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 fans who were upset about the roughing-the-passer penalty to Captain Munnerlyn at the end of the third quarter on Sunday have someone who agrees with them: Munnerlyn himself.
The Vikings cornerback said Monday that he’s still upset about the call, which came after he sacked Brees on 3rd-and-13 with the Saints leading 13-9. Given a first down, the Saints rolled down for a touchdown and won the game 20-9.
Munnerlyn said he watched the play twice on film, and said “You can have a guy wrapped up and he can still throw the ball away or try to find an open guy. It’s tough to make that decision … I don’t think it was a great call at all.
“They made the call, I gotta live with it. I’m sure I’ll be hearing [about a fine] from the league.”
Munnerlyn added the call was made because Brees is one of the league’s top quarterbacks: “Him and Peyton Manning and Tom Brady they like the face of the NFL, but it happened, they called the flag, and I feel like it changed the game for my team.”
Brees thought the hit was made by safety Robert Blanton, and got up and pushed Blanton.
“And on that note, man, they can’t allow a quarterback to just get up and get in people’s faces without throwing a flag or nothing on them either,” said Munnerlyn, “so at least it should have been offset, a penalty on them, too.”
“Like I said, I believe that penalty really changed the game.”
Munnerlyn talked to Brees after the game and said, “I wasn’t trying to throw him on his head, and I told him, ‘Drew, you really sold that penalty, because you didn’t land on your head, you landed on your back.’”
Coach Mike Zimmer will meet the media at Winter Park at 2 p.m. He’ll update the team’s injury situation. NFL Network’s Albert Breer, citing sources, reported that tight end Kyle Rudolph has a sports hernia that will require surgery and keep him out at least six weeks.
Every weekday, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening with the team that day.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
— The Teddy Bridgewater era began in yesterday’s loss to the Saints.
— Is Bridgewater now the face of the Vikings franchise?
— QB Matt Cassel wasn’t the only starter to get injured yesterday.
— CB Captain Munnerlyn’s penalty was a turning point in the loss.
— The Vikings were caught off guard by the Saints early in the game.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
— Carlos Gonzalez (@CarlosGphoto) September 21, 2014
BEHIND ENEMY LINES
— Munnerlyn’s hit on QB Drew Brees awoke the sleeping Saints.
— The Saints defense slammed the door against the Vikings.
— A win over the Vikings doesn’t mean the Saints defense is back.
— Bridgewater was impressive in relief against the Saints.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
The Vikings are back at Winter Park today to figure out what went wrong against the Saints. We’ll have access to players in the locker room and head coach Mike Zimmer has his usual presser.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
There was chatter before May’s NFL draft from analysts that none of the quarterback prospects were pro-ready and more chatter afterward from NFL teams saying they wouldn’t rush their quarterbacks into action. But here we are, on the verge of Week 4, and three of the four QBs selected in the top 40 picks are starters. Derek Carr, a second-round pick, was the Week 1 starter for the Raiders. Blake Bortles, the No. 3 overall pick, was named Jacksonville’s starter yesterday. And now Bridgewater has been thrust into the lineup, with Cassel out. The only top quarterback prospect who isn’t starting? That would be Johnny Football himself out in Cleveland.
Before rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater made his NFL debut, he received a quick word from quarterbacks coach Scott Turner.
“This is your time,” Bridgewater said Turner told him. “Take advantage of it. This is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for. Just relax, have fun and play football.”
Bridgewater went 12 of 20 for 150 yards and six rushing attempts for 27 yards replacing Matt Cassel, who suffered a foot injury during the second quarter. Head coach Mike Zimmer said the team will prepare now with Bridgewater at quarterback after Cassel fractured several bones in his foot.
“I think I did pretty good for the most part,” Bridgewater said. “Missed a couple of throws, couple easy throws, but overall I thought it was a good performance. I’ve got some areas to improve on.”
It’s a similar situation that gave Bridgewater his first opportunity at Louisville as a freshman. He replaced Will Stein during the third game of the season against Kentucky. Bridgewater went on to start during the rest of his freshman season and throughout his sophomore and junior years.
When asked if he was nervous, Bridgewater immediately replied, “Not at all. No, I wasn’t nervous because this is where I always wanted to be. Unfortunately the way that it happened wasn’t the way that I expected it to, but I was just able to go out there, relax; the guys put their trust in and me and said, ‘Hey, nothing changes. The game plan isn’t going to change. We’re just going to go out there and continue playing football.”
Zimmer said once Bridgewater did enter the game, the playbook was altered a bit to fit the rookie’s strengths, such as a 30-yard catch by wide receiver Greg Jennings on a play action, rollout pass.
“I thought he was very composed with everything,” Zimmer said. “There were some issues with the headsets on both sides of the ball today, but he handled it well. I believe that he’s going to be very good.”
The biggest moment in the Vikings’ 20-9 loss to the Saints at the Superdome on Sunday was a controversial penalty that killed the second half momentum the Vikings built.
Down 13-9 with 14 seconds left in the third quarter, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and safety Robert Blanton sacked Saints quarterback Drew Brees on 3rd and 13. Munnerlyn lifted Brees up off the ground and threw him down viciously, prompting Brees to jump up and shove Blanton in frustration.
Munnerlyn was called for unnecessary roughness, extending the drive that ended on an 18-yard touchdown catch by wide receiver Marques Colston seven plays later.
“I tried to get an answer from the referees, but they really wouldn’t talk to me,” Munnerlyn said. “I know coach will turn the play in and he’ll let me know what they say. I feel like I let my teammates down because it changed the game. At the end of the day, they called the penalty. That doesn’t mean I have to agree with the penalty, but they called it.”
Head coach Mike Zimmer said he spoke to referee Walt Anderson after the play, and he felt Munnerlyn threw Brees down with force. Anderson also said he blew the whistle once Munnerlyn and Blanton wrapped up Brees.
They Vikings had held the Saints scoreless since the first quarter and reeled off three field goals to draw within four points before Colston scored.
“I thought we had good momentum going on,” Zimmer said. “We were frustrating them a little bit offensively. I think we would’ve had good field position. Who knows, but they were a lot better than we were today.”
I’ll give you three reasons to be encouraged and three reasons to be discouraged. Take your pick. Here goes:
Three reasons to be encouraged:
1, There couldn’t have been a more difficult situation for Teddy Bridgewater to make his NFL debut. But the kid did some really good things, and that’s saying something when he’s thrown into a game cold when a veteran, Matt Cassel, breaks his foot. The game not only was on the road, but it was in New Orleans against a Rob Ryan defense in the Saints’ home opener. Bridgewater showed some strong awareness in the red zone, pulling the ball down and taking a loss to avoid the turnover and then running for a first down on a delayed draw to set up a field goal and make the game a one-possession contest. Bridgewater posted an 83.3 passer rating, didn’t turn the ball over and ran six times for a 4.5-yard average. Overall, he looked pretty good for his NFL debut.
2, The Vikings’ defense finally showed it can stop the run again. After five quarters of being pushed around by the Patriots last week and the Saints in the first quarter today, the run defense stiffened and the Vikings were able to put Drew Brees in some long third-down situations, which made the pass rush effective again. The reason the Vikings stayed in this game after being down 13-0 in the first quarter is because the run defense got its act together.
3, The special teams were a strength again with coordinator Mike Priefer back from his suspension. Cordarrelle Patterson averaged 30 yards on four kickoff returns, punter Jeff Locke averaged 45.3 yards with an even greater net average of 46.0. He had a long of 57 and three punts downed inside the 20. The Saints didn’t have kickoff return and they had minus-3 yards on punt returns.
Three reasons to be discouraged:
1, Injuries this severe in Week 3 tear down seasons. Cassel’s broken foot, coupled with Adrian Peterson’s indefinite leave, means it’s officially a rebuilding year. And rebuilding years have a lot of growing pains, particularly when there’s a rookie QB involved. And the likelihood that Bridgewater stays healthy behind this offensive line at its current level of play is slim. Christian Ponder will play a game before the season is over. Throw in a possible serious groin injury to tight end Kyle Rudolph and a shoulder injury to right guard Brandon Fusco and, well, this season appears to be collapsing quickly.
2, The offensive line was a disappointment for the second straight week. The rushing average last week was 2.8. This week, it was 2.7. There just aren’t enough quality holes being made. And there are too many defenders coming free on pass rushes.
3, The way the defense started was a major concern. Brees completed his first nine passes for 108 yards and a touchdown. He was pressured only one time, and on that play, all he had to do was take a slide step to his left. The Saints had 54 yards on just nine rushes in the first quarter. That enabled Brees to feel comfortable. By the time the Vikings corrected that situation, the Saints had the points they would need.
Coming home will help this team. But it better hope Josh Robinson’s hamstring injury isn’t serious because the opponent is a Falcons team that can stretch the field with multiple elite receivers.
|NY Mets - B. Colon||6:05 PM|
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