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.
Trying to find some more meaning in snap counts from the Vikings’ 17-16 loss at Buffalo on Sunday …
OFFENSIVE SNAPS: 64.
OFFENSIVE LINE: LT Matt Kalil 64, LG Charlie Johnson 64, RT Phil Loadholt 64, C Joe Berger 51, RG Mike Harris 51, C John Sullivan 13, RG Vladimir Ducasse 13, G David Yankee INA, G Austin Wentworth INA.
Thoughts: We saw the Falcons forced to use a tight end at right tackle when they suffered three injuries on the offensive line in Week 4 at TCF Bank Stadium. The Vikings were one injury from finding themselves in a similar situation on Sunday. They had only seven linemen active and had to use the extra two when center John Sullivan and right guard Vladimir Ducasse were injured on the same play with 3:49 left in the first quarter. Berger can play all three interior positions and could start for some teams, so he’s been nice insurance for a few years now. He played well at center. Harris sees more practice reps at tackle, but he stepped in at guard and held his own. Running back Jerick McKinnon had 14 of his 19 carries and 74 of his 103 yards rushing with Berger and Harris in the game. McKinnon ran nine times for 60 yards (6.7) behind Berger and Harris. And the Bills went into the game with the No. 1 run defense in the league. One could argue – and many already have and will continue throughout the week – that the two emergency starters played better than left tackle Matt Kalil. Unfortunately for Kalil, he plays a position where anything less than 100 percent is considered a problem when the team is losing. He did some nice work, but a couple of glaring breakdowns against Jerry Hughes, particularly the one sack on first-and-goal from the 7, overshadow everything else.
QUARTERBACKS: Teddy Bridgewater 64, Christian Ponder DNP.
Thoughts: Bridgewater played OK after settling down. But interceptions on back-to-back throws during an 0-for-6 stretch in the first half are hard to overcome. The second one led to a one-play touchdown drive. Not good in a one-point loss. But these are the things that usually happen when a rookie starts on a team that’s not ready-made for him.
RUNNING BACKS: Jerick McKinnon 38, Matt Asiata 26, FB Jerome Felton 14, FB Zach Line INA.
Thoughts: Considering McKinnon’s size, this is about as close to ideal as one should hope for when it comes to snap counts. He played 59 percent of the snaps and touched the ball 21 times. He averaged 5.4 yards on 19 carries. Push it too much more and there’s a danger of him breaking down. Asiata averaged 4.0 yards on six carries. He runs extremely hard when given opportunities, but he’s just not a No. 1 back. Felton had the first two carries of his Vikings career, not counting the one Pro Bowl he played in. He caught the Bills off-guard with a 21-yard run off the left side, but also was stopped for no gain on third-and-one. The longest run against the Bills was 16 yards before Felton and McKinnon (29) broke a couple of long ones.
RECEIVERS, TIGHT ENDS: TE Rhett Ellison 51, WR Cordarrelle Patterson 50, WR Greg Jennings 50, TE Chase Ford 41, WR Jarius Wright 36, WR Adam Thielen 13, Charles Johnson 1, TE Kyle Rudolph INA.
Thoughts: Patterson was targeted only four times, catching two passes for nine yards in what has become one of the most consistent storylines of the season. But he did catch a short touchdown pass, the team’s first touchdown reception since the first drive in Week 2. Jennings had one of his better games, catching six of the seven balls thrown his way, including a deep ball for 38 yards. The veteran also helped Bridgewater setting down after his second interception, telling him, as Bridgewater later revealed, “Hey, ya know, whatever is going on up in that head, up in that computer of yours, just reboot it.” Ellison played the most snaps of this group, 51, but was used primarily as an extra blocker against the league’s No. 1 run defense. He didn’t catch the one ball thrown to him. Ford, the other tight end who played on offense, also went without a catch on three balls thrown to him.
DEFENSIVE SNAPS: 70.
DEFENSIVE LINE: DE Everson Griffen 67, DE Brian Robison 65, NT Linval Joseph 47, DT Sharrif Floyd 42, DT Ted Johnson 30, NT Shamar Stephen 21, DE Scott Crichton 8, DE Corey Wootton INA.
Thoughts: If the Vikings hadn’t, you know, blown that last Bills possession, we’d all be talking about how the six sacks that the defensive line posted, including two in three plays during the Bills’ game-winning drive. Griffen had three sacks in critical moments that should have contributed to a win. Unfortunately for the Vikings, none of them came when the Bills were facing fourth-and-20 and third-and-12 on their final possession. Johnson’s sack did come on third-and-17 on that drive. And Joseph’s sack came two plays earlier at midfield. But the fourth-and-20 conversion overshadowed both sacks. Joseph also had a sack and appeared to have another solid week. Floyd went into the game listed as questionable (elbow), but handled his usual workload. Rookie Crichton saw his first reps since the opener when Wootton couldn’t play because of a lower back injury.
LINEBACKERS: OLB Anthony Barr 70, OLB Chad Greenway 65, MLB Jasper Brinkley 33, OLB Brandon Watts INA, OLB Gerald Hodges INA.
Thoughts: With Hodges and Watts both inactive, the Vikings rode Greenway for 65 snaps after he had missed the past three weeks because of broken ribs and a broken hand. He also played four special teams snaps. Greenway responded with a game-high 15 tackles and a forced fumble in the red zone. He also was beaten on the fourth-and-20 completion. Barr was outstanding with a game-high eight solo tackles, a forced fumble and a pass defense in the red zone against Sammy Watkins. Brinkley was a step slow and fell trying to get to C.J. Spiller before he got to the edge and broke free for a 53-yard run.
SECONDARY: SS Robert Blanton 70, FS Harrison Smith 70, CB Captain Munnerlyn 70, CB Xavier Rhodes 69, CB Josh Robinson 41, CB Jabari Price 1.
Thoughts: The first thought is, wow, what a weapon Darrelle Revis is. Darrelle Revis? Yeah, the Patriots cornerback shadowed Sammy Watkins seven days before Watkins faced the Vikings. Against the Patriots, Watkins was thrown to three times and caught two passes that weren’t even noticed. Against the Vikings, Watkins was an unstoppable force. He was thrown to 14 times, caught nine passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner from 2 yards with one second left. Watkins took turns beating each of the Vikings’ top three corners. He flat out burned Munnerlyn for a 26-yard score. He was too quick for Robinson on a slant that gained 18 yards on third-and-12 on the winning drive. And he beat Rhodes for the game-winner. Rhodes missed one play, walking off after appearing to be shaken up. Blanton remains the only Vikings defender to have played every snap this season. He notched the first interception of his career on an overthrow by Kyle Orton.
Team-high snaps: 19 by LB Michael Mauti, S Antone Exum and S Andrew Sendejo.
Overall team-high snaps: Blanton 78 (70 defense, 8 special teams), Smith 77 (70 defense, 7 special teams).
Every weekday, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening with the team that day.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
— The Bills scored with one second left to hand the Vikings another loss.
— DE Everson Griffen tied a career high with three sacks in the loss.
— QB Teddy Bridgewater stabilized after a shaky start yesterday.
— OT Matt Kalil squandered an opportunity to fly under the radar.
— How much pain can head coach Mike Zimmer take in his first season?
— Zimmer focused on the positive after the stomach-punch ending.
— S Harrison Smith has loved to hit something ever since he was a kid.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
Respect to Peyton manning I got to b on the same team as his for a short time but I learned what it was like to b a professional from GOAT!!
— jerome felton (@jfelton45) October 20, 2014
BEHIND ENEMY LINES
— Bills QB Kyle Orton was cool and collected on the game-winning drive.
— The Bills lost their top two running backs in the win over the Vikings.
— The Vikings defense frustrated the Bills with their pass rush yesterday.
— Despite the thrilling win, the Bills have the mark of a middling team.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
The Vikings are back at Winter Park today to attend team meetings and review the tape from yesterday’s loss. Head coach Mike Zimmer will have his weekly press conference at 2 p.m.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
Yesterday’s 17-16 loss was the first Vikings game this season that was decided by single digits and only the team’s second in its past 10 games dating back to 2013. OLB Chad Greenway remarked that the loss was eerily similar to some of the ones from last season. But the Vikings were better in close games than it might have seemed. They were 4-4-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less.
Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen tied a career-high three sacks and a forced fumble in the 17-16 loss to the Bills on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium, and he didn’t feel any personal satisfaction for his individual performance.
“No man, we want the victory,” Griffen said. “It feels better if you get the victory. Three sacks doesn’t mean anything when you lose. We just have to keep going out there, grind next week, get back to the basics and finish better.”
The Vikings defense recorded six sacks and eight quarterback hits, applying pressure on Bills quarterback Kyle Orton for the entire game. The unit played well up until the final drive when the Bills scored on a two-yard touchdown catch by Bills rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins with one second left to take the lead.
“It all starts with the team,” Griffen said. “We run together as a team, we lose together as a team. We just have to go back to the basics and finish. We’re of the mindset that you’re not going to score if you don’t get the sack, if you don’t get the turnover and if you don’t finish the play. I think that’s going to work out for us. We just have to bounce back from this tough loss. We played our tails off today.
Many questioned why the Vikings re-signed Griffen to a five-year deal worth up to $42.5 million in the offseason, but he’s currently tied for an NFL-high seven sacks this year.
“Without my team, I wouldn’t be able to get three sacks,” Griffen said. “I’m just very happy to be playing with these guys, and we just have to bounce back and win the game. That’s all we have to do.”
Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said he was overthinking in the first half, which resulted in the two interceptions thrown during the 17-16 loss to the Bills on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
The rookie finished 15 of 26 for 157 passing yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Bridgewater, who has started three career games, has thrown five interceptions in the last two games.
“That was just me trying to be perfect,” Bridgewater said on his first half performance. “I think I went back to the old training camp days of trying to be perfect in every area instead of just trusting my God given ability, trusting this offense and trusting the system. I am going to continue to get better, just get a rhythm.”
Both interceptions occurred in the second quarter. Bridgewater had a pass deflected off the back of a Bills defender and into Leodis McKelvin’s hands with 12:24 left in the first half. On the next offensive series, Bridgewater was picked off by McKelvin again on the first play. The Bills took the lead on the following possession on Bills rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins’ 26-yard touchdown catch.
After the second interception, Bridgewater felt he settled down after a conversation with wide receiver Greg Jennings.
“Greg came up to me and he told me, ‘Hey, you know whatever is going on up in that head, up in that computer of yours, just reboot it,’” Bridgewater said.
Bridgewater followed it up with his best drive this season, driving the Vikings down the field for his first career touchdown pass. On the five-play, 60-yard drive, Bridgewater was 3 for 3 for 57 yards and hit wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson for a four-yard touchdown pass.
“I feel I played all right,” Bridgewater said. “It could have been better. There were some times where I had to fight back, and I did a great job of fighting back and the guys showed their support, and they are willing to stand behind me no matter how my play is going.”
It was another learning lesson for Bridgewater, who likely will have plenty more before the season ends.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer was upbeat despite a heartbreaking 17-16 loss to the Bills on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Bills rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins scored on a two-yard touchdown with one second left to hand the Vikings their third consecutive defeat. Zimmer felt the defense played well up until the final series – a 15-play, 80-yard drive that lasted 3:06.
“Obviously you’re going to second guess a lot of calls you made throughout the course of the ballgame,” Zimmer said. “I’m still going to take away that I’m proud of our effort. There was a lot of negativism going on all over the place about how we are and what we do. By no means were we perfect today, but I do feel like this football team improved today. We didn’t improve enough to win, but I felt like we improved. So we’ve just got to keep going. We keep putting ourselves in these situations, and we’ll give ourselves a chance to win.”
Last week, Zimmer was very critical about his team’s performance after losing to the Lions. He was the exact opposite during his press conference after the game. Zimmer felt there were a lot of positives to take away. He mentioned how rookie running back Jerick McKinnon had 103 rushing yards against the top rushing defense in the NFL and how the defense forced four turnovers and recorded six sacks.
None of that will show in the win-loss column, however, as the Vikings dropped to 2-5.
“‘Ifs’ and “buts’ are candies and nuts,” Zimmer said. “But if we knock that last ball down then we’re all happy in here today.
“You never, ever, ever want to lose, and I don’t ever want to either. But I have to keep reminding myself about where we are, and where we have to continue to go.”
|San Diego||10/23/14 7:25 PM|
|Detroit||10/26/14 8:30 AM|
|New Orleans||6:00 PM|
|Tampa Bay||8:30 PM|
|(22) West Virginia||41|
|(11) Kansas State||31||FINAL|
|(13) Ohio State||56|
|(8) Michigan State||56||FINAL|
|San Jose St||27||FINAL|
|New Mexico St||17||FINAL|
|(3) Ole Miss||34|
|(7) Notre Dame||27||FINAL|
|(2) Florida State||31|
|(14) Arizona State||26|
|San Diego St||20|
|Arkansas State||10/21/14 7:00 PM|
|Connecticut||10/23/14 6:00 PM|
|(18) East Carolina|
|Miami-Florida||10/23/14 7:00 PM|
|So Florida||10/24/14 6:00 PM|
|Troy||10/24/14 6:30 PM|
|BYU||10/24/14 8:00 PM|
|(6) Oregon||10/24/14 9:00 PM|
|North Texas||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|UAB||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|Rutgers||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|Maryland||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|Texas||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|(11) Kansas State|
|Minnesota||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|Memphis||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|North Carolina||10/25/14 11:30 AM|
|San Jose St||10/25/14 12:00 PM|
|Northern Ill||10/25/14 12:00 PM|
|(25) UCLA||10/25/14 1:00 PM|
|Akron||10/25/14 1:00 PM|
|Massachusetts||10/25/14 1:00 PM|
|Ohio U||10/25/14 1:00 PM|
|Ga Southern||10/25/14 1:00 PM|
|Kent State||10/25/14 1:30 PM|
|Oregon State||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Fla Atlantic||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Louisiana Tech||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|(1) Miss State||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Georgia Tech||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|(22) West Virginia||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Texas Tech||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Michigan||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|(8) Michigan State|
|Boston College||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Central Mich||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Vanderbilt||10/25/14 3:00 PM|
|Old Dominion||10/25/14 3:00 PM|
|UNLV||10/25/14 3:00 PM|
|Temple||10/25/14 4:00 PM|
|(15) Arizona||10/25/14 5:00 PM|
|Texas-El Paso||10/25/14 6:00 PM|
|Wyoming||10/25/14 6:00 PM|
|Syracuse||10/25/14 6:00 PM|
|Texas State||10/25/14 6:00 PM|
|(3) Ole Miss||10/25/14 6:15 PM|
|(4) Alabama||10/25/14 6:30 PM|
|So Carolina||10/25/14 6:30 PM|
|(13) Ohio State||10/25/14 7:00 PM|
|(20) USC||10/25/14 9:00 PM|
|(14) Arizona State||10/25/14 9:45 PM|
|Nevada||10/25/14 10:59 PM|