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.
The situation: Up 35-28 with 4:35 left, the Vikings defense went back out on the field on the Dolphins’ first play of the drive at their own 20.
The context: The Vikings just scored 15 points in 11 seconds to take the lead. Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater put together a nice drive to tie the game on the successful two-point conversion, then rookie safety Antone Exum recovered a fumble on the following kickoff return that led to another touchdown.
The result: Dolphins tight end Charles Clay caught a 22-yard reception on the first play of what was a game-tying touchdown drive.
How it happened:
The Vikings were in a good position at the start of drive knowing the Dolphins had to drive 80 yards to tie. At this point in the game, they were without linebacker Chad Greenway, who suffered a knee injury in the third quarter. Jasper Brinkley replaced Greenway in the nickel, which was what the Vikings were in on the first play of the drive.
Linebacker Gerald Hodges (circled in yellow) showed a late blitz to the “B” gap to send five Vikings at Tannehill. The Dolphins were in an 11 personnel, with one tight end and one running back, while wide receiver Brian Hartline (circled in red) motioned into the slot before the snap.
The play developed and Hartline ran a crossing route underneath three Vikings defenders (circled in yellow) that were six yards away from the line of scrimmage. Clay ran a curl route about eight yards deep, squeezing right behind Brinkley and the wall of Vikings defenders.
Tannehill was flushed out of the pocket due to the pressure with both safety Harrison Smith and Brinkley (circled in yellow) accounting for either a quarterback scramble or a dump off to Hartline. Meanwhile, Clay wisely cut up-field down the same sideline as Tannehill without a Vikings player accounting his presence.
Tannehill completed the pass with Clay right around the Dolphins’ 38, and he picked up another four yards after the catch before safety Robert Blanton made the tackle.
“That was the worst we’ve played all year, maybe one of the worst defensive performances I’ve seen in a long time,” Zimmer said. “But definitely this year, for sure.”
The Dolphins gained 33 yards on the first two drives over the middle, prompting Zimmer to substitute Brinkley out for rookie linebacker Brandon Watts on the third play of the drive due to his coverage ability. Three plays later, Watts pulled his hamstring chasing down running back Damien Williams on an eight yard gain.
The drive lasted 11 plays, including a pass interference penalty on cornerback Xaiver Rhodes on 3rd and 14 at the Vikings’ 18, and concluded on a three-yard touchdown by Williams to tie the game with 1:11 left.
The Dolphins posted the most total yards, 493, against the Vikings this season as the defense took a step bac. Out of all the good quarterbacks the Vikings faced this season, Tannehill had the best performance with 396 passing yards, four touchdowns and one interception.
Not Aaron Rodgers. Not Tom Brady. Not Drew Brees. But Ryan Tannehill. You can see why Zimmer wasn’t pleased with the defensive performance.
“I can’t remember the last time I’ve given up 400 yards passing or if there ever has been one,” Zimmer said. “We didn’t do anything right.”
During a portion of the season when you want to see progress made as Year 1 of the Zimmer era comes to an end, the defense — Zimmer’s baby as the former defensive coordinator referred it to at the start of the season — takes the biggest step back in Week 1. The same game that rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater took another step forward, no less. He completed 73.1 percent of his passes for 259 yards, two touchdowns and an interception that deflected off running back Matt Asiata’s hands.
“When I continue to watch Bridgewater, I’ll probably be an offensive coach this week; maybe, we’ll see,” said Zimmer, cracking a rare joke in his press conference on Monday . “I’m kind of an emotional guy and sometimes it just bothers me when people don’t do what you ask them to do. If we could understand as a group, as a team, as a unit, if we do what we’re supposed to do, good things will happen.
“Throughout most of the season, the defense has done that. They’ve done what they’re supposed to do, lined up and done this and done that, and for the most part good things have happened for them. So, those things bother me, mistakes bother me, penalties bother me, selfishness bothers me.”
And giving up 37 points to the Dolphins and nearly 400 passing yards to Tannehill bothered Zimmer, who has one game left to assess his team before the offseason.
The Vikings have signed running back Henry Josey off the Jaguars practice squad.
Josey, 23, signed with the Eagles this spring as a rookie free agent after going undrafted. The Eagles released him at the end of the preseason even though he ranked second among all players with 225 rushing yards. He would soon join the Jaguars practice squad.
Josey, who is listed at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, had a productive college career at Missouri, though a severe knee injury ended his 2011 season early and prevented him from suiting up for the Tigers in 2012. He returned in 2013 to rush for 1,166 yards and 16 touchdowns.
“We liked him coming out of college,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “We felt like he was one of the better running backs on a practice squad that we could [bring] in, take a look at, see his skill level and kind of go from there.”
The Vikings had an open roster spot and a need for a third back after waiving Ben Tate yesterday.
The Vikings have also signed rookie linebacker Justin Anderson to their practice squad.
Every weekday, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening with the team that day.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
— The Vikings were snubbed in the Pro Bowl voting this year.
— The Vikings waived goodbye to RB Ben Tate yesterday.
— Our Mark Craig handed out some end-of-season awards.
— The Vikings made history Sunday, but not in a good way.
— Where would the Vikings pick if the NFL draft were today?
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
The fact that my teammate @EversonGriffen wasn’t selected to the pro bowl in my mind is a travesty!!! Yeah I said it!
— Brian Robison (@Brian_Robison) December 24, 2014
BEHIND ENEMY LINES
— Former Vikings DE Jared Allen thinks he has plenty left to give.
— Bears OG Kyle Long will return to the lineup this weekend.
— Bears DT Ego Ferguson is happy Lions C Dominic Raiola got suspended.
— Mel Tucker says his Bears defense is not where it needs to be.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
The Vikings are sticking with their standard schedule on Christmas Eve. Head coach Mike Zimmer and QB Teddy Bridgewater will talk after the morning walkthrough and practice is at 12:50 p.m.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
The last time and the only other time the Vikings did not have a single player selected to the Pro Bowl was 1983. So what was up with those Vikings? They finished fourth in the division at 8-8 that season and legendary coach Bud Grant stepped down at its end (only to return a year later).
For the first time since 1983, the Vikings did not have a player selected to the Pro Bowl.
The Vikings had a pair of strong candidates in defensive end Everson Griffen and safety Harrison Smith, but they were edged out by other top performers at their positions in voting done by fans, coaches and fellow players.
In his first season as a starter, Griffen ranks eighth in the NFL with 12 sacks through 15 games and also has recorded 51 tackles. But he was not one of the six defensive ends selected.
Smith, meanwhile, is tied for fifth in the NFL with five interceptions and his three sacks are tied for the most among defensive backs. But six other safeties were picked.
While no Vikings made the Pro Bowl through the voting process, there is a chance that Griffen, Smith or another Vikings player could later be selected as an alternate.
Last season, the Vikings had two Pro Bowl representatives in running back Adrian Peterson and return specialist Cordarrelle Patterson. But Patterson, a Pro Bowl alternate, was the only one who played in the game.
The Vikings have waived running back Ben Tate after an unproductive month with the team.
The Vikings claimed Tate last month after he had been waived by the Browns. He was active for all five games with the Vikings, but only played in three of them. He rushed for 38 yards on 13 carries.
Tate not play in Sunday’s 37-35 loss to the Dolphins. Matt Asiata got the start again, rushing for 58 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. Joe Banyard backed Asiata up, rushing for 23 on five.
Tate had a successful run with the Texans as the backup to Arian Foster and joined the Browns as a free agent this spring. He lost his starting job to a pair of rookies in Cleveland, though, and was cut.
With star back Adrian Peterson in limbo and Asiata and rookie Jerick McKinnon dealing with injuries, the Vikings took a flyer on Tate, with these last few weeks serving as an extended tryout.
He had received lukewarm praise from the coaching staff and limited opportunities in recent weeks, though, so the Vikings waiving him is a not a surprise. The roster move will not affect the salary cap.
|San Diego||12:00 PM|
|NY Jets||12:00 PM|
|New Orleans||12:00 PM|
|St. Louis||3:25 PM|
|TBA||1/3/15 2:00 AM|
|TBA||1/3/15 2:00 AM|
|New Mexico St||57|
|Utah Valley U||49|
|San Diego St||72|
|(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|