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.
My initial reaction from Buffalo, where the Vikings lost 17-16 on a 2-yard pass from Kyle Orton to Sammy Watkins with two seconds left?
When did I wake up in 2013?
The four-minute offense and the two-minute defense collapsed late in the same game and the Vikings walked off the field shaking their heads following a game-losing touchdown. Sounds like Chicago, Cleveland and Dallas from last season. And sort of like Baltimore, although that was the wildest scoring exhibition by both teams at the end of a game in the history of the NFL.
Because the Vikings couldn’t close the deal, a lot of good performances get lost as the team falls to 2-5. For instance:
. Outside linebacker Anthony Barr took an even bigger step toward proving he’s going to be one of the better linebackers in the league. His pass defense on Watkins on second-and-goal in the red zone was the kind of play that an instinctive, quick player with really long arms can make.
. Never have I seen two offensive linemen leave the game for good on the same play until center John Sullivan and right guard Vladimir Ducasse did so in the first half. That put second-string center Joe Berger and third-string guard Mike Harris in the game. They actually played pretty well, which helped Jerick McKinnon rush for 103 yards against the league’s No. 1-ranked run defense. The Bills hadn’t allowed a 20-yard rush all season until McKinnon broke two tackles during a 29-yard run.
. Teddy Bridgewater did a nice job bouncing back from two interceptions. But I fear that he is starting to sense pressure even when it’s not there. I saw that on a deep incomplete pass to Cordarrelle Patterson in the first half. But who can blame him. The offensive line played better today that last week, when Bridgewater was sacked eight times. But back-to-back sacks after getting that first-and-goal at the 7 tells you the line — particularly the tacklwes — still has a long way to go to live up to expectations.
So where do the Vikings go from here now that they’re 2-5. Well, the played well enough for most of today’s game to make you believe they can win the next two games at Tampa Bay and home to Washington. If they can get to the bye at 4-5, they will have stabilized the sting that people are feeling after they botched a game they should have won today.
At the half, the Vikings have a 13-10 lead over the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Kicker Blair Walsh nailed a 55-yard field goal with 15 seconds left to give the Vikings the lead.
The Good: The Vikings defense has played well given the speed the Bills have on offense. It has forced three turnovers – two fumbles and an interception — and has brought pressure on pass downs. The Vikings only have one sack to show in the stat sheet, but quarterback Kyle Orton has been consistently knocked down.
The two biggest errors made on defense have resulted in points for the Bills. Rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins scored on a 26-yard touchdown pass during the first play of the drive. He beat cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who has allowed his fourth touchdown this season according to Pro Football Focus. Bills running back C.J. Spiller broke off a 53-yard run after the linebackers failed to fit the run properly, leading to a field goal on the drive.
The Bad: Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater hasn’t performed well once again. He’s thrown two interceptions in the first half after getting picked off three times last week against the Lions. Bridgewater has also held onto the ball a little long on plays, missing open receivers in the process.
After his second interception, which led to Watkins’ touchdown on the next drive, Bridgewater drove the Vikings down the field to take the lead. A five-play, 60-yard drive was capped when Bridgewater threw his first career touchdown pass to wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
The Ugly: Both teams have been decimated with injuries. The Vikings are out of offensive linemen at the moment with injuries to center John Sullivan (concussion) and right guard Vladimir Ducasse (knee). Sullivan has been ruled out, while Ducasse is questionable. Joe Berger has filled in at center, while Mike Harris has lined up at right guard. The Bills saw both of their running backs carted off. C.J. Spiller (shoulder) and Fred Jackson (groin) have both been ruled out, leaving the Bills with just Boobie Dixon and Frank Summers in the backfield.
Two of the Vikings offensive linemen suffered injuries on the same play in the first quarter against the Bills.
Center John Sullivan will not return due to a concussion, while right guard Vladimir Ducasse is questionable with a knee injury. They both left the game on the first play of the Vikings’ third drive following linebacker Anthony Barr’s fumble recovery. McKinnon gained three yards on the play, but Sullivan and Ducasse headed for the sideline with 3:49 left in the opening quarter.
Joe Berger has replaced Sullivan at center, and Mike Harris has filled in at right guard for Ducasse, who replaced Brandon Fusco this season at the position. Fusco is on injured reserve with a torn pectoral and is out for the year.
Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway will be active for the first time in three weeks after recovering from a rib injury. He will start on Sunday against the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Greenway was a full participant at practice all week but listed as questionable on Friday. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who was also listed as questionable, is also active after dealing with an elbow/ankle injury.
Defensive end Corey Wootton will be out with a back injury, allowing rookie defensive end Scott Crichton to be active for the second time this season. Linebacker Gerald Hodges is also out with a hamstring injury he suffered last week against the Lions.
Here’s the complete inactive list for both teams:
FB Zach Line
LB Gerald Hodges
LB Brandon Watts
G David Yankey
G Austin Wentworth
TE Kyle Rudolph
DE Corey Wootton
CB Ross Cockrell
S Kenny Ladler
RB Bryce Brown
LB Ty Powell
T Cyrus Kouandjio
WR Marcus Easley
WR Marquise Goodwin
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. Chargers (5-1)
Why: Assuming the Chiefs don’t pull an upset today in San Diego, we should be able to stick with early MVP front-runner Philip Rivers, the No. 3-ranked defense and those league-low two giveaways for at least four more days. Then San Diego travels to Denver for what will be the best game of the season to that point.
2. Broncos (4-1); 3. Cardinals (4-1); 4. 49ers (4-2); 5. Eagles (5-1); 6. Cowboys (5-1); 7. Seahawks (3-2); 8. Colts (4-2); 9. Patriots (5-2); 10. Panthers (3-2-1); 11. Bengals (3-1-1); 12. Ravens (4-2); 13. Lions (4-2); 14. Packers (4-2); 15. Browns (3-2); 16. Bears (3-3); 17. Giants (3-3); 18. Texans (3-3); 19. Bills (3-3); 20. Titans (2-4); 21. Chiefs (2-3); 22. Saints (2-3); 23. Steelers (3-3); 24. Dolphins (2-3).
25. Vikings 2-4 (Last week: 24): The Vikings fell another spot after failing to compete at home against the Lions. It’s amazing that a road team can put together one solid four-minute drive to start the game and then protect that lead by doing nothing offensively for 56 minutes. Add it up and you have a 17-3 outcome, not to mention one of the dullest NFL games in recent memory. Having lost four games by double digits, the Vikings could tumble further down the rankings. Of course, that also would require some of the seven stinkers below them — particularly Atlanta, which got mauled by the Vikings — to start winning some games.
THE REST OF THE REST
26. Falcons (2-4); 27. Rams (1-4); 28. Redskins (1-5); 29. Jets (1-6); 30. Raiders (0-5); 31. Jaguars (0-6).
WORST OF THE BUNCH
32: Buccaneers (1-5): Welcome back, Tampa Bay. The Bucs missed the bottom rung so much that they managed to allow the words “Joe Flacco” and “could set the NFL record for touchdown passes in a single game” to be uttered together in the same sentence during the first half of last week’s game. Last week’s Worst of the Bunch, Oakland, showed a strong pulse against the Chargers. So we’ll push them up a couple of notches and slide the Bucs back to the bottom.
THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE HOPEFUL
1, Honestly, three reasons might be stretching it at this point. But, looking long-term, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater appears to have the personality to use painful experiences such as last week to improve. So even if the Vikings lose at Buffalo today, there’s something to gain from Bridgewater’s first NFL road start.
2, The defense is much better than last season. Yeah, we know. That’s not saying much. It has improved from 32nd in points allowed last season (30.0) to 20th (23.8). Mike Zimmer’s schemes, calls, adjustments and teaching techniques are making a difference. But it would help if the defense played better coming out of the gate.
3, Blair Walsh has quietly stabilized his game. He has made 11 of 13 field goal attempts, including 2 of 2 from 50 yards and beyond. Opponents also have been able to return only four of his kickoffs.
THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE NERVOUS
1, The Vikings haven’t been able to provide a safe environment for their quarterback. That’s the nice way of saying the offensive line is getting the QB clobbered. There have been 14 sacks the past two games. Keep that up and Christian Ponder will be starting again real soon.
2, Not sure if you’ve heard this the few million times that it’s been stated, but this team is struggling with getting the ball to Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson could help the situation by getting open more often.
3, Buffalo won at Detroit, which won at Minnesota. Also, the Lions’ defensive line has 14 ½ sacks, a total that’s two fewer than Buffalo’s defensive line.
Vikings plus-5 ½ at Bills: Bills 24, Vikings 17.
Why: We picked the Vikings here last week because we clearly overestimated their offensive line’s ability to perform against one of the best defensive fronts in the league. So we’re not going to make that mistake again. Especially with the Vikings being on the road.
Last week: Lions minus-1 ½ at Vikings: The pick: Vikings 27, Lions 24. The final: Lions 17, Vikings 3. Vikings pick record: 3-3.
Saints plus-2 ½ at Lions: Saints 31, Lions 28
Why: Wow, this guy just won’t learn his lesson when it comes to not trusting the Lions. Yeah, that’s a risky thing to keep doing. But it’s also hard to picture Drew Brees falling to 2-4.
Last week: Packers minus-3 ½ at Dolphins. The pick: Dolphins 24, Packers 21. The final: Packers 27, Dolphins 24. Record: 1-5.
Bengals plus-3 at Colts: Colts by 6
Seahawks minus-6 ½ at Rams: Seahawks by 10
Falcons plus-7 at Ravens: Ravens by 14
Dolphins plus-3 at Bears: Bears by 7
Browns minus-5 ½ at Jaguars: Jaguars by 3
Panthers plus-6 ½ at Packers: Packers by 7
Titans plus-5 at Redskins: Redskins by 3
Chiefs plus-4 at Chargers: Chargers by 7
Giants plus-6 ½ at Cowboys: Cowboys by 3
49ers plus-7 at Broncos: Broncos by 3
Texans plus-3 at Steelers: Steelers by 6
Cardinals minus-3 ½ at Raiders: Cardinals by 7
Record: Last week/overall: 8-5-1/49-35-1. Versus spread: Last week/overall: 10-4/40-45.
|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|