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 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.
The Vikings put offensive tackle J’Marcus Webb on waivers Tuesday.
The five-year veteran was signed on Nov. 25 when the team put Phil Loadholt on season-ending injured reserve.
Earlier Tuesday, Webb tweeted that he was thankful for being on the team.
Webb missed a key block on Sunday that enabled Detroit’s Jason Jones to block Blair Walsh’s 26-yard field goal attempt in the Vikings 16-14 loss to the Lions.
Each week, beat guy Matt Vensel will highlight five Vikings stats that really mean something.
339.9 — yards allowed per game by the Vikings in Mike Zimmer’s first season.
Considering how the Vikings fared defensively a year ago and all the new faces that forced them to bring in, it seemed unlikely that Zimmer, their first-year coach, would be able to take the Vikings from 31st in the NFL in total defense to a top-10 unit. But with a strong finish these final two games, he might just do it. The Vikings enter Week 16 tied for 11th in the league in total defense, allowing 339.9 yards per game (last season the Vikings allowed 397.6 yards per game). They are just 43 total yards behind the Chargers, who rank ninth. So that top-10 ranking is very much in reach.
17 — pass break-ups for cornerback Xavier Rhodes, tied for fourth in the NFL.
Rhodes played well against the Lions, particularly star wide-out Calvin Johnson, but for the first time in a while, the second-year corner didn’t get his hands on the ball. It was his first game without a pass break-up since October, snapping a streak of five straight games with at least one. Still, he has broken up at least one pass in nine of his last 11 games, giving him 17 total pass break-ups this season. That ranks fourth in the NFL behind Bradley Fletcher of the Eagles, Vontae Davis of the Colts and Buster Skrine of the Browns. And it’s more than double the next Vikings player on the list.
75.6 — quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s accuracy percentage in his first season.
Accuracy was considered to be one of Bridgewater’s biggest assets coming out of college, and so far in the NFL, he has usually been on target, too. The rookie ranks seventh in accuracy percentage, a stat from Pro Football Focus that accounts for things such as dropped passes and throwaways, unlike raw completion percentage. They say Bridgewater has been accurate on 75.6 percent of his throws, just ahead of guys like Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers. And since Week 9, only Drew Brees and Joe Flacco have been more accurate.
seven — total sacks allowed by Vikings offensive linemen in the past five weeks.
Since the Week 10 bye week, the Vikings offensive line has allowed 52 total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus, which is tied for 18th in the NFL. That’s actually a significant improvement for that banged-up group. In the first 10 weeks of the season, they surrendered 118 total pressures, third most in the league. The difference is about three fewer pressures per game. Not all pressures are created equally, of course. In those first nine games, offensive linemen were responsible for 24 sacks, according to PFF. Over the past five, the linemen were at fault for only seven sacks.
minus-59 — the Vikings’ point differential in their five divisional games in 2014.
I wrote in today’s paper about the Vikings falling to 0-5 against their NFC North rivals. They kept things close in rematches against the Packers and Lions, but overall, they have been outscored, 120-61, in their five divisional games this season. That’s a point differential of minus-59 in the division. The Vikings, meanwhile, are 6-3 against teams not in their division, outscoring those teams by a combined 39 points. They play their final NFC North game in the season finale. Considering how the dysfunctional Bears are playing, the Vikings probably shouldn’t be 0-fer for much longer.
|Detroit||7||3rd Qtr 13:11|
|Cleveland||3||3rd Qtr 13:33|
|Atlanta||13||3rd Qtr 14:02|
|Green Bay||10||3rd Qtr 13:05|
|Kansas City||6||3rd Qtr 12:04|
|New England||7||3rd Qtr 10:54|
|NY Giants||3:05 PM|
|Denver||12/22/14 7:30 PM|
|New York||2:30 PM|
|LA Lakers||5:00 PM|
|New Orleans||6:00 PM|
|Maine||50||2nd Half 7:21|
|Ferris State||68||2nd Half 6:55|
|San Francisco||57||2nd Half 4:56|
|Oregon State||50||2nd Half 0:27|
|Coastal Carolina||40||2nd Half 13:10|
|Holy Cross||18||1st Half 2:34|
|Southern Miss||29||2nd Half|
|Western Carolina||23||1st Half 4:52|
|Creighton||16||1st Half 1:27|
|Maryland||29||1st Half 2:02|
|Cornell||32||1st Half 3:41|
|Vermont||17||1st Half 2:47|
|Loyola-Maryland||22||1st Half 2:11|
|Reinhardt||26||1st Half 3:50|
|Ark-Little Rock||29||2nd Half|
|TX-Pan American||30||1st Half 3:09|
|Alabama State||33||1st Half 3:51|
|FIU||13||1st Half 11:27|
|Goshen||0||1st Half 15:11|
|Austin Peay||2:00 PM|
|Tennessee St||2:00 PM|
|South Dakota||2:00 PM|
|Northern Ariz||3:00 PM|
|SD Christian||3:00 PM|
|UC Irvine||3:30 PM|
|Seton Hall||5:00 PM|
|Appalachian St||5:30 PM|
|North Dakota St||6:00 PM|
|San Jose St||6:00 PM|
|Alcorn State||8:00 PM|
|Sacramento St||9:00 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|
|Illinois||12/26/14 12:00 PM|
|Rutgers||12/26/14 3:30 PM|
|NC State||12/26/14 7:00 PM|
|Cincinnati||12/27/14 12:00 PM|
|Duke||12/27/14 1:10 PM|
|(15) Arizona State|
|Miami-Florida||12/27/14 3:00 PM|
|Boston College||12/27/14 3:30 PM|
|(25) Nebraska||12/27/14 7:00 PM|
|(1) South Carolina||84|
|(5) Notre Dame||64|
|Fairleigh Dickinson||63||2nd Half 0:24|
|Buffalo||60||2nd Half 5:31|
|Bucknell||64||2nd Half 3:54|
|Mount St Marys||44|
|Stony Brook||65||2nd Half 1:31|
|FIU||72||2nd Half 3:28|
|Duquesne||35||2nd Half 5:51|
|Maine||54||2nd Half 0:02|
|William & Mary||51|
|Alabama State||38||2nd Half 2:46|
|TX-Pan American||38||2nd Half 3:40|
|South Dakota St||62||2nd Half 0:31|
|Radford||49||2nd Half 4:24|
|(3) Texas||34||2nd Half 17:12|
|(4) Texas A&M||41|
|Rhode Island||42||2nd Half 12:53|
|South Florida||25||1st Half 5:07|
|Sam Houston St||25||1st Half 1:51|
|Evansville||17||1st Half 3:12|
|(14) Maryland||53||1st Half 1:58|
|Coll of Charleston||34|
|NC A&T||10||1st Half 7:13|
|Princeton||38||1st Half 2:32|
|Eastern Illinois||37||2nd Half|
|Rider||31||1st Half 0:44|
|SC State||13||1st Half 2:23|
|Fairfield||27||1st Half 2:45|
|Cleveland State||42||2nd Half|
|Kent State||29||1st Half 1:07|
|South Alabama||9||2nd Half|
|Saint Peters||13||1st Half 1:02|
|Youngstown St||21||2nd Half|
|NJIT||23||1st Half 3:51|
|Davidson||10||1st Half 1:41|
|Indiana State||4||1st Half 17:16|
|Southern U||5||1st Half 15:59|
|Wright State||6||1st Half 12:06|
|(19) Oklahoma St||2:00 PM|
|Ark-Little Rock||2:00 PM|
|Northern Ariz||2:00 PM|
|North Dakota||2:00 PM|
|Western Ill||2:00 PM|
|(6) North Carolina|
|Ball State||2:00 PM|
|(8) Kentucky||2:00 PM|
|New Orleans||2:00 PM|
|Chicago State||2:00 PM|
|Bowling Green||2:00 PM|
|SE Missouri St|
|Northern Ill||2:00 PM|
|(23) Iowa||2:05 PM|
|Central Michigan||2:30 PM|
|Western Carolina||2:30 PM|
|Cal Poly||3:00 PM|
|No Dakota State||3:00 PM|
|Cal State Fullerton|
|Idaho State||3:00 PM|
|(18) Michigan State||3:00 PM|
|Fresno State||4:00 PM|
|St Francis-PA||4:00 PM|
|(10) Louisville||4:00 PM|
|(21) Miss State|