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.
Teddy Bridgewater was again on a podium, lamenting his incomplete pass toward wide receiver Jarius Wright in the final minute of Sunday’s loss to the Lions, the one he felt would have put the Vikings in position to win that nail-biter. Different day and different lectern, but same message.
“I missed the throw to Jarius. That hurt us,” the rookie quarterback said.
There are a bunch of throws from this season that Bridgewater would like to have back — including that one he sailed over Wright’s head and his second interception Sunday, when he was both late and inaccurate while targeting wide receiver Greg Jennings on the sideline.
But for the most part, Bridgewater has been pretty accurate while executing Norv Turner’s offense.
His 63.5 percent completion percentage leads all qualifying rookies. It’s the highest mark for a rookie starter since 2012, when Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson both topped 64 percent.
And as I wrote yesterday, Bridgewater is among the league leaders in accuracy percentage, a stat from Pro Football Focus that accounts for things such as dropped passes, spikes to stop the block and throwaways, unlike raw completion percentage.
According to PFF, Bridgewater has been accurate on 75.6 percent of his throws, which ranks seventh in the NFL and is just ahead of guys like Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers. In fact, since Week 9, only Drew Brees and Joe Flacco have been more accurate.
Bridgewater completed 68.4 percent of his passes in college and completed 71.0 percent during his final season at Louisville. Even though he had an erratic pro day, accuracy was considered one of his biggest strengths as a prospect. So it’s no surprise that accuracy is translating to the pros.
“I have been pleased, but at the same time I’m not going to sit here and say I’m satisfied with it, because the expectation for this team and for me is pretty high right now,” Bridgewater said.
While Bridgewater has struggled with the trajectory on his deep balls this season, he has been accurate overall, in part because Turner is asking him to make shorter throws to his receivers. Only 47.9 percent of his 2,451 passing yards have come through the air (the majority of them have come after the catch), according to Pro Football Focus. That’s the fifth-lowest rate among qualifying QBs.
Still, being Bridgewater, the rookie sees plenty of room to improve. He is already talked to Norv Turner, the offensive coordinator, and Scott Turner, the quarterbacks coach, about some of the passes he’s sailed — like that one to Wright on Sunday — and what he can do to fix any flaws there.
“It’s all about finishing throws, whether it’s my follow-through or stepping into throws,” he said.
Vikings linebacker Michael Mauti described his right knee procedure as a “speed bump” and a minor scope that placed him on injured reserve last week.
Mauti dealt with three torn ACLs in five seasons at Penn State before he arrived to the Vikings last year as a seventh round pick. He expects to recover from surgery in four weeks.
“I’m kind of over that; it’s part of the game at this point,” Mauti said of his knee injuries. “It’s encouraging for me after talking with the doctors. When he went in there and looked around, he said, ‘I couldn’t believe you’ve had the surgery that you’ve had because all your cartilage looks perfect.’”
He tweaked the meniscus on a kickoff during the third quarter. It’s unrelated to Mauti’s last torn ACL, which occurred on his left knee in 2012. Mauti was upbeat about the procedure and said he walked away the day of the surgery.
“I knew it wasn’t serious,” Mauti said. “I know what it feels like to have some things go wrong down there, unfortunately. I think the most encouraging part was that it’s not that serious. He cleaned up it up, and I walked out of the surgery that day. If this was during the year, a couple more weeks, and I’d be good to go again.”
Mauti has played nine games this season, mainly used on special teams. He finished with four tackles.
The Vikings are promoting safety Ahmad Dixon from the practice squad. He will fill the open roster spot created yesterday when the team waived offensive tackle J’Marcus Webb.
Dixon, a rookie, started the season with the Cowboys, who drafted him in the seventh round. He made the team out of training camp, but was waived in September, reportedly because he had been late for a couple of team activities.
He has since spent time with the Vikings, the Bears, the Dolphins and the Vikings again. He only played in an NFL game for the Bears, getting special-teams snaps in five games for them.
“I think he’s a talented guy,” head coach Mike Zimmer said today. “He’s been bouncing around on some different practice squads for a little bit. He’s a guy to look at for a possibility in the future. He played pretty good on special teams. We knew him coming out in the draft and then when he was with Dallas in the preseason, the couple games I watched he looked pretty good.”
Starting safety Robert Blanton missed Sunday’s game with an injury, and while cornerback Shaun Prater can potentially play safety, the Vikings have only three healthy safeties right now.
In other news, the Vikings added guard Jordan McCray to their practice squad. McCray, an undrafted rookie out of Central Florida, spent time on the Packers’ practice squad this season.
He was one of multiple players the team had in for tryouts today. That’s because in addition to promoting Dixon, the Vikings lost cornerback Chris Greenwood, who was signed by the Ravens.
The situation: Down 16-14 with 45 seconds left, the Vikings had the ball at their own 30 needing just a field goal to win.
The context: The Vikings were held scoreless the entire second half and missed an opportunity to score with 2:01 left in the game. The defense got the ball back after a three-and-out to set up one last chance to win.
The result: Kicker Blair Walsh missed a 68-yard field goal as time expired and seal the Lions win.
How it happened:
Instead of reviewing just one play, we’ll look at multiple plays and how the Vikings could’ve handled the situation better.
We’ll start with the first play of the drive where the Vikings were lined up in trips left and wide receiver Jarius Wright was wide open on a nice route. Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater sailed a ball over Wright’s hands. If completed, it would’ve been a gain of over 20 yards and placed the Vikings in Lions territory. Instead, it’s a wasted down and a wasted five seconds.
On the next play, Bridgewater was pressed and forced to dump it off to running back Matt Asiata, who cut inside to gain nine yards. The Vikings were out of timeouts and Asiata gave himself up a yard short of the first down.
“We talked to the guys about, if you don’t think you can get out of bounds, get as much as you can and get down,” Zimmer said. “Matt, he got down, but he should have got the first down before he did.”
Asiata had an opportunity to get out of bounds and gain maybe two yards but chose to do the opposite. The Vikings burned 14 seconds off the clock until Bridgewater spiked the ball on 3rd and 1 at their own 39.
Asiata’s decision put the Vikings in a 4th and 1 situation where they needed to gain the first down but also gain a good chunk of yardage or get out of bounds. They got the first down when Bridgewater dumped it off to tight end Kyle Rudolph (circled in yellow), but he only gained five yards and didn’t get out of bounds.
Another 10 seconds went off the clock before Bridgewater spiked the ball on first down with five seconds left in the game at their own 44.
“The 4th and 1, we don’t need the first down; I mean, we need the first down, but we need yards at that point and time,” Zimmer said. “We had a guy open down the field that we should’ve tried to get the ball down in there.”
Zimmer was referring to Wright (circled in red) who was around the Lions’ 44 when Bridgewater hit Rudolph. Wright beat his defender and had an opportunity to race out of bounds before the safety chased him down or the clock expired. If Wright got the Vikings to the 40, it would’ve set up a 57-yard field goal. That’s still a difficult kick to make, especially after Walsh pulled a 53-yarder to the right on the Vikings’ first drive, but nobody has ever made a 68-yard field goal before.
We’re already at three glaring mistakes and haven’t even factored in the delay of game penalty yet after the Vikings converted on fourth down that pushed the Vikings back to their own 39.
Bridgewater connected with Rudolph for 11 yards after the delay of game. Rudolph ran out of bounds at midfield with one second left. Take away the delay of game penalty and Walsh would’ve attempted a 63-yard field goal, a yard shy of NFL record for longest field goal made.
“We didn’t handle the fourth quarter well and as I’m trying to teach this team that when you play good, you still have to win the fourth quarter and the critical parts,” Zimmer said. “…There’s so many games in the NFL that come down to this kind of crunch time, and we didn’t do enough to win. We’re going to keep going forward, we’re going to keep pounding the message. My mentality has not changed, my mindset has not changed. As I told the team, we’re going to stick with it, keep working on getting better because we’ve got something to build for the future.”
Zimmer listed some of the late game situations the Vikings have faced where they’ve won (the Jets and Bucs in overtime) and lost (the Packers, Bills, Lions and Bears). We touched on those situations last week in Vikings Rewind and how this young roster, particularly Bridgewater, is gaining experience with how to handle these close games. Their last four losses against the Bills, Packers, Bears and Lions were by a combined 14 points.
The Vikings had another opportunity to put it all together against a good Lions team and fell short late, just like they have in their three previous losses.
Every weekday, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening with the team that day.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
— The Vikings should focus on improving their offense in the offseason.
— The Vikings have waived backup OT J’Marcus Webb.
— Teddy Bridgewater has been one of the league’s most accurate quarterbacks.
— OLB Chad Greenway is the team’s Community Man of the Year.
— The Vikings would have the 11th pick if the season ended today.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
— Starkey Foundation (@starkeycares) December 16, 2014
BEHIND ENEMY LINES
— The Dolphins seem to be going in the wrong direction under coach Joe Philbin.
— Important lessons were learned about the Dolphins in their lackluster season.
— The Dolphins have long odds of making the playoffs, but it’s possible.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
The Vikings are back at Winter Park today to get ready for this weekend’s trip to Miami. Practice is at 12:50 p.m. Beforehand, Bridgewater and coach Mike Zimmer will chat with reporters.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
As my colleague Michael Rand wrote yesterday, the Vikings reportedly had interest in trading for QB Jay Cutler back in 2009, but Cutler ultimately wound up with the Bears. Who knows how serious the Vikings were about Cutler, but it is fun to think about how differently history would have played out had the Vikings made a move for Cutler instead of luring Brett Favre out of retirement.
|Tennessee||12/18/14 7:25 PM|
|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|
|Delaware State||3:00 PM|
|James Madison||6:00 PM|
|SIU Edwardsville||6:00 PM|
|St Francis-PA||6:00 PM|
|North Florida||6:00 PM|
|Arkansas State||6:00 PM|
|NC A&T||6:00 PM|
|Robert Morris||6:00 PM|
|Char Southern||6:00 PM|
|Kennesaw St||6:00 PM|
|TX A&M-CC||7:00 PM|
|Ark-Pine Bluff||7:00 PM|
|UT Martin||7:00 PM|
|Abilene Christian||7:00 PM|
|USC Upstate||7:00 PM|
|Alcorn State||7:00 PM|
|Central Mich||7:00 PM|
|Georgia State||7:00 PM|
|TX-Pan American||7:00 PM|
|Texas State||7:00 PM|
|Stephen F Austin|
|SC State||7:00 PM|
|Missouri State||7:00 PM|
|Chicago State||7:00 PM|
|Morehead State||7:00 PM|
|Northern Colorado||7:00 PM|
|New Mexico St||8:00 PM|
|San Diego St||8:00 PM|
|Eastern Mich||8:00 PM|
|Loyola Marymount||8:00 PM|
|Incarnate Word||8:00 PM|
|Central Arkansas||9:00 PM|
|Grambling St||10:00 PM|
|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|
|(21) Miss State||66||FINAL|
|(7) Stanford||5:00 PM|
|Florida A&M||5:30 PM|
|Savannah State||5:30 PM|
|Northern Colorado||6:00 PM|
|Youngstown St||6:00 PM|
|(1) South Carolina||6:00 PM|
|Fla Gulf Coast||6:00 PM|
|Texas Southern||6:00 PM|
|NC A&T||6:00 PM|
|NC Central||6:00 PM|
|Alabama State||6:00 PM|
|Morehead St||6:00 PM|
|Arkansas State||6:00 PM|
|American Univ||6:00 PM|
|UNC Greensboro||6:00 PM|
|Prairie View||6:30 PM|
|Sam Houston St|
|McNeese State||7:00 PM|
|Eastern Kentucky||7:00 PM|
|North Texas||9:00 PM|