NFC North: Minnesota Vikings

Vikings appear thin at LB for Sunday

December, 26, 2014
Dec 26
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings are in the middle of their final full-team practice of the 2014 season, and it's looking as though they'll have to do something about their linebacker depth between now and Sunday's season finale against the Chicago Bears.

Chad Greenway and Brandon Watts were both absent from the practice field as the Vikings worked outside on Friday, suggesting that neither will be available for Sunday's game. The Vikings already had ruled Anthony Barr out for the rest of the season; Greenway and Watts could join Barr on the sidelines with knee and hamstring injuries, respectively.

At the moment, the Vikings have just three healthy linebackers on their active roster. Audie Cole and Gerald Hodges were taking first-team snaps in nickel situations while the Vikings practiced on Friday, and it stands to reason that Cole would start at strongside linebacker, with Jasper Brinkley in the middle and Hodges on the weak side if Greenway is unable to go.

The Vikings signed linebacker Justin Anderson to their practice squad earlier this week, and they also have Josh Kaddu on their practice squad. One or both of those players could get added to the active roster before Sunday for linebacker depth; if the Vikings aren't going to use some of their injured linebackers on Sunday, it'd be easy enough to put them on injured reserve to clear roster space for additions from the practice squad.

Tight end Kyle Rudolph, who hasn't participated in a practice all week, was on the field on Friday, indicating he'll have a shot to return from an ankle injury on Sunday. Wide receiver Jarius Wright also returned from a low back injury for the open portion of Friday's practice.
video When: 1 p.m. ET Where: TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis TV: Fox

The Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears square off in what amounts to the Week 17 NFC North undercard, with third place in the division at stake before the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers battle for the division title. The Vikings-Bears matchup will feature the same two quarterbacks as the teams' Nov. 16 meeting, but Teddy Bridgewater and Jay Cutler are headed in very different directions.

Bridgewater has completed better than 70 percent of his passes in each of his past four games and seems to be asserting himself as a solid young NFL quarterback. Cutler, meanwhile, was benched last week in favor of Jimmy Clausen and is starting this week only because Clausen sustained a concussion against Detroit. Sunday could be Cutler's last game with the Bears.

ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and ESPN Bears reporter Michael C. Wright discuss Sunday's matchup:

Goessling: Michael, it looks like we’ll see Cutler one more time this Sunday. Is that a good thing for the Bears at this point? He played well against the Vikings last time, but how invested will he be?

Wright: Ben, it depends on how you look at it. Marc Trestman mentioned that Cutler gives this team the best chance to win against the Vikings, which is absolutely true. But to me, Trestman probably irreparably damaged the relationship with the quarterback by benching him. When the announcement was made, I asked Trestman directly about Cutler’s future in Chicago because once you make the type of decision he made, to go with Clausen, there’s no turning back. I still believe that. So if the Bears actually plan to move Cutler this offseason, they’re taking a big risk in playing him against the Vikings in this meaningless game. Cutler’s $15.5 million salary for 2015 is already fully guaranteed, and if he’s on the roster on the third day of the new league year, the Bears would be on the hook for more than $10 million of his 2016 salary. And guess what? You can’t trade an injured player. So to me, this is a risky proposition. Based on the decision to start Cutler, my guess is the team isn’t planning to move him this offseason. I think the relationship between Cutler and Trestman is broken. So Cutler will be invested, but he’ll also probably be out there doing his own thing as opposed to playing within the confines of Trestman’s system. My expectation is Cutler will play a backyard brand of ball in this last outing.

The teams own similar records, but I’d be willing to bet you the feelings about the future of both these franchises are way different. Minnesota (6-9) has lost its last five by a combined 16 points, while what’s going down with the Bears (5-10) is downright embarrassing. Despite Minnesota’s record, there seems to be some optimism about the future. What’s next for the Vikings?

Goessling: They're 6-9, but after everything they've been through -- losing Adrian Peterson, starting a rookie quarterback, dealing with several injuries on the offensive line -- the Vikings feel as though they're headed in the right direction. The key to the whole thing, of course, is Bridgewater. If he continues to get better, the Vikings will have a young quarterback they can build around for the first time since ... Daunte Culpepper? They got only a few years of franchise QB-level play from him, but that tells you how starved this team has been for an answer at the position. The defense probably needs another offseason of player acquisition, but with the right moves, this could be a top-10 unit next year. That, plus an improving young quarterback, is a nice foundation.

The Bears’ pass rush hasn’t gotten the job done enough this season, and now Willie Young is out, so this looks as if it could be a matchup of resistible force vs. movable object when the Vikings are trying to stop the Bears’ pass rush. Can Jared Allen pick up some of the slack in his return to Minnesota?

Wright: I think he can, and you know he’ll be motivated to play well in front of the Vikings' fans at TCF Bank Stadium. Allen throughout his career has always been a guy who has kind of come on as the season progressed, and it seems as if this season is no different. He’s sitting at 5.5 sacks right now, and it seems very likely he'll finish the season without a double-digit sack total for the first time since 2006. So you know Allen is going to give it everything he’s got to try to get the 4.5 sacks he needs to get to double digits, which you and I both know probably isn’t happening. But that’s not going to stop him from trying. My guess is he’ll draw a little extra attention because the Bears will be forced to play unheralded guys such as Cornelius Washington and David Bass opposite Allen. So he’ll have a difficult time trying to pick up the slack for Young.

Remember Bridgewater’s dreadful pro day workout? That seems like ages ago, and now he certainly seems like the answer at quarterback moving forward. In what areas does Bridgewater need to improve this offseason to take that next step?

Goessling: He's really made some significant strides in recent weeks, particularly with how well he throws downfield. He's completed better than 70 percent of his throws of 15 yards or longer in the past four weeks, which is a huge development for a QB who wasn't hitting anything deep earlier this season. I'd still like to see him be able to manage a higher volume of those throws -- you know Norv Turner would love to make the old "Bang 8" skinny post a staple of his offense again -- and he probably needs to get stronger this winter. He still throws high at times and misses some easy completions, but his improvement even during the past month has been noticeable. Bridgewater wants to be great; he believes he's capable of it and he'll put the work in to try to get there. An offseason of strength training and prep work can only help.

Of the Bears teams you’ve covered, how surprising has the collapse of this one been? I thought they’d be a playoff team; some had them among the NFC contenders. What sticks with you most about what went wrong?

Wright: This is just my fifth season on the Bears beat, but it’s by far the worst I’ve seen it out here. All the internal drama obviously sticks out. But I think what sticks out the most is how badly Bears general manager Phil Emery miscalculated in terms of the contributions this team would be able to get from some of the additions he made. Emery paid big money to sign Allen and Lamarr Houston in free agency and they’ve combined for 6.5 sacks. Houston had never produced more than six sacks in a season, yet Emery billed him as the crown jewel of the team’s free-agent class. Then the Bears went out and signed a bunch of no-name safeties. M.D. Jennings was the most experienced safety of all the signees and he didn’t even make the team. Let’s not even get into the big money paid to Cutler.

Coming off a promising 2013 season, the Bears sold everyone on the notion they’d be a playoff contender. But the fact is that Chicago’s offense in 2013 -- despite finishing second in scoring last season -- wasn't as good as everyone seems to think. They caught teams by surprise because they didn’t know what to expect from Trestman’s offense, but at the core, the unit is flawed. You’ve got three big receivers in Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Marquess Wilson, but not one target capable of taking the top off coverages. So I knew the offense would take a step back in 2014, but not as dramatic as what we’ve seen. On the other side of the ball, nobody expected the Bears to return to the level they’d been under Lovie Smith. But the expectation was the defense would be at least mediocre, which obviously isn’t the case. I’d say about 80 to 85 percent of this team’s problems in every facet are the result of bad personnel moves. So although Trestman and the coaching staff -- deservedly -- take plenty of heat, Emery dealt them a horrible hand from a personnel standpoint.

It’s difficult to get a team up when there’s nothing to play for. But what is Mike Zimmer’s message for how he’d like to see the Vikings close out this season?

Goessling: Zimmer was livid with the Vikings after their 37-35 loss to the Dolphins last Sunday, and I'd be willing to bet they'll be sharper this weekend. He's made it clear that he's not going to go into evaluation mode, that it's still about winning games this season. But at the same time, the Vikings are trying to make decisions about their future and Zimmer has sent the message that players who coast to the finish line won't have as much security as they might expect. I think the Vikings will respond to that Sunday, especially playing at home and facing a team that appears to be in disarray.

QB snapshot: Teddy Bridgewater

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23
A quick observation of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and how he played in the Minnesota Vikings' 37-35 loss in Week 16:

There was plenty of consternation earlier this season about Bridgewater's inaccuracy on deep balls and whether he had the arm to consistently throw downfield in the NFL. The rookie didn't have to try any 40-yard shots Sunday, but in recent weeks, he has hit the 15-to -20-yard throws often enough that the question about Bridgewater's downfield accuracy is essentially dead.

Bridgewater completed six of seven throws that traveled 10 yards or more Sunday, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He accumulated 130 yards and a touchdown on those throws and was perfect in both his passer rating (158.3) and QBR (100.0) when he threw at least 10 yards. Bridgewater's longest ball of the day was 25 yards, but he continued to connect on the intermediate throws that are so vital in offensive coordinator Norv Turner's scheme.

The past four weeks, Bridgewater has hit 65.4 percent of his throws of at least 10 yards, which is the highest completion percentage in the league over that stretch. His completion percentage when throwing at least 15 yards also leads the league, and it's even more impressive -- 76.5 percent. And 20-plus yards? Bridgewater's completion percentage is tops in the league there too -- he's gone 6-for-9 on such throws for 190 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

Now, it should be noted no QB who has started the past four weeks has tried fewer throws of 15 yards or more than Bridgewater, who has attempted just 17. But the Vikings' pass protection issues and their search for bona fide deep threats have plenty to do with that, as well. The rookie will need to get more comfortable going down the field frequently, and he'll need to maintain his accuracy over higher volumes of those throws. But the Vikings coaches who staunchly defended the rookie when he was missing deep throws earlier this season -- Turner, head coach Mike Zimmer and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner -- appear to have been vindicated.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer closed his postgame remarks after a 37-35 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday by hinting to reporters they had only gotten a taste of the ire he had showed to players.

Asked if his message to the team was similar to his terse news conference, Zimmer simply said, "It was stronger."

That's probably an understatement, based on what players said Monday, and there is good reason for Zimmer's belligerence. The Vikings allowed season highs in yards (493), passing yards (377) and first downs (36) on Sunday. The 35 points they gave up while their defense was on the field matched their most of the season (Green Bay also scored five offensive touchdowns on Oct. 2). Several players called it the worst defensive performance of the season. Few were surprised at Zimmer's response.

"He was livid," defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said. "In his position, I would be, too, watching the defense do what we did."

The Vikings allowed four touchdowns in the second half, with three of them coming on 80-yard drives. They sacked Ryan Tannehill just twice, and couldn't put much pressure on him; according to ESPN Stats and Information, Tannehill hit 27 of his 33 passes for 323 yards and four touchdowns when the Vikings brought four or fewer rushers.

"That was the worst we've played all year -- maybe one of the worst defensive performances I've seen in a long time," Zimmer said on Monday. "But definitely this year, for sure."

The Vikings still rank 15th in the league in yards and points allowed, and they are seventh in the NFL with 41 sacks. But they have dropped off after being ranked in the top-10 in a number of statistical categories this season, and Sunday showed how many rough edges they still have; linebacker Jasper Brinkley said there were a number of miscommunications on defense, and Zimmer put things in even sharper focus.

"There were times where guys lined up and I didn't even know where we were lining up," Zimmer said. "That's probably an issue."

As much of an overhaul as the Vikings' defense received before this season -- and as much as the group has improved -- the feeling here has always been the team probably needs one more cycle of player acquisition before Zimmer has all or most of the defensive pieces he wants. It wouldn't be surprising to see a number of changes again this offseason; players have one more chance to make an impression on Sunday against Chicago, and then the Vikings will begin their process of deciding whom they will keep.

"Throughout most of the season, the defense has done what they're supposed to do," Zimmer said. "And for the most part, good things have happened. But those things bother me: mistakes bother me, penalties bother me, selfishness bothers me. I'm trying to preach that being a team is important, understanding your role and understanding where you're supposed to be, and everybody else understanding. That's why we have this (team meeting room), so that we can all understand what we're trying to get done.

"Our guys care. Both sides of the ball, this football team cares. They didn't perform defensively yesterday. ... At some point in time, I'll get this defense fixed. It may not be this week, it may not be until the middle of the year, but it'll be fixed. You can bet your butt on that."
videoIn a game he played a few miles from where he grew up, in front of scores of family and friends who approached his mother for tickets, Teddy Bridgewater was at his most resourceful on Sunday in Miami.

He completed passes to nine different receivers, connecting with luminaries like Chase Ford, Rhett Ellison and Adam Thielen for key completions. He went 6-for-7 on third downs, fashioning a perfect passer rating of 158.3 in those situations. He hit Greg Jennings on a corner route for a 21-yard touchdown in the second quarter, and found the receiver for 20 yards on the sideline to convert a third-and-13 in the third. Bridgewater has been forced to make the most of the uncertainty around him all year, and by now, he looks comfortable doing it.

"Early in the year I just struggled and I wasn’t playing good football," Bridgewater told reporters in Miami. "[Offensive coordinator] Norv Turner said something to us a couple of weeks back and he told us that we were going to be playing the best football in December. If you think about it we’ve been playing pretty good for the most part. We’ve just been executing and playing pitch and catch, whether it’s me throwing the ball to the wide receivers or the running backs doing a great job following the offensive line and making plays for this team.”

Bridgewater has completed 73 percent of his passes in his last four games, but of all his bona fides, his production on third down might be the most impressive. The six quarterbacks with the highest QB ratings on third downs this season -- Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, Tom Brady, Joe Flacco and Philip Rivers -- could all be quarterbacking in the playoffs next month, and Bridgewater's improvement in sustaining drives is an important step toward him becoming a good NFL starter. Since Week 13, only four QBs -- Manning, Romo, Matt Ryan and Rodgers -- have been better on third downs than Bridgewater, and if he's able to keep that up, he'll have shown a major sign of progress at the end of his rookie year.

"I don't really care much about his native Florida. All I cared about is how he played and I thought he played well," coach Mike Zimmer told reporters. "He had one interception and it was bad luck, a tipped ball. Most of the time I thought he did a good job scrambling out of the pocket. I thought he made some great throws. I thought he played with composure. I thought he continued to do all of those things.”

The rookie will have one more start in his rookie season, at home on Sunday against the Chicago Bears, but through 12 games, he has a 64.2 completion percentage, 2,710 yards, 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Those are very solid numbers for a rookie, and if you extrapolate what Bridgewater has done in his last eight games -- a 65.5 percent completion rate, 1,898 yards, 12 TDs and six interceptions -- you've got QB production that should be good enough to win consistently. The biggest goal of the 2014 season might have been for the Vikings to see if Bridgewater gives them a foundation to build on, and he's certainly hinting that he does.

"There are some positives heading in to the end of this season," Bridgewater said. "Like I said we’ve able to play much better than the way we started the season out. We’re just playing for one another now.”
Plenty of ink has been spilled, and plenty of commentators' words have been offered, on the players the Minnesota Vikings don't have on the field: They're without Adrian Peterson. They lost their veteran quarterback. The two players they signed to contract extensions before this season have missed a combined 20 games. By the end of Sunday's 37-35 loss to the Miami Dolphins, the Vikings were playing with a Labor Day waiver pickup at right tackle and a seventh-round pick at linebacker.

There's little doubt about the Vikings' resourcefulness, or that they've made progress in their first year under Mike Zimmer. But as he stepped to the postgame podium on Sunday, for a terse five-minute news conference that presumably was more family-friendly than the remarks he made to his team (Zimmer said his message to his players was "stronger"), it was clear how little that progress interested him at the moment.

"All the things I've been trying to preach for 11 months we didn't do today," he told reporters in Miami. "Critical errors in the field -- red zone, third downs. It just wasn't a good day."

The Vikings are absolutely closer to being a playoff team now than they were a year ago, and they deserve credit for having a shot at .500 until the final minute of a Week 16 game. But had they been able to turn a handful of close games in another direction, they'd be firmly in the NFC playoff picture, and their losses in close games stand as a reminder of what they still have to fix.

They lost in Week 7 at Buffalo when they couldn't get off the field on fourth-and-20. They blew leads of 10-0, 14-0 and 14-0 at Chicago, Detroit and Miami, dropping all of those games when -- in order -- a broken clock led Teddy Bridgewater to think he needed to try a desperation pass, a missed block from a backup lineman led to a blocked field goal and a poor snap triggered a blocked punt for a safety. The Vikings' last five losses have been by a combined 16 points; turn even three of those games into wins, and we're dissecting playoff scenarios right now.

Zimmer has a sign in the Vikings' meeting room that says, "Tough teams win in the fourth quarter," and he had talked to his players all week about the importance of finishing games. On Sunday, the Vikings allowed three fourth-quarter scores. The first one capped a drive on which Gerald Hodges was flagged for unnecessary roughness. The last came a play after Xavier Rhodes drew his second penalty of the day and seventh of the season -- this one a pass interference penalty on third-and-14 that put the Dolphins at the Vikings' 3.

"Defense has got to play way better. We've got to eliminate the penalties," said defensive end Everson Griffen, who jumped offsides twice. "Too many penalties: off sides, roughing the passers, holding. We got to eliminate the penalties. Penalties kill you. We probably had a hundred yards in penalties, so that's one touchdown."

It was 74 yards, actually, but Griffen's point is a good one. The Vikings are still inflicting enough wounds on themselves to lose close games in a league where the margin between victory and defeat is so razor-thin, they have valid reason to think they could have made the playoffs in spite of all the players they're missing. No doubt those players could have helped paper over some of the errors, and perhaps even turned a few of the close losses into wins.

But Zimmer has seemed almost as interested this season in the progress of his team as he has in the final results, and the way the Vikings lost on Sunday was again symptomatic of the things they need to fix.

"I think it was poor performance by us," Zimmer said. "We did things that I haven't seen in a long time.”

Rapid Reaction: Minnesota Vikings

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21

A few thoughts on the Minnesota Vikings' 37-35 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Sun Life Stadium:

What it means: In a game that looked like it would turn the Vikings' way because of a special teams turnover, Minnesota fell for the second week in a row because of a special teams blunder. Terrence Fede blocked Jeff Locke's punt with 41 seconds left, knocking the ball out of the Vikings' end zone for a go-ahead safety that wound up providing the Dolphins' final margin of victory on a wild day in Miami. It wiped out a resilient, resourceful day from Teddy Bridgewater, and came a week after the Vikings had a field goal blocked in a 16-14 loss to Detroit. The defeat guaranteed the Vikings will finish with a losing record for the fourth time in five years.

Stock watch: The game slipped away on a blocked punt, but Mike Zimmer likely won't be happy with the performance of his defense. The Vikings gave up four touchdown drives in the second half -- three of which measured 80 yards -- and didn't get enough pressure on Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who threw for 396 yards and four touchdowns. Captain Munnerlyn got burned for a 42-yard completion in the fourth quarter, and a closely contested Xavier Rhodes pass interference penalty helped the Dolphins tie the game with just over a minute left.

Special teams turnover almost sets up a victory: The Vikings were staked to a pair of touchdowns off turnovers deep in Dolphins territory, but the second one was what put them in position for the win. After Olivier Vernon drew a 15-yard penalty on Matt Asiata's two-point conversion run, the Vikings got to kick off from midfield. That allowed special teams coordinator Mike Priefer to call for a high, short kickoff, and after Jarvis Landry's fumble on the ensuing kickoff was recovered by Antone Exum, Asiata plunged into the end zone for a go-ahead TD, 24 seconds after the Vikings had tied the game. All it did, in the end, was set up a heartbreaker because of a special teams gaffe.

Game ball: Bridgewater should get it, after a day in which he completed 19 of his 26 passes for 259 yards and a pair of scores. He threw an interception, but the ball bounced off Asiata's hands, and he connected with nine different receivers, throwing a beautiful pass to Chase Ford at the end of the first half and hitting Greg Jennings on a corner route for a TD. He played well enough for the Vikings to win, and he continued to show impressive progress while playing in his hometown.

What's next: The Vikings (6-9) return home for their season finale, hoping to end the year with their first NFC North victory of the season as they take on the Chicago Bears at TCF Bank Stadium.
When Adrian Peterson decided with the NFL Players Association to sue the NFL over how his suspension and appeal were handled, the Minnesota Vikings running back knew he could risk bumping back his reinstatement date by doing so. The league had suspended Peterson until at least April 15 for using a switch to discipline his 4-year-old son last spring, and in an interview with ESPN on Dec. 12, Peterson said he was wary enough about the league's reinstatement process that he would risk ruffling feathers by filing a lawsuit.

"To this point, I feel like any type of process with the NFL is not the way to go," he said. "It’s a business; the outcome is going to be in their favor no matter what. Did they appoint [arbitrator and former league executive] Harold Henderson to Ray Rice’s case? No. They knew the situation and the facts about that case and what was going to come out. They clearly wanted to get one that would rule in their favor."

The NFLPA filed suit in a U.S. district court in Minneapolis last Monday, seeking Peterson's immediate reinstatement from suspension. But, as ESPN NFL Insider Chris Mortensen reported on Sunday morning, the league is pushing Peterson to begin counseling and treatment to satisfy terms of a possible reinstatement by April 15.

Peterson's side has pushed back, wanting to see if it can get a favorable court decision, Mortensen reports. But on the day of suspension, commissioner Roger Goodell told Peterson, "The timing of your potential reinstatement will be based on the results set forth in this decision. Under this two-step approach, the precise length of suspension will depend on your actions. ... No program can succeed with your genuine and continuing engagement."

The running back had met with Cynthia Winston -- a psychology professor at Howard University -- after he was indicted on Sept. 12, but the league said Peterson's work with Winston was insufficient because she did not have a background in child abuse. When the league suspended Peterson on Nov. 18, it ordered him to meet with Dr. April Kuchuk (an instructor in the NYU department of psychiatry and a forensic consultant to the New York City district attorney's office and New York courts, by Dec. 1. Dr. Kuchuk, the league said, would design a counseling and therapy program for Peterson.

Of Winston, Peterson said, "She was recommended. She's real good at what she does. All the information was handed over to the NFL, and everyone else who's involved and has an interest in what I've done to better myself."

Peterson had been frustrated enough by the NFL's disciplinary process that he told ESPN he had been considering retirement during his suspension. It seems likely Peterson will play next year -- he wouldn't be fighting so hard to get reinstated otherwise -- but he said he would consider his options based on how the league handled the next phase of the process. The league, according to Mortensen, is reminding Peterson that he needs to play by their rules, even as he tries to argue in court those rules haven't been fair.
Good morning from the Twin Cities, where, as the eagle-eyed followers among you will note, the Minnesota Vikings are not playing Sunday. They're down in Miami, taking on the Dolphins at 1 p.m. ET, but I'm just getting back into the swing of things Sunday after some time off following the birth of my daughter, Greta, last Tuesday morning. Mom and baby are doing well, but I'll be covering the game remotely Sunday before returning to the grind on Monday. No doubt you enjoyed the return of the esteemed Kevin Seifert to the NFC North hinterlands last week; as I offer a heartfelt thanks to him for filling in while I was gone, I'll try to take the baton and get back to full speed.

Now with that out of the way, let's move on to what you really care about: The Vikings and Dolphins kick off in less than an hour, and the Vikings will, of course, be without linebacker Anthony Barr, who will miss the rest of the season with the knee injury that's bothered him since November. Gerald Hodges will start in Barr's place, and the Vikings will have Chad Greenway lining up next to Hodges in nickel situations.

Greenway, though, will be playing with a heavy heart; his father, Alan, passed away at age 56 on Friday after a two-year battle with leukemia. Chad had spent more time helping out at his family's farm in South Dakota in recent years, and he held a deep admiration for his dad, whom he credited for teaching him the work ethic necessary to succeed as a farmer and a football player. He'll look to honor his father with a big game Sunday.

Safety Robert Blanton will be in the lineup, though the Vikings listed Andrew Sendejo as the starter next to Harrison Smith while Blanton returns from a leg injury. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is also active Sunday after being listed as probable with his lingering knee bruise.

Lastly, tight end Kyle Rudolph won't play after being listed as doubtful with ankle and knee injuries. It's been a frustrating season for Rudolph, who came in expecting to have a big role in Norv Turner's offense but will miss his seventh game of the season because of injury on Sunday. Rudolph only played eight games last year, too, and he'll have to stay healthy next season to maximize the value of the five-year contract extension he signed during training camp.

Here is the Vikings' full list of inactives for Sunday:
The Minnesota Vikings won't have guard Charlie Johnson nor linebacker Anthony Barr for Sunday's game at the Miami Dolphins.

Barr won't play in the Week 17 season finale, either. The team decided to shut him down so that he could undergo what coach Mike Zimmer told reporters was a "very minor" procedure on his knee.

Barr, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2014 draft, originally suffered the injury in Week 11 and hasn't played since Week 14. Prior to the injury, Barr showed promise as a playmaker -- recording four sacks, forcing two fumbles and returning one for a game-winning touchdown -- and also was among the Vikings' leading tacklers with 70 in the first 12 games.

Meanwhile, tight end Kyle Rudolph returned to practice Friday to test his injured knee and ankle but is listed as doubtful to play on the final injury report of the week. Safety Robert Blanton (ankle), who also returned to practice, is listed as questionable.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Norv Turner arrived in Minnesota this year with a well-earned reputation as a downfield passing savant, a quarterback guru and, more recently, a media analyst.

As you might remember, Turner took note of a training camp report last summer -- when he was the Cleveland Browns' offensive coordinator -- that suggested receiver Josh Gordon was loafing during practice. When Gordon developed into a dominant force, Turner belatedly but triumphantly discredited the report.

Earlier this season, Turner joined Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer in disputing the grading methods of website Pro Football Focus, particularly as it related to left tackle Matt Kalil's play. And Thursday, Turner opened his weekly media availability with a 550-word statement about quarterback Teddy Bridgewater's play.

As we discussed Sunday, Bridgewater had three game-changing misfires but otherwise played well in a pass-first game plan against one of the NFL's top defenses in a 16-14 loss to the Detroit Lions. Turner used the opportunity to react obliquely to analysis presumably produced earlier this season on Bridgewater's rookie performance.

"We've started eight different offensive linemen," Turner said. "We've obviously started three different tight ends. We've started three different running backs, played five different running backs. Over the last five weeks, our leading wide receiver is a guy we signed in late September/early October off the Cleveland Browns practice squad and you throw a rookie quarterback into that. I've seen a bunch of guys really, really have a tough time with that and a bunch of guys that are good players.

"It's pretty incredible to me what he's done, how he's handled it, the things he's gotten done and what he's really done is made everyone around him better, and that's a quality that you're looking for."

The Vikings are asking Bridgewater to "carry this group," Turner said, in stark contrast to the paths taken by other successful young quarterbacks he has coached. In Dallas, Troy Aikman had Emmitt Smith. Frank Gore was Alex Smith's running back with San Francisco. Philip Rivers had LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego.

In Minnesota, Turner said, "We've kind of had an interesting group, and the people we've played on offense has been wide-ranging, and to do the things he's done, it just tells you something about the type of person he is, the type of player he is. ... He does it with people around him, he does it with people hitting him, he does it when he has to slide in the pocket. He knows how to play football, and that's the starting point of the quarterback position. He's got the intangibles you need and he's going to continue to get better and better."

I appreciate Turner's attempt to steer the conversation, but my feeling is that Bridgewater has already done that. It's no secret he has been the NFL's best rookie quarterback this season.

QB snapshot: Teddy Bridgewater

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
A quick observation of Teddy Bridgewater and how he played in the Minnesota Vikings' 16-14 loss in Week 15:

We spent some time Sunday discussing the advanced conversation Teddy Bridgewater has prompted with his continued ascendance this season, one that merits play-by-play inspection rather than the more general debate about whether he can play. It's true that Bridgewater missed on three passes with significant impact on the outcome, but it's also important to note what he did with the rest of his 41 throws.

Bridgewater connected on 31 of them, giving him a career-high completion percentage of 75.6 to go along with 315 yards. There are a few things we can say about the performance to put it into historical context, which I realize can be somewhat skewed given the recent rise in NFL passing efficiency.

First, it was the fifth-highest completion percentage for an NFL quarterback this season who threw at least 40 passes in the game, according to the Pro Football Reference database.

Second, it was the highest completion percentage in a game for a rookie quarterback with at least 40 attempts in NFL history.

What does this mean?

Bridgewater brought with him from college a reputation for exceptional short- and midrange accuracy. A quarterback doesn't have to throw the ball 15 yards downfield on every play to put up a 300-yard game. In fact, Bridgewater averaged 3.88 air yards per attempt Sunday, the lowest of any quarterback in Week 15, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

There are plenty of ways to peel an apple, and the Vikings are moving closer to understanding how best to do it with Bridgewater.

Blair Walsh: 'A strange two weeks'

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Local dailies have touted it as a slump. Yours truly felt compelled to note Sunday that the Minnesota Vikings have no concerns about place-kicker Blair Walsh, who has converted only one of his past six field goals over two games.

Kicking is among the many foreign languages of football, so there can be a barely-decipherable line between a player who is struggling and one who has been victimized by a confluence of unfortunate factors. The question in these parts: Where does Walsh's two-game stretch fit in?

Three of Walsh's misses have been from 53 yards or longer. The other was from 39 yards, and a 26-yarder was blocked. His one conversion came from 20 yards.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer had enough confidence in Walsh to let him attempt from 68 yards on the final play of a 16-14 loss to the Detroit Lions, choosing that option over a Hail Mary pass. Walsh's attempt was a few yards short, not surprisingly, and Zimmer dismissed questions about his confidence in Walsh moving forward.

For his part, Walsh said Monday that "it's been a strange two weeks, honestly" and added: "I don't think I'm hitting the ball poorly, but my results say otherwise."

Walsh said he felt so good during pregame warmups Sunday at Ford Field that he extended his usual routine to about 69 yards, attempting his final kick from almost the exact spot where he tried the potential game winner. The practice kick sailed through the uprights, and Walsh said he lobbied Zimmer for the end-game opportunity.

The NFL doesn't officially keep track of length of field goal attempts, but it's safe to say that Walsh's was one of the longest (serious) kicks in league history. The chart, provided by John McTigue of ESPN Stats & Information, lists the five longest attempts since ESPN started independently tracking in 2001.

Sebastian Janikowski's 76-yard attempt in 2008 was viewed mostly as a shot toward then-owner Al Davis from lame duck coach Lane Kiffin. The next two attempts, 71 yards by Phil Dawson and 69 yards by Mason Crosby, were "free kicks."

So in the big picture, Walsh followed a 82-for-93 start to his career with a 1-for-6 stretch. It hardly seems time to panic.

"You're not in this profession to make excuses for yourself," Walsh said. "You've got to hold yourself to that standard and hold yourself to a higher standard for performing, especially when you've done it before."
DETROIT -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Minnesota Vikings' 16-14 loss to the Detroit Lions:

Supporting Walsh: Place-kicker Blair Walsh was wide right on a 53-yard attempt, had a 26-yard attempt blocked and was short on a potential game-winning 68-yard attempt. Walsh, who before last week had never missed two field goals in one game, has now misfired on five of his past six attempts.

"I have not lost any confidence in him," coach Mike Zimmer said.

To be fair, three of the six attempts have come from beyond 50 yards. Entering Week 15, the NFL average from 50 yards and beyond was 65.4 percent. Walsh said he hit a field goal of about 68 yards during pregame warm-ups. He has hit 70-yard attempts in practice.

All positive: Zimmer made no effort to hide his displeasure last week at his team's performance in an overtime victory over the New York Jets. Sunday, Zimmer flipped the script and told the team -- and reporters -- that he couldn't have asked for much more.

"I'm not into moral victories," Zimmer said, "but these guys fought and played and scratched and clawed and gave it great effort today. I thought we did a lot of awful good things. …

"I said last week [that] I wasn't happy with our performance. This week we played well enough to win. We just didn't win on the scoreboard. Hopefully this will springboard us into the kind of football team I want to have. Without the loss, obviously."

Xavier vs. Megatron: For the most part, the Vikings matched up emerging cornerback Xavier Rhodes with Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, a departure from what the Vikings have done under Zimmer this season. Zimmer said he informed Rhodes last Monday that he planned to match him up with Johnson for most of the game. The Vikings typically haven't matched up in Zimmer's first season, but he said: "It's good to be able to have a guy that feels comfortable. I called him on Monday and said, 'I need you to go with this guy this week.' He said, 'I'm ready.'"

Rhodes, who got some safety help, limited Johnson to one catch in the first half. Johnson finished with four receptions for 53 yards, with a long of 23 yards.

Rapid Reaction: Minnesota Vikings

December, 14, 2014
Dec 14

DETROIT -- A few thoughts from Ford Field after the Minnesota Vikings' 16-14 loss to the Detroit Lions:

What it means: The Vikings fell to 6-8, meaning they will have their fourth non-winning season in the past five years. They remain winless (0-5) in the NFC North. And they'll spend some time explaining some curious game-management decisions late in the game.

Bridgewater Watch: For better or worse, Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was the most significant participant in this game. He started off hot, completing 13 of 16 passes in staking the Vikings to a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter. Interceptions on consecutive possessions later in the quarter both gave the Lions possession deep in Vikings territory and allowed them to pull within 14-10 at halftime. The Vikings went scoreless after the 10:05 mark in the second quarter despite a 290-yard day from Bridgewater. While he is still trending upward, Sunday was another example of the ups and downs a team must endure when starting a rookie quarterback.

Walsh Watch: Before last week, Vikings place-kicker Blair Walsh had never missed two field goals in a game. He has now done it in consecutive games. Sunday, he missed far wide right on a 53-yarder after the Vikings' first possession and then had a 26-yard attempt blocked in the fourth quarter. The latter kick would have put pressure on the Lions' winning drive, which ended in Matt Prater's 33-yard field goal. It's almost unfair to include it, but Walsh's 68-yard attempt on the final play fell short. Officially, he's missed five of his past six.

Patterson Watch: Long-forgotten receiver Cordarrelle Patterson made a sudden return to the Vikings' fortunes late in the game, returning a kickoff 51 yards and then catching two passes for 16 yards after replacing the injured Jarius Wright. Bridgewater even targeted him on a fourth-and-4 play, but the ball fell incomplete.

Game ball: I can't give it to Bridgewater, so we'll go with tight end Kyle Rudolph, who caught seven passes for 69 yards. Both were by far season highs.

What's next: The Vikings will travel to play at the Miami Dolphins (7-7) next Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.