The other day I hit a squirrel.  I didn’t mean to and I did everything I could to safely miss the thing.  I went right and so did the squirrel.  I went left and the squirrel reversed course and stayed right in front of me.  This went on for a number of slight swerves when suddenly a definitive “THUD” made the outcome of this little episode quite clear.

On Sunday afternoon, the Detroit Lions played the part of my car, doing seemingly everything they could to keep that squirrel (the Minnesota Vikings) alive.

In the end:  THUD.

Things started out fairly promising.  A botched field goal attempt led to the Vikings first offensive snap, which Adrian Peterson took to the house from 78 yards out, but it was all downhill from there.  Here are my graded observations from the action:

GRADE A

Watching Adrian Peterson take that ball 78 yards for a touchdown really gave me hope about this game.  Hope is officially dead for a week one win, but runs like that still give me hope for the rest of the season.  In the hours following this loss I had to keep reminding myself just how ugly that loss to Indianapolis was last year and that the 2012 Vikings were able to turn things around, so the 2013 version might be able to do the same.

When you look into the Vikings defensive secondary you see a lot of guys that have question marks.  A guy that has defined himself as an exclamation point is Harrison Smith, though, and he looked to be in Pro Bowl form Sunday.  He was second on the team with 10 tackles, but any Lion on the receiving end of those hits would probably tell you they should count each Smith hit as two tackles.  The guy didn’t have any real game-changing highlights Sunday, but he is a consistent force in that secondary, and is like a missile when it comes to taking down the ball carrier.

As far as I can tell there were no serious injuries sustained by the Vikings on Sunday.  Yay.

GRADE B

Some people in the live chat were dogging on Jared Allen a little bit, but I just didn’t see where the disappointment was coming from, as he was all over the place.  Not only did Allen have the team’s only sack and hit Matt Stafford three times, but he batted down two passes.

In fact, I was a big fan of how our defensive line got their hands in the air with Kevin Williams (notorious for knocking passes down) on the sideline.  Sharrif Floyd also got his hands on one and so did Fred Evans, whose tipped pass turned into an Erin Henderson interception.

While I thought Chris Cook looked incredibly soft and second-rate, I also thought rookie Xavier Rhodes had a nice debut, and was largely responsible for Calvin Johnson’s quiet afternoon (remember, though, two near-touchdowns were taken away).  Rhodes ended the day with just three tackles to his name, and was responsible for one penalty for roughing up Megatron a tad bit too much, but his physical play and consistency was an encouraging sign of things to come.

The early gaffe of Jerome Simpson led me to believe he was having just another “typical” game, but after drawing a couple of interference calls, he began to heat up.  Simpson ended the day as the Vikings most targeted receiver (8 total) and snagged seven catches for 140 yards.  His diving no-look grab that went for 47 yards was one of the best deep pass plays we have seen out of this offense in years.

GRADE C

Our special teams unit wasn’t exactly the powerhouse many of us expected to see.  Jeff Locke was inconsistent (42.2 yard average), as was his coverage team, in the punt game.  Blair Walsh stood out for his booming kickoffs and 52 yard field goal.  Cordarrelle Patterson was an adequate-but-unspectacular kick returner (27 yard average) on his two attempts.  Marcus Sherels was only allowed one punt return attempt and it had mediocre results (6 yards).  The Vikings have sacrificed quite a bit to have an elite special teams unit, but they looked pretty ho-hum on Sunday.

GRADE D

The Vikings had to play in the nickel formation most of the game, which meant Marvin Mitchell barely saw the field, but the Vikings linebackers were completely outmatched by the talented offense of the Lions. Outside of Erin Henderson’s interception (with the assist from Evans) they looked pretty inept in pass defense.  They didn’t account for any quarterback pressure or a single tackle for a loss all game long.  The lack of athleticism in this group will plague the Vikings all season, especially when you add a mobile quarterback into the list of options for opposing offenses, and I’m not sure it is something that can be “fixed” until next offseason.

The play of Christian Ponder was not very inspiring.  His failed attempt at a throwaway, which resulted in an interception, was simply awful decision making.  Ponder ended up completing 18 of 28 passes for 236 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions, and a quarterback rating of just 63.1.  He took three sacks, ran the call four times for just 12 yards, and lost a fumble to bring his turnover count to four.  There were times when Jerome Simpson and some sketchy offensive line play hurt Ponder bad, but he was also bailed out by some very nifty catches from Simpson and Greg Jennings, so I’m not sure how much excuse-making is allowable at this point.  Overall, he looked overwhelmed and underprepared, which is the exact opposite of what us fans so desperately hoped to see out of him this week.

GRADE F

Why do we allow teams to take Adrian Peterson out of the game by refusing to throw the ball to him?  Where were Cordarrelle Patterson’s touches that made Percy Harvin such a stat-machine last year?  Why was Ponder’s back to the line of scrimmage so often?  And on third and short, what the hell was that?  Why are we paying Jennings so much money to take over the role of Michael Jenkins when Michael Jenkins is available for the low cost of, well, anything.  Where was the play action or misdirection?  Did we replace our offensive line with the case of “Little Giants?”  Is Pro Bowler Kyle Rudolph hurt?  Does Jarius Wright still exist?  All the overly-sarcastic questions are ones that Bill Musgrave may soon have to answer to in a very real way if he doesn’t get his act together.  Clearly all the fault doesn’t lie with Ponder, and one has to wonder if Ponder wouldn’t be more productive under a different coordinator, but I’m getting ahead of myself… by at least five weeks.