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.
Some thoughts following today’s 13-9 win over the Bears at TCF Bank Stadium …
For once, let’s not think about how a win hurt an NFL team’s draft status. The win today meant much more from a mental health standpoint for everyone involved on the football side of the Vikings’ operation. A loss would have ended this season with a three-game losing streak, a double-digit loss total for the fourth time in five years and an 0-6 division record capped off by a loss to a Bears team that will be blown to smithereens on Black Monday.
The win might not carry over to next year, but it helps solidify the confidence and belief in this coaching staff among the players and, in some cases, vice versa.
Offensively, Teddy Bridgewater followed up four consecutive games of completing 70.4 percent of his passes or better by completing 68 percent in another cool-headed performance. His passer rating was 90.2 and his only interception bounced off of Cordarrelle Patterson’s hands. Bridgewater finished 6-6 as a starter this year. After the game, he said his next 12 games will be better than his first 12 games. He’s the kind of guy you believe when he says that because the sense is he works very hard to better himself.
Maybe the Vikings should assign him to teach whatever makes him that way to Patterson. Patterson was the biggest disappointment of the season and, make no doubt about it, he has been put on the clock to put in the work or else.
After today’s game, Zimmer was asked about Patterson’s future. He paused a long time before saying, “I have a plan for him for the offseason. But it’s up to Cordarrelle.” Clearly, it’s time for Patterson to find whatever it takes to help him learn what he’s supposed to know to play receiver at this level.
Defensively, the Vikings held a team without a touchdown for the first time since the season opener. What that does is erase the negative vibe from the second half of last week’s loss at Miami, when the defense gave up four touchdown drives, three of them 80-yarders.
In a week where the storyline was the lack of healthy bodies at linebacker, Audie Cole took advantage of another situation when he got the start in place of weak-side linebacker Chad Greenway, who was inactive with a knee injury. Cole had a game-high 14 tackles, 11 solo, a tackle for loss and a pass defense. He also threw his name into consideration to replace the 31-year-old Greenway as a starter heading into next season. Greenway’s six-year run as the team’s leader in tackles ended. His career with the Vikings could have as well, although it will be a difficult decision to get rid of a guy who still can play when healthy and also carries himself the way the franchise wants its players to carry themselves.
The Vikings and Bears are tied at 3 at halftime on Sunday in the regular season finale at TCF Bank Stadium. Wide receiver Jarius Wright is questionable to return with a back injury.
The Good: With just four active linebackers, Audie Cole made his sixth career start. He’s been just about everywhere on the field filling in for Chad Greenway in the nickel while also being responsible with the communicator headset.
Cole has nine tackles with a tackle for loss so far. He’s been a ball hawk in the biggest opportunity he’s received during the regular season.
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes has also done a solid job shutting down wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who only has one catch for 19 yards on two targets.
The Bad: Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has had some good throws during the first half, but the offense could only muster up a field goal against one of the worst defenses in the NFL. The Vikings have just 118 total yards. They started 3-for-3 on third downs but have failed to convert on the last three attempts.
The Vikings finished the first half with a terrible job of clock management with 55 seconds left and two timeouts. Running back Joe Banyard stayed inbounds to run the clock out after the team burned both timeouts.
The Ugly: It’s a battle for last place in the NFC North, and it’s been a pretty uneventful and boring first half. The effort from both teams in a meaningless game has been pretty poor as they’ve combined for six accepted penalties. They have a combined 243 total yards without a touchdown.
Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway is inactive in the season finale against the Bears on Sunday due to a knee injury. He did not practice all week and was listed as questionable on Friday.
This could be the ninth-year veteran’s final game with the Vikings. Greenway, 31, is slated to earn $7 million in base salary during the offseason. The Vikings will look to restructure his salary or replace him with a younger, and cheaper, option at linebacker.
With Greenway inactive, the Vikings only have four active linebackers – Gerald Hodges, Audie Cole, Jasper Brinkley and Josh Kaddu, who was signed off the practice squad on Saturday.
Here’s the entire inactive list for the Vikings and Bears:
S Ahmad Dixon
CB Shaun Prater
RB Henry Josey
LB Chad Greenway
LB Brandon Watts
OT Carter Bykowski
OG David Yankey
QB Jimmy Clausen
K Robbie Gould
DB Al Louis-Jean
S Chris Conte
DE Austen Lane
DT Brandon Dunn
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. Seahawks (11-4)
Why: The defending champions have Russell Wilson, a running game and a defense that is allowing an average of 6.6 points during a current five-game winning streak. If these fellas throw home-field advantage on top of all that, you’re looking at the NFC champions right here.
2. Patriots (12-3); 3. Cowboys (11-4); 4. Lions (11-4); 5. Packers (11-4); 6. Bengals (10-4-1); 7. Broncos (11-4); 8. Steelers (10-5); 9. Cardinals (11-4); 10. Colts (10-5); 11. Chargers (9-6); 12. Texans (8-7); 13. Ravens (9-6); 14. Dolphins (8-7); 15. Chiefs (8-7); 16. Giants (6-9); 17. Panthers (6-8-1); 18. Rams (6-9); 19. Falcons (6-9); 20. Saints (6-9); 21. Redskins (4-11); 22. Eagles (9-6); 23. Raiders (3-12); 24. Bills (8-7).
25. Vikings 6-9 (Last week: 22): You can talk about the better draft pick that could come with a loss today all you want. From this viewpoint, there’s more value in terms of mental health for the people of this franchise to beat the Bears. A 7-9 record will be remembered, discussed and received much better than a 6-10 season that saw the Vikings lose their last three games and go 0-6 in the division with a loss to a Bears team that was about to be blown to bits by its ownership.
THE REST OF THE REST
26. 49ers (7-8); 27. Browns (7-8); 28. Bears (5-10); 29. Jets (3-12); 30. Jaguars (3-12); 31. Titans (2-13).
WORST OF THE BUNCH
32: Buccaneers (2-13): We flip-flopped the Titans and the Bucs from their bottom two spots for this final game-day power ranking. We wanted the Bucs down here to remind people that back in March, it was the Bucs who were universally considered among or at the top of the lists proclaiming “FREE AGENCY WINNERS!!!!!!!!!!” Remember that the next time you have to urge to get this excited over offseason NFL news.
THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE HOPEFUL
1, Teddy Bridgewater. We’ll make him reasons 1a through 1z. Will he be great? Don’t know. Is he worth risking your scar-tissue-filled purple heart being broken for the 768th time of your life? Yes. He has the talent, the instincts, the intelligence and the calmness amid chaos. It should be fun to watch him develop.
2, Mike Zimmer. What Zimmer has done this season has energized a number of young defensive players who could come together and be a force with some more infusion of talent. His aggressive philosophy brought life to that side of the ball. Another reason to pull for a victory today is to put some mental distance from last week’s second half in Miami. That defensive meltdown was not typical of the way Zimmer’s defense played overall this season. But if the same were to happen against the Bears today, how do you think people will be talking about the defense heading into the offseason?
3, Norv Turner. He’s not the retiring type, his days of being offered head coaching jobs are over and the word from Winter Park is he’s even more energized by Bridgewater’s future. And Norv’s already a high-energy guy to begin with.
THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE NERVOUS
1, Cordarrelle Patterson. We’re on record as saying give the guy another season to show whether he can learn how to become an NFL receiver. He’s never been in the same system in consecutive seasons at the major college or NFL levels. However, that being said, it is unfortunate that the team will have to hedge its bet at a position where they just spent a first-round pick on in 2013. From where we stand (and with the Adrian Peterson situation still up in the air), the two biggest offseason needs are a big, fast receiver with polished route-running skills and a powerful and polished left guard to put next to not only play that position but also help left tackle Matt Kalil.
2, Matt Kalil. Speaking of Matt Kalil, we’re also on record here as saying he’s still capable of being the left tackle he was as a rookie. The Vikings just need to bring it out of him on a consistent basis. He’s more skilled than anyone they could plug in there. If you truly wanted to replace him, you’d have to go high in the draft. And that would be going unnecessarily backward in constructing the team, given Kalil’s youth and the fact that we’ve actually seen him play the position well. Kalil also has mentioned his knee surgery on multiple occasions. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt with the assumption that he’ll be healthy at the start of next season.
3, Running back. Sorting through the Adrian Peterson mess before the start of free agency is the team’s biggest offseason priority. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just deciding whether or not to bring him back. His salary cap number of $15.4 million for 2015 will be the biggest hurdle. Under normal circumstances, that number likely would have needed to be renegotiated. That needs to be sorted out so the team can move forward with or without Peterson. The team on the field obviously would be better off moving forward with Peterson and Bridgewater together. But the vibe sure feels like that’s not going to happen.
Bears plus-6 ½ at Vikings. The pick: Vikings 28, Bears 21
Why?: The Vikings have nothing to play for, but they’re at home and their coaching staff still has the full attention of the players. The Bears have nothing to play for and they’re also on the road with a coaching staff and front office that presumably is less than 24 hours from being blown to smithereens.
Last week: Vikings plus-6 ½ at Dolphins. The pick: Vikings 27, Dolphins 24. The final: Dolphins 37, Vikings 35. Redord: 11-4.
Panthers plus-4 at Falcons. The pick: Panthers 24, Falcons 17
Why?: Two teams the Vikings beat by a combined 31 points will meet to decide the NFC South title. The feeling here is the Panthers are a little less smelly than the Falcons, and it won’t matter where the game is because it’s hard to picture Atlanta going 6-0 in any division, even the NFC South.
Last week: Vikings plus-6 ½ at Dolphins. The pick: Vikings 27, Dolphins 24. The final: Dolphins 37, Vikings 35. Record: 5-11.
Bengals plus-3 ½ at Steelers: Steelers by 7
Lions plus-7 ½ at Packers: Packers by 3
Jaguars plus-9 ½ at Texans: Texans by 7
Colts minus-7 at Titans: Colts by 3
Browns plus-10 at Ravens: Ravens by 14
Bills plus-4 ½ at Patriots: Patriots by 7
Jets plus-5 ½ at Dolphins: Dolphins by 10
Chargers plus-3 at Chiefs: Chargers by 6
Eagles plus-3 at Giants: Eagles by 6
Cowboys minus-5 ½ at Redskins: Cowboys by 14
Saints minus-4 at Buccaneers: Buccaneers by 7
Rams plus-12 ½ at Seahawks: Seahawks by 21
Cardinals plus-6 at 49ers: 49ers by 3
Raiders plus-14 at Broncos: Broncos by 17
Record: Last week/overall: 10-5/134-86-1. Versus spread: Last week/overall: 12-3/116-105.
In need of another linebacker, the Vikings placed rookie Anthony Barr on injured reserve and signed Josh Kaddu from their practice squad.
Barr hasn’t played the last three games and will miss the season finale on Sunday against the Bears due to a knee injury. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer announced last week the team would shut him down so he could have a minor knee procedure.
Kaddu was signed to the practice squad two days before the season opener after spending the preseason with the Eagles. The Dolphins’ fifth round pick in 2012 played in five career games with Miami but didn’t record a tackle.
The Vikings had just three healthy linebackers on the active roster this week in practice. Chad Greenway was listed as questionable with a knee injury he suffered in last week’s loss to the Dolphins, while Barr and rookie Brandon Watts (hamstring) were ruled out.
|Cincinnati||10||3rd Qtr 11:43|
|TBA||1/3/15 2:00 AM|
|TBA||1/3/15 2:00 AM|
|TBA||1/4/15 2:00 AM|
|TBA||1/4/15 2:00 AM|
|New York||43||3rd Qtr 10:36|
|Phoenix||43||2nd Qtr 5:13|
|Vancouver||1||3rd Prd 8:59|
|Central Conn St||48||FINAL|
|Long Beach State||67||FINAL|
|South Dakota St||63||FINAL|
|Central Penn College||69||FINAL|
|SE Missouri St||94|
|North Dakota St||83|
|Fla Gulf Coast||57||FINAL|
|Miss Valley St||53||FINAL|
|CS-Bakersfield||11||1st Half 12:50|
|(15) Arizona State||36||FINAL|
|Texas A&M||12/29/14 1:00 PM|
|Oklahoma||12/29/14 4:30 PM|
|Arkansas||12/29/14 8:00 PM|
|Notre Dame||12/30/14 2:00 PM|
|(13) Georgia||12/30/14 5:45 PM|
|Maryland||12/30/14 9:00 PM|
|(9) Ole Miss||12/31/14 11:30 AM|
|(21) Boise State||12/31/14 3:00 PM|
|(8) Miss State||12/31/14 7:00 PM|
|(10) Georgia Tech|
|(19) Auburn||1/1/15 11:00 AM|
|(7) Michigan State||1/1/15 11:30 AM|
|(16) Missouri||1/1/15 12:00 PM|
|(2) Florida State||1/1/15 4:00 PM|
|(5) Ohio State||1/1/15 7:30 PM|
|Houston||1/2/15 11:00 AM|
|Iowa||1/2/15 2:20 PM|
|(11) Kansas State||1/2/15 5:45 PM|
|Washington||1/2/15 9:15 PM|
|East Carolina||1/3/15 11:00 AM|
|Toledo||1/4/15 8:00 PM|
|(10) Oregon State||63||FINAL|
|William & Mary||56|
|(20) Michigan State||57|
|(24) Green Bay||66||FINAL|
|Miss Valley St||40||FINAL|
|Sam Houston St||46||FINAL|
|(4) Notre Dame||82||FINAL|
|Coll of Charleston||51||FINAL|
|Fla Gulf Coast||73||FINAL|
|(25) Arizona State||69|
|UC Santa Barbara||34||FINAL|
|Long Beach St||71|
|Temple||52||2nd Half 1:10|