Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.
Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.
Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.
Vikings defensive end Brian Robison injured his right ankle in the final minutes of the 16-14 loss to the Lions at Ford Field on Sunday.
He hobbled off the field with assistance after the Vikings stopped the Lions on third down with 3:43 left in the game, forcing what eventually was the game-winning 33-yard field goal.
Robison wasn’t in a walking boot after the game, however.
“It feels OK right now,” Robison said. “Bottom line, I know in a few hours it’s not going to feel great. We’ll see how it progresses and go from there. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll try to get as much treatment as I can to get back as quick as possible and hopefully won’t miss any practice time this week. I don’t want to leave my guys hanging out there.”
The Vikings lead 14-10 over the Lions at Ford Field at halftime. Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo, who started for the injured Robert Blanton, is listed as questionable with a thumb injury. Rookie safety Antone Exum finished the first half at strong safety.
The Good: The Vikings defensive might’ve allowed 10 points in the first half, but it was due to two turnovers by the Vikings that placed the Lions in scoring position. The Vikings didn’t allow a first down until 9:22 left in the first half. They held the Lions to three straight three-and-outs to start the game. The Lions have just 89 total yards and just three first downs, while going 1 of 7 on third down.
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes has shadowed wide receiver Calvin Johnson the entire game. Johnson has one catch for four yards so far.
The Bad: Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater started with the best 20 minutes of his career, and the narrative quickly changed right before halftime. Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner had a great gameplan in place with the Vikings firing on all cylinders to knock a good Lions defense off balance. Bridgewater was 13 of 16 for 168 yards and a touchdown.
Then Bridgewater threw interceptions on consecutive drives, which produced 10 points for the Lions. In what appeared to be a communication issue with wide receiver Charles Johnson, Lions safety Glover Quin intercepted Bridgewater’s pass. On the next drive, Bridgewater threw a poor ball intended for wide receiver Greg Jennings that landed in cornerback Darius Slay’s hands.
The Ugly: Vikings kicker Blair Walsh missed another field goal and has now missed three of his last four field goals. Walsh pulled a 53-yard field goal wide right on the Vikings first drive. He’s now 5-of-8 on field goals over 50 yards.
Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson is active for Sunday’s matchup against the Lions at Ford Field. He was a late addition to the injury report on Friday and listed as questionable with a hamstring injury.
Patterson remains as the backup “X” wide receiver behind Charles Johnson, who will start the position once again. With Patterson active, he should remain as the kickoff returner, where he fumbled the opening kickoff to start the second half last week against the Jets.
With safety Robert Blanton, left guard Charlie Johnson, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and rookie linebacker Anthony Barr out, rookie linebacker Brandon Watts is active for the first time this season. Rookie defensive end Scott Crichton, rookie safety Antone Exum and rookie cornerback Jabari Price are all active as well. Offensive guard David Yankey, who hasn’t been active all season, is the only healthy inactive rookie.
Andrew Sendejo will start for Blanton, while Vladimir Ducasse will fill in for Johnson. Gerald Hodges and rookie defensive tackle Shamar Stephen will start again with Barr and Floyd out.
Here are both the Vikings and Lions inactive lists:
S Robert Blanton
FB Zach Line
LB Anthony Bar
OT Carter Bykowski
OG David Yankey
DT Sharrif Floyd
OG Charlie Johnson
QB Kellen Moore
OT Garrett Reynolds
OG Rodney Austin
DE Larry Webster
WR Ryan Broyles
DT Caraun Reid
DT Nick Fairley
In case you missed it, here’s the Sunday story on Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes. There were a few interesting nuggets about the up-and-upcoming cornerback that didn’t make the story, including his reluctance to look at stats and trash talk, that’ll hold you over until the 3:25 p.m. kickoff against the Lions at Ford Field.
We’ll start with why Rhodes hates to look at stats. The only time he typically finds out about his season stats through other people. The media, Vikings public relations and his teammates are the main culprits that mention those numbers to Rhodes, but he won’t seek them out.
That’s due to his redshirt sophomore season at Florida State, when Rhodes knew he was good enough to play cornerback in the NFL and wanted to declare at the end of the year. He won a handful of awards as a redshirt freshman — ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year and Freshman All-American to name a few — that Rhodes felt distracted him from his main goal.
“I was always looking to the papers to see what they were saying about me next,” Rhodes said. “Where am I at at this point? Am I the No. 1 corner? I was more concerned about myself and where I was ranked instead of more about getting better. That year came, and it showed. I didn’t get any better.”
Rhodes’ pass breakups dropped from 12 to four as a redshirt sophomore, which lacked any postseason honors.
“I was still average, I was overweight,” Rhodes said. “I was just more focused on leaving instead of just living the moment. I just learned from that year, and I’m never doing that again. I’m not going to allow myself to get caught up in that moment, get caught up in the hype. I’ve got to put in the work to keep it going. I’ll let all my talent and my work do all the talking and show for itself.”
Rhodes also isn’t interested in trash talking or doing any wild antics on the field. He did all that as a redshirt freshman and learned it was a waste of energy.
Rhodes recorded his first interception three games into his redshirt freshman year against BYU and did what most defensive backs do. He jumped around, celebrated with his teammates and got winded on the next position.
“I was tired and exhausted, then the very next play he threw it deep and almost caught it,” Rhodes said. “I said I’m never, ever celebrating again.
“I’m just going to give you one handshake, or whatever. None of that, ‘Oh let’s jump!’ And that spinning around, running around the field. Nah, you ain’t going to get me. I’m going right to that bench to sit down, catch my breath and get ready for the next.”
The same tiring effect occurred when Rhodes tried to trash talk against Clemson that same year to wide receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, now playing for the Bills and Texans.
“I was just talking trash the whole game, and I was like, ‘Man, I’m exhausted right now talking all this trash. I’ll keep all my energy.’ I stay to myself, think about my job and what I need to do.
“That’s just my game, that’s just how I play. Some players probably feel the need to [trash talk]. Like [Seahawks cornerback] Richard Sherman, that’s probably part of his M.O. that he needs to get in your head to intimidate you. My M.O. is just be a physical corner and do my job. Just simple, ain’t nothing more or less to me. No need to make it difficult. You start to second guess everything when you make it difficult.”
What would you rather do on a Sunday morning than wake up early and read weekly picks and power rankings involving 32 teams that basically are of equal strength and ability to beat, lose to or tie anyone on any given Sunday, Monday, Saturday, Thursday (and some day, when the revenue ceiling needs to be extended to a gazillion bazillion dollars, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday as well)?
CRAIG’S NFL POWER RANKINGS
BEST OF THE BUNCH
1. Packers (10-3)
Why: Well, their QB, Aaron MVP Rodgers, has a passer rating (119.0) that’s more than 10 points higher than the No. 2 passer. And he has thrown three interceptions, the fewest for anyone who has played all season. Defensively, the Packers have their warts. Again. But they also have 24 takeaways, the fourth highest in the league. Heck, the Packers are so good and rolling along so nicely that it’s time for them to lose at Buffalo, per “It’s a Crazy League” rules.
2. Patriots (10-3); 3. Seahawks (9-4); 4. Broncos (10-3); 5. Eagles (9-4); 6. Colts (9-4); 7. Lions (9-4); 8. Cardinals (11-3); 9. Chargers (8-5); 10. Cowboys (9-4); 11. Steelers (8-5); 12. Bengals (8-4-1); 13. Ravens (8-5); 14. Rams (6-8); 15. Bills (7-6); 16. Texans (7-6); 17. Browns (7-6); 18. Dolphins (7-6); 19. Chiefs (7-6); 20. Bears (5-8).
21. Vikings 6-7 (Last week: 24): They’ve been eliminated from the playoff race, but today’s game at Detroit and the final two games have value because obviously the head coach and his program are coming back next season. Beating a team with a winning record – something only the Vikings haven’t done this season – and winning a division game – something the Vikings also haven’t done this year – would help reinforce player confidence in the strength of this program’s foundation.
THE REST OF THE REST
22. Panthers (4-8-1); 23. Giants (4-9); 24. Raiders (2-11); 25. 49ers (7-6); 26. Falcons (5-8); 27. Saints (5-8); 28. Jets (2-11); 29. Buccaneers (2-11); 30. Jaguars (2-11); 31. Titans (2-11).
WORST OF THE BUNCH
32: Redskins (3-10): It doesn’t get much worse than gambling your future on a quarterback, having him flop and then be benched while you’re being shut out by the team to which you gambled your future away to acquire said QB.
THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE HOPEFUL
1, It’s Detroit, so there’s always a chance, albeit less of a chance now that the Lions don’t beat themselves every other week. But they did lose at home to a Bills team the Vikings nearly beat on the road. And they were blown out by the Panthers early in the season.
2, There has been some nice depth shown this season. Charles Johnson coming out of nowhere at receiver. Gerald Hodges playing well in place of Chad Greenway earlier this season and then Anthony Barr last week. Rookie defensive tackle Shamar Stephen stepping up quietly in recent weeks. Four starters — Barr, strong safety Robert Blanton, left guard Charlie Johnson and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd – are listed as out for today’s game. This is another chance to see what kind of depth Zimmer has.
3, It sounds like we might see more of Ben Tate III and Joe Banyard today. With Adrian Peterson’s future with the team very much in doubt, the Vikings need to see what they have, especially in Tate.
THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE NERVOUS
1, Yeah, it’s Detroit. But … The Lions are 6-1 at home and rank No. 1 in points allowed (17.2). And if you jog your memory a bit they hung eight sacks and three picks on young Teddy Bridgewater at home the last time they played and dominated the Vikings.
2, Detroit’s defensive front manhandled the Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium. Ezekiel Ansah put up 2 ½ sacks lined up over Matt Kalil. Ndamukong Suh had two more from the inside. When healthy, the Vikings offensive line has struggled. Today, it lines up with backups at both guard spots and right tackle. On the road, in what will be a loud stadium.
3, The Vikings need to run the ball to have any chance of functioning today. The Lions not only rank No. 1 in run defense, they’re 62.8 yards allowed per game are on pace to shatter the team mark of 82.3 set in 1970. Only eight teams in NFL history have gone an entire season allowing fewer than 70 yards rushing per game.
Vikings plus-7 ½ at Lions. The pick: Lions 21, Vikings 7
Why?: The last game was such a physical mismatch. And it occurred in Minnesota. Tough to imagine throwing in crowd noise and imagining the Vikings’ offense doing much better than it did while losing 17-3 back in Week 6.
Last week: Jets plus-6 at Vikings. The pick: Vikings 28, Jets 21. The final Vikings 30, Jets 24 OT. 10-3.
Packers minus-4 ½ at Bills. The pick: Bills 34, Packers 31
Why?: Nobody in today’s NFL stays this efficient and this in control for long stretches. This will be the Packers momentary hiccup before they return to their Super Bowl march.
Last week: Colts minus-3 ½ at Browns. The pick: Browns 33, Colts 31. The final: Colts 25, Browns 24. Record: 4-10.
Raiders plus-10 at Chiefs: Chiefs by 14
Jaguars plus-14 at Ravens: Ravens by 10
Steelers minus-2 ½ at Falcons: Falcons by 3
Texans plus-6 ½ at Colts: Colts by 3
Bengals plus-1 at Browns: Browns by 3
Dolphins plus-7 ½ at Patriots: Patriots by 10
Buccaneers plus-3 at Panthers: Buccaneers by 7
Redskins plus-6 ½ at Giants: Giants by 7
Jets minus-2 ½ at Titans: Titans by 3
Broncos minus-4 at Chargers: Broncos by 7
49ers plus-10 at Seahawks: Seahawks by 3
Cowboys plus-3 ½ at Eagles: Eagles by 7
Saints minus-3 at Bears: Bears by 7
Record: Last week/overall: 10-5/115-75-1. Versus spread: Last week/overall: 10-5/97-94.
|Tennessee||10||4th Qtr 12:45|
|Philadelphia||12/20/14 3:30 PM|
|San Diego||12/20/14 7:25 PM|
|Minnesota||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Baltimore||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Detroit||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Cleveland||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Atlanta||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Green Bay||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Kansas City||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|New England||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|NY Giants||12/21/14 3:05 PM|
|Buffalo||12/21/14 3:25 PM|
|Indianapolis||12/21/14 3:25 PM|
|Seattle||12/21/14 7:30 PM|
|Denver||12/22/14 7:30 PM|
|New Orleans||87||4th Qtr 4:05|
|Milwaukee||25||2nd Qtr 11:21|
|Oklahoma City||9:30 PM|
|Anaheim||2||3rd Prd 5:58|
|St. Louis||0||1st Prd 19:34|
|Edmonton||0||1st Prd 20:00|
|St Thomas (TX)||61||FINAL|
|South Dakota St||75|
|LSU||71||2nd Half 2:52|
|Ohio||57||2nd Half 6:13|
|CS-Dominguez||15||1st Half 4:28|
|Cal State Fullerton||21|
|Walla Walla||16||1st Half 4:00|
|DePaul||17||1st Half 7:20|
|Nevada||15||1st Half 4:20|
|Portland State||15||1st Half 3:30|
|CS-Bakersfield||8||1st Half 11:25|
|Nevada||12/20/14 10:00 AM|
|Utah State||12/20/14 1:20 PM|
|(23) Utah||12/20/14 2:30 PM|
|Western Mich||12/20/14 4:45 PM|
|South Alabama||12/20/14 8:15 PM|
|BYU||12/22/14 1:00 PM|
|Marshall||12/23/14 5:00 PM|
|Navy||12/23/14 8:30 PM|
|San Diego St|
|Central Mich||12/24/14 11:00 AM|
|Fresno State||12/24/14 7:00 PM|
|William & Mary||71||FINAL|
|West Virginia St||58||FINAL|
|South Dakota St||67|
|Santa Clara||69||2nd Half 2:43|
|(19) Oklahoma St||47||2nd Half 4:01|
|Washington||62||2nd Half 2:50|
|San Diego State||44|
|Cal Poly||54||2nd Half 7:24|
|(10) Louisville||56||2nd Half 7:56|