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The Vikings (5-2) are headed to prime time on Thursday night, as the will play host to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4), a division rival from days long passed.

The Bucs are coming off of a devastating last-second loss to New Orleans, while the Vikings continue to overcome adversity and turn heads during a supposed “rebuilding” year.

Just as a loss would cause lost hope in Tampa, a win here would really get Minnesota’s fan base buzzing about the possibility of a postseason appearance.  Let’s take a look at what all might end up deciding the outcome of this Thursday Night showdown.

Before the 2012 season got underway, Percy Harvin expressed great displeasure with his role within the Vikings offense and requested a trade at one point.  Instead of trading him, Leslie Frazier talked with Harvin about his concerns and apparently Harvin was happy with what he heard.  If wasn’t completely happy at that point, he has to be now because he is in the middle of an MVP-type season.

After a pitiful loss to the Indianapolis Colts, veteran defensive linemen Kevin Williams and Jared Allen appealed to the coaching staff to let them simplify the defense and simply allow the front four to do their thing.  The result has been games like we saw this last weekend, where the defense amassed seven sacks despite the fact that they blitzed on exactly zero snaps.

This coaching staff is seemingly willing to listen to their productive players, but they also seem willing to listen to their fan base.  When the Vikings had red zone struggles in the red zone against Washington, the coaching staff didn’t get defensive and chippy about the matter like we might expect from the rex Ryans and Pete Carrolls of the world.

Instead, the Vikings coaching staff admitted that they weren’t proud of their decisions and vowed to fix the problem.  And, really, they succeeded.  The Vikings made two trips to the red zone on Sunday, and they scored touchdowns on each of them.

The coaching staff had to know they were going to hear about their lack of passing production on Sunday.  At one point, Christian Ponder was sarcastically cheered by the home crowd when he opted to throw away a football when he was under pressure, as earlier he had chucked picks under similar pressure.  If that wasn’t enough, the home crowd was so disinterested in the yawn-inducing game that they collectively jeered the referees for a call against the Cardinals because they weren’t paying close enough attention to realize the call had actually gone in the Vikings favor.

Everybody involved with Christian Ponder’s dismal day (35.5 passer rating) seemed to acknowledge that improvement was needed if their winning ways are to continue.

“A lot of it had to do with what they were doing defensively,” Frazier said of his offense’s struggles against the Cardinals. “Some of the things they were able to take away from what we wanted to get accomplished in the passing game.”

Frazier went on to vow that Ponder will continue to improve as an NFL passer.

So far this season, when the Vikings coaching staff says something is going to improve, it has come to fruition pretty quickly.  We may have our reasons to doubt Ponder’s abilities in the immediate future, but his first chance to prove us wrong will come very quickly.

In three short days, the Vikings will take on Tampa Bay… who have the second-worst pass defense in the NFL.

When Percy Harvin took the opening kickoff for 103 yards for a touchdown, the tone of this game was set when the referees announced that Marvin Mitchell’s block to the back was getting it called back.  Despite a number of bad mistakes, missed opportunities, and questionable play calls the Vikings were able to beat the hapless Cardinals by a score of 21 – 14.

Here are some post-game thoughts:

Peterson Looked Fantastic

Adrian had a great game, point blank.  He ran the ball 23 times for 153 yards (6.6 yard average), and scored the first touchdown of the day on a beautiful 13 yarder.  He tacked on two catches for six yards.

Peterson had his best game of the season and finally truly looked to be back to his old self.  He was making quick cuts, had some getup in his step, and put on an impressive display of power running on a number of occasions.

On a day when the offense couldn’t seem to move through the air at all, Peterson’s dominance couldn’t have come at a better time.

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Monday’s are never quite as fun after a loss like the one the Vikings suffered yesterday. Your boss being a Packer fan and informing you that the football universe is now back in alignment after their hearty win over the Texans (and the Vikings loss) makes it all the more worse.

But it’s okay – today is a new day separate from the angst and irrationality of last night. I’m not quite ready to start sipping the purple kool-aid again but Adam has some notes from yesterday’s game that I promise are more level-headed than mine.

For whatever reason, he wasn’t able to post them himself. So, on his behalf, here are some of our favorite Vikings blogger’s opinions on last night’s travesty.

Mobile Quarterbacks

I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe Erin Henderson should have replaced Jasper Brinkley on nickel downs. Maybe Jared Allen needed to ease up on his pass rush and focus more on containment. Maybe Everson Griffen needed to take more snaps. Whatever the issue, this Vikings defense struggles with mobile quarterbacks, and that could prove to be an issue down the stretch. Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler are both on the schedule, twice each, between now and the end of the season.

I Hate Those Penalties

I have said it a few times that the week two performance against Indianapolis was one of the worst games the Vikings have played in recent memory. A huge part of that reasoning is the disdain I have for penalties and this most recent game against Washington had that same feel. Too many penalties, too undisciplined.

A Whole New Appreciation For Harvin

The Vikings performed better against Washington than they did against Indy earlier this season, and had some better individual performances, but once again Percy Harvin is the biggest silver lining following the “L.” I want to make a fresh point about Harvin, however. After watching Matt Stafford flip the football, Victor Cruz salsa dance, Jared Allen rope a cow when his team is losing, and RGIII act like he is auditioning for Glee, I love how professional and sensible Harvin is during his moments of dominance. After a big play, it seems to take him about a nanosecond before he is focused on making the next big play. Chris Kluwe called Harvin the hardest working player in football following Sunday’s loss, and I believe him, because he is all business for 60 straight minutes.

“Lack Of A Deep Threat” Is A Myth

I keep hearing that Jerome Simpson is the Vikings only deep threat. If that is truly the case, then the Vikings front office and coaching staff have pinned themselves into a corner that is inexcusable. If your only way to stretch the field is a street free agent beginning the year on suspension, then you have screwed up.

I don’t think that is the case, however, so it frustrates me to see Bill Musgrave act like the Sunday morning pre-game shows know what they are talking about in the way he calls plays. The Vikings begin the game by finding great success in the run game, Washington adjusts to stop the run, and then the Vikings fail to adjust their own plan and take advantage of them stacking the box. That is not a good blueprint to have on tape.

Luckily, however, the Vikings do have deep threats besides Simpson and soon they will have to realize it. I have seen Percy Harvin be successful downfield with Brett Favre throwing him the ball. I know John Carlson and Kyle Rudolph can be dangerous running streaks down the seam. Heck, even Devin Aromashodu has made plays deep every year since joining the Vikings. If Michael Jenkins can’t get there, then how about giving Stephen Burton a chance to show us what he can do? The options are there but Musgrave has to acknowledge them and Ponder has to take advantage of them.

No matter what, though, put receiver at the top of your offseason priority list for the Vikings in 2013.

Loadholt Extension

I have always thought that mid-season contract extension should be used as a way to reward excellent play and motivate others on the roster. Last week, news broke that the Vikings had begun negotiating with starting right tackle Phil Loadholt whose contract expires after this season. I didn’t get a chance to give my opinion on the matter, so I’ll take the opportunity now.

Does Phil Loadholt deserve a reward for his play this season? Is he easily enough replaced or upgraded via the Draft or free agency? Will cheaper options be available?

I like Loadholt okay. He is serviceable. I just don’t see him, as he gets older, somehow becoming more athletic and quicker on his feet, however. I’m just not convinced he is worth a larger, long-term investment at this point. If I had a vote (which I won’t and never will) I would say to leave it be until January and then see where things stand.

Injury Free And Rebound Opportunity

The Vikings fell to second place in the NFC North with their loss on Sunday, but they came out of it largely unscathed and have a chance to get their confidence back against a pair of lesser teams. Leslie Frazier indicated that the team suffered no major injuries on Sunday, so that is great news moving forward. The Vikings had back to the Metrodome to host the atrocious-looking Cardinals and then get to play the lackluster Bucs. It is possible, if not somewhat likely, that this Vikings team will soon be 6-2.

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