The Vikings were without their top two running backs, their most productive offensive lineman this season, and their starting cornerback duo. As if the odds weren’t stacked enough against them, Minnesota had to play the potent offense of the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, so expectations were minimal as fans filed into the Metrodome.
The Vikings, however, had no-names show up big on their way to a 48-30 beatdown of the Eagles. Here are ten things I noticed about the game:
1. NFL Network reported prior to the game that Matt Cassel would remain with the Vikings into 2014. The understanding is that both Cassel and the Vikings have the option to void the second year of his contract following the season, so I was surprised to see such a concrete report come across the TV. Cassel then proceeded to have one of the best games of his career. He finished 26 of 35 for 382 yards and two touchdowns. He threw one interception and took three sacks, but for the most part he was sharp and poised on his way to a 116.6 quarterback rating. He also ran for 19 yards and another score. These are the types of games we just never saw out of Christian Ponder and it is no wonder that Cassel’s future with the franchise suddenly looks far brighter than Ponder’s. Jennings had never before, in his entire career, caught 11 passes in one game.
2. Greg Jennings continued to show that he can better reward the Vikings for their investment when Cassel is at the helm. His best game as a Vikings so far came to the tune of 13 targets, 11 catches, 163 yards, and a touchdown. Jennings continues to be precise with his route running and the main difference lately seems to be that he now has a quarterback willing and able to take advantage of his talents.
3. Brian Robison is already making post-game comments that acknowledge that Jared Allen is unlikely to return to Minnesota next season, but that isn’t stopping the duo from enjoying their remaining time together. Each grabbed Nick Foles for two sacks and dominated the Eagles offensive line for almost the entire game. The Vikings are likely to be moving on from Allen this offseason, but games like this have to make them wonder if they would be making a mistake by doing so.
4. Cordarrelle Patterson had a nice day on offense with five catches for 35 yards and a score. He also had two runs for 15 yards. Where he is really making a name for himself is in the return game, however, and it is becoming increasingly obvious that he scares opponents on special teams. The Eagles avoided kicking to Patterson all day long, he never did get a chance, but their decision to do so still set the Vikings up with great field position. Patterson was even in on one punt return attempt, but it was a fair catch. Patterson is quickly blossoming into one of the most dangerous players in the NFL and has the fanbase excited about things to come.
5. Earlier this season, running back Matt Asiata tragically lost his father, and he admitted how emotional Sunday’s start was for him. Asiata was forced into duty due to Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart both being injured. He carried the ball an impressive 30 times, but only gained 51 yards, an average of 1.7 yards per carry. He did make fantasy players roll their eyes all afternoon, though, as his three touchdowns were an impressive stat to put next to his name. He also had three catches for 15 yards.
6. Harrison Smith made his return to the Vikings defense on Sunday. It was a rocky day for him and his secondary, but it was good to see Smith out there making his team better. Smith tied with a team lead eight tackles and was flying around the field, shaking off the rust. Smith didn’t start this week, but he was plenty involved throughout the afternoon.
7. The depth chart looked pretty desperate just before kickoff, but credit should be given to a handful of reserves that showed up on Sunday, and showed up big at important times. We already talked about Asiata. Tight end Chase Ford had a pair of nice catches for 55 yards. With a few exceptions, Joe Berger got the job done. Most notably, though, was cornerback Shaun Prater. In his first start, Prater performed as well in coverage as any Vikings player not named “Xavier” has all season and the reward was his first career interception. His performance today should certainly earn him an invitation to training camp next year.
8. Jerome Simpson was called for taunting and a replay of the incident left more questions than answers, as it appeared like some normal jawing was going on when all of the sudden Bradley Fletcher pushed him onto his butt. Simpson was not shown retaliating or anything. Following the game, Simpson agreed that the call was stunning, and even went so far as to say today’s refs were saying questionable things to Vikings players. After last week’s horrendous officiating, and now this revelation, conspiracy theorists are certainly going to have a field day wondering if the NFL has it out for the Vikings. Simpson wouldn’t go into detail about what was said by referee Billy Smith, but he did note that nothing said was racist.
9. For those that needed a reminder that the 2013 season has reached levels of “terrible” that come very close to that of 2010, Jared Allen was happy to do so by once again performing long snapping duties. The mainstay snapper for the Vikings, Cullen Loeffler, was forced out of action with a hand injury in the fourth quarter. The last time Allen performed this duty was two years ago when Loeffler had an injury that forced him to miss five games. Loeffler is not expected to miss anymore time this season.
10. The preg-game reports out of Minnesota were many. Cassel would remain the presumed starter into training camp of 2014. Leslie Frazier would be fired. The Vikings were already reaching out to Bill O’Brien. Rick Spielman’s job is safe for 2014. That about sums it all up, and while none if it was super surprising to me, it is interesting to hear some of the mainstream media members are getting leaks about the situations. Neither Mark Wilf or Rick Spielman would comment to Ben Goessling after the game, which was also unsurprising, but the fanbase is getting restless and they may soon be forced to come clean about what exactly the plan is moving forward.