The overtime victory against the rival Bears on Sunday was a positive step for Vikings fans that just wanted the team to prove they still know how to win football games, but a step back for those that want to see the Vikings nab the first overall selection of the 2014 NFL Draft.
The mixed emotions about this win don’t end there, though. A win is a win, but this was not a pretty one, and there is certainly a great deal of things we saw on Sunday that were beyond worrisome. I’ve decided to split the difference and will look at five things I liked and five things I didn’t following the 23-20 victory.
1. Matt Cassel Shows Stones
When Christian Ponder had to exit early it was Matt Cassel, not Josh Freeman, who was dressed and ready to take the reigns. Cassel came in as a reserve, but played in a way that should clearly give him a leg up in the quarterback conversation in Minnesota. He went 20 for 33 and a touchdown. His lone pick was not his fault in the slightest, as tight end Rhett Ellison bobbled a perfect strike, and it really should have ended up being a second touchdown on the statline. The only reason it wasn’t a touchdown for the Bears, by all appearances, was Cassel’s hustle as he chased down linebacker Khaseem Greene after he returned the ball for 49 yards. Cassel may not be the starter next week against Baltimore, because no decision regarding this team ever seems to be the obvious one, but he showed up big after the Vikings offense netted just 16 passing yards through the first half with Ponder at the helm.
2. Nobody Does It Better
Much was written about Adrian Peterson’s greatness Monday, after the future Hall of Famer broke the 10,000 rushing yard threshold Sunday, but I’m so in awe of his everyday accomplishments that I can’t even begin to put into words how prolific his career has been thus far. Peterson ran for 211 yards on 35 carries (6.0 yard average) against the Bears and seemingly willed the offense down the field at times, including moments in the fourth quarter and in overtime, and you just know he is the still a player that makes his team a competitor week-in and week-out. Even when they are a bad team.
3. Audible To Audie?
Watching Audie Cole play at middle linebacker is exciting. It might have more to do with our desire to see an underdog rise to greatness than it does with his quality of play, but it is hard for anyone (yes, including me) to argue that Erin Henderson should get his job back. Henderson didn’t play a snap on Sunday and Cole held up, once again, fairly well at the spot. Cole registered nine tackles and made a game-changing play when he deflected a Bears pass that was hauled in by lineman Kyle Long who Cole then targeted and forced a fumble on, which was recovered by Marvin Mitchell. If Cole can continue to build a consistent presence on defense, and further show his knack for finding the football, then we just might have seen the last of Erin Henderson at middle linebacker. Vikings fans want to enjoy watching their team, and it is clear they want to watch Audie Cole, and the coaches would seemingly be foolish not to give the fans what they want at this point.
4. First Rounders Playing Well
They each had rookie moments on Sunday, but it is nice to see each of the three first round rookies getting more involved and playing at a high level. Patterson’s 33 yard touchdown run made him the first rookie in team history to score on a run, a catch, and a return in the same season. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd had a particularly nice second half, where he showed excellent gap discipline and disruption making it difficult for the Bears to run inside, and he ended the day with two tackles and a sack. Xavier Rhodes was probably the most impressive of the three on Sunday as he was all over the field making plays and stops. Rhodes ended the day with six tackles, one for a loss, and a defended pass. I personally feel he deserved more than one single defended pass in the stat column, but that’s nit-picking, and he was the biggest reason the Vikings were able to hold Brandon Marshall to only four catches and 45 yards.
5. Greg Jennings Finally Getting Some
As documented by the ever-talented Arif Hassan over at Daily Norseman, Greg Jennings has been open way more often than his depressing statline would suggest this season. I’ve been saying all season long how refreshing it is to see us with such a fundamentally sound and sneaky good wide out that does all of the little things so darn well. It’s been a while since the Vikings have had that. After a silent first half, Matt Cassel made Jennings a favorite target after entering the game, and the results speak volumes. Jennings ended the day with seven catches, 78 yards, and a touchdown grab. Where Ponder seems to see nobody, Cassel and his quicker release are able to find Jennings, and it is evidence that Rick Spielman didn’t simply throw money at a name when he signed Jennings to a five year deal. The guy is for real, but relies on his quarterback as much as every other wide out in the league.
1. Chris Cook Is A Bozo
I already pegged Chris Cook’s inability to step up as a reason for this season’s early death, but it got worse on Sunday. Cook was burned by Alshon Jeffery multiple times as the receiver notched a ridiculous 249 yards against us, including touchdown catches of 80 yards and 46 yards. Cook looked like a second-rate pretender on both of those plays, but he continued to embarrass himself when he inexplicably made shoved a referee after the second touchdown and got himself ejected from the game. Absent of his helmet, Cook jawed his way off the field in a fit of rage, and once again found a new way to leave his team scrambling to cover for his absence. Norm from “Cheers” has as many career interceptions as Cook does (actually, no Vikings cornerback has ever intercepted a pass in the NFL) and is probably more dependable. Cook didn’t speak to reporters after the game, hadn’t spoken to Leslie Frazier as of Monday afternoon, and hadn’t posted his normal Twitter nonsense as of me writing this post. As is typical of him, he is avoiding manning up to his mistakes, and I can’t wait for him to be a former Viking. In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that he might be worth a compensatory pick when he becomes a free agent, I’d be lobbying for Spielman to cut him right here, right now.
2. Rhett Ellison gets Noticed
Tight end Rhett Ellison has done a great job of filling the shoes (and wearing the number) of long-time Vikings great Jim Kleinsasser. He is often an unheralded and unnoticed grunt that is doing his job well, particularly when it comes to blocking for Adrian Peterson. Ellison probably would have preferred to remain invisible on Sunday, but instead he made a pair of mistakes that almost cost his team the win. First, Cassel hit Ellison right in the numbers on a short route that should have been an easy touchdown. Instead, he bobbled the ball into the air and it was intercepted. Then, his facemask penalty negated a winning overtime field goal from Blair Walsh, and Walsh missed his second attempt after the penalty backed him up. The Bears gave the Vikings a final chance by missing a field goal of their own and Ellison is lucky the outcome was favorable, or else he’d be taking even more flak than he already is.
3. Griffen Disappearing At The Wrong Time
With Jared Allen likely playing only four more games as a Minnesota Viking, I just want to point out that Everson Griffen is picking a horrible time to disappear. He was once again quiet on Sunday, registering just one tackle and a quarterback hit, which is becoming a worrisome trend. Granted he is limited in his opportunities, it would still be nice to see him create some more havoc than he has been, since he is the presumed heir to Allen’s throne. A backup is hard to judge by his stats (which aren’t too out of line from last year), but it just looks like Griffen has regressed a little, and it would be nice to see him return to form before this offseason.
4. Greenway On The Mend
After having to exit in overtime, before the game was over, Chad Greenway has revealed he broke his wrist in two spots in the team’s first game against Green Bay on October 21st. Greenway, classy as ever, said the organization has been too good to him and his family not to finish out this season, but did not rule out the possibility of offseason surgery. Greenway exited the game with a team-leading 10 tackles, three for a loss, and a sack.
5. Draft Position Slipping Away Again
I can’t cheer for a loss. I just can’t. Still, it is hard to see my Vikings once again playing themselves out of prime draft position late in a lost season. A loss to Chicago would have placed the Vikings at the second overall pick (at the moment), but following their ugly win they are now slotted to have the sixth overall pick (at the moment). Of course, that difference could be enough to prevent them from picking a top-tier quarterback, like many assume they want to do if they can. Wins feel good, but all knowing Vikings fans are also keeping their eye on that draft board this time of year.