties, Zimmer said, "Well, they were called, so I'm assuming they were good calls. These officials do a good job. We've got to do a better job of getting him in better position than what he was."

The Patriots spent much of the day in manageable down-and-distance situations, threw at rookie linebacker Anthony Barr enough to keep him from getting involved as a pass rusher and allowed just one sack (by defensive tackle Tom Johnson) a week after giving up four. That formula proved to be an effective one, on a day where New England's offense was frequently staked to good field position.

"You can’t do that against anyone in the NFL," defensive end Brian Robison said. "You go out there and allow them to have five to six yards a pop on first down that puts them ahead of the chains already. We go out and don’t create any turnovers and have three or four turnovers ourselves and lose the turnover battle that bad; your likelihood of winning isn’t that good."
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings were driving late in the first half of Sunday's game against the New England Patriots with an opportunity to score before halftime and pull within a touchdown or a field goal. Matt Cassel dropped back on third-and-16 and found Cordarrelle Patterson inside the Patriots' 10, running a corner route between their cornerback and safety.

It was a perfect call to beat the Patriots' coverage, and a connection with Patterson would have put the Vikings on the doorstep of a touchdown with 30 seconds and a timeout remaining. But Cassel's throw led Patterson too close to the sideline and the receiver wasn't able to get both of his feet in bounds. Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones blocked the Vikings' ensuing field goal attempt and returned it 58 yards for a touchdown to put the Patriots up 24-7.

"I had to put it outside away from the safety," Cassel said. "It was a split safety, and over the corner's head. I threw it where I wanted to, and unfortunately we weren't able to complete it in bounds."

[+] EnlargeMatt Cassel
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesMatt Cassel's four interceptions were too much to overcome.
Throws like those can extend drives and prevent the 10- or 14-point swing that effectively took the Vikings out of Sunday's game. They can help Cassel bounce back from the interceptions he threw on Sunday, and in the long run, they can help reinforce his hold on the starting quarterback job. But if Cassel can't make them, he might not be able to shake the notion that he has the job only until Teddy Bridgewater is ready.

Cassel will start for the Vikings in New Orleans next week after going 19 of 36 for 202 yards, a touchdown and four interceptions on Sunday, and in reality, the Vikings' decisions at quarterback should -- and probably do -- revolve more around determining the right course of action for Bridgewater than any short-term ramifications. But the Vikings' attempt to get to 2-0 turned sour on a poor performance from Cassel, and with it, the quarterback missed a chance to assert himself, against his former team and without Adrian Peterson by his side to command some of the defense's attention.

"I'm not going to make excuses and say that just because Adrian Peterson wasn't playing today is the reason why we faltered," Cassel said. "There are a number of different reasons, and I will take full responsibility. I've got to take better care of the ball and not give short fields against a good team, and maybe the circumstances will be different."

Chief among Cassel's concerns might be his struggles on shots down the field, which are a key component of offensive coordinator Norv Turner's scheme and led to three of his interceptions on Sunday. He was 0-of-8 on throws that traveled more than 10 yards in the air, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and is just 1-of-11 with three interceptions on throws that covered 10 or more air yards this season. Cassel is the first quarterback since 2006 to start in both Week 1 and 2 without completing more than one pass 10 or more yards downfield, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

There were more parties responsible for the Vikings' offensive shortcomings on Sunday than just Cassel. Tight end Kyle Rudolph dropped three passes, wide receiver Greg Jennings had a drop, and the Vikings gave up six sacks.

"Matt's been in this league 10 years," Rudolph said. "He's a professional; he's ready to get back to work. You know, it's not all on Matt by any means. We put ourselves in a lot of really tough situations."

Many teams do, and the good ones have quarterbacks who can get them out of those situations. Most of Cassel's opportunities to do that on Sunday fell by the wayside.

"Today was one game in a 16-game season," Cassel said. "Of course, at times would I have liked to change some outcomes and circumstances? Of course. I think any quarterback in the league would tell you that at times."

Rapid Reaction: Minnesota Vikings

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
4:09
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MINNEAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on the Minnesota Vikings' 30-7 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium:

What it means: The game will be seen largely in light of Adrian Peterson's absence, but even if the Vikings had kept the 2012 NFL MVP active on Sunday, it's difficult to see them beating the Patriots the way they played. They weren't able to put consistent pressure on Tom Brady a week after the Miami Dolphins sacked him four times, and they lost the turnover battle by four (or five, if you count the blocked field goal the Patriots returned for a touchdown in the first half). Matt Cassel threw three interceptions, and while he might have had a few more favorable looks if Peterson had been on the field, he also overthrew receivers at several key moments.

Stock watch: In a game in which he could have helped the Vikings get to 2-0 against his former team and his close friend Brady, Cassel didn't answer the bell. His first interception was a badly overthrown deep ball to Jarius Wright, and he overshot Kyle Rudolph on a second-quarter drive before leading Cordarrelle Patterson out of bounds on a pass that could have put the Vikings on the Patriots' doorstep. The Vikings, instead, had a field goal blocked on the next play. It seems unlikely the Vikings would think about a quarterback change this early, but they need Cassel to be better than this if they're hoping to surprise in the NFC North.

Difficult day for Rhodes: Targeted all day by Brady, especially when he was lined up on Julian Edelman, second-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes had a tough afternoon. He was playing with a groin injury that appeared to affect him in coverage, and he was also flagged for a couple of pass interference penalties. On Edelman's 44-yard completion in the first half, Rhodes made a diving attempt for the ball after he was beaten, and Edelman raced down the sideline after Rhodes missed the ball.

Game ball: There weren't many choices for the Vikings, but safety Harrison Smith gets the nod for today. He was credited with eight tackles and might have been the Vikings' most effective player in run support.

What's next: The Vikings (1-1) will head to New Orleans next Sunday to face the Saints in their home opener.

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