Archive for the ‘Minnesota Vikings’ Category

Approximately a month ago, I started reading articles about how the Vikings were paying attention to NC State center Garrett Bradbury. As the draft approached, it became clear that offensive line was one of the positions that the Vikings were focusing on in the first round. (The other position group was defensive line.)

Thursday night, the Vikings got the man they wanted all along when they drafted Mr. Bradbury with the 18th pick in the NFL Entry Draft. The thing that jumped out at me with Bradbury was something Coach Zimmer said in his interview with Voice of the Vikings Paul Allen. With about a minute left in this interview, Coach Zimmer talked about a conversation he had with Defensive Line Coach Andre Patterson:

Patterson was watching tape of the trio of Clemson Tiger defensive linemen that were drafted in the top half of tonight’s first round. Patterson walked into Zimmer’s office and asked who this NC State center was that was standing up to Clemson’s D-Line. That pretty much cemented the Vikings’ attitude about drafting Bradbury.

It sounds like the Vikings will now move Pat Elflein, last year’s center, out to offensive guard, then plug in Bradbury at center for the next 10 years. I’m giving this pick an A- grade, partially because he’s the best interior lineman in the draft, partially because the Vikings upgrade 2 positions with a single pick.

Tune in to LFR on Saturday morning for more updates on the Vikings draft picks.

Saying that Sarah Anderson has picked a good fight with Gov. Dayton is understatement. Anderson got an amendment attached to SF3656, “which includes a provision” that would “utilize excess funds from the Vikings stadium reserve to construct three veterans homes in Montevideo, Bemidji, and Preston.”

It’s amazing that Gov. Dayton would pick this fight. What’s more amazing is that Gov. Dayton is fighting Rep. Anderson’s amendment by saying that “Republicans are stealing the money from a special fund that pays for the new home of the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium.” First, it’s particularly stupid to fight against building these veterans homes “in Preston, Montevideo and Bemidji.”

Gov. Dayton is picking a fight that puts him in opposition to these veterans homes while protecting the Vikings stadium. What’s worse for Gov. Dayton’s argument is that Rep. Anderson issued this statement:

Chair Anderson added that the proposal caps the stadium reserve account at 127% of the state debt service payments on the stadium to protect taxpayers. “Our bills caps the reserve at a level that already exceeds what is financially responsible in order to protect taxpayers. There is simply no excuse for these funds—much of which are generated by charitable gambling by veterans groups at VFW’s and Legions throughout the state—to sit in a government bank account.

After issuing that statement, Rep. Anderson explained the amendment during this press availability:

People won’t have difficulty understanding that there’s more than enough money in the fund to pay the state’s obligation for the stadium plus a healthy reserve fund plus millions of dollars in excess of the reserve fund.

Gov. Dayton hasn’t explained why this money should be used to make the reserve fund for the Vikings Stadium bigger than it needs to be rather than spending this money on 3 veterans homes. I’d love hearing Gov. Dayton and the DFL explain their twisted priorities.

Keeping tens of millions of extra dollars in the reserve fund rather than putting it to good use for veterans is twisted and then some.

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Prior to the Vikings signing Kirk Cousins, I wasn’t totally sold on him. From a skills standpoint, I thought he was better than Teddy Bridgewater and significantly better than Case Keenum. After watching his introductory press conference, though, and watching film of Cousins, I’m totally thrilled he’s the Vikings’ QB for the near future.

What’s most obvious is the fact that he’s a leader. Questioning whether he’ll be the face of the franchise shouldn’t take much time. He’s straight from central casting. Vikings GM Rick Spielman perhaps put it best when he said “I spent two-and-a-half hours with him and his family and then got a chance to meet his parents last night before we went to dinner, spent some time with them, and you knew right off the bat. I didn’t need to spend two-and-a-half hours; I needed to spend 10 minutes with him and his family to know what they mean, what they’re about and what’s important to them – and it’s everything that checks the box here with the Minnesota Vikings.”

From an arm talent standpoint, Cousins is high quality. From an intangibles standpoint, he’s outstanding. Watch this video of Thursday’s introductory press conference at TCO Performance Center and you’ll see what I mean:

Something that jumped out for me was that Cousins said he’d met a bunch of Vikings at the Pro Bowl after the 2016 season and that he immediately knew that they were genuinely a tight-nit group. He said all 32 teams talk a good game that way but that the Vikings immediately showed that it wasn’t talk. The impression I got from Thursday’s press conference is that this guy is CEO smooth and he can’t wait to put in the hours to become this team’s leader.

As for the people who’ve highlighted Cousins’ record as a starter, that’s the past and it’s irrelevant. This guy is the definition of a leader. Keenum knew how to maximize his performance despite his less-than-impressive arm talent. Cousins’ arm talent is light years better than Keenum’s. Cousins can drive the ball down the field with velocity whereas Case Keenum had to put everything he had into his deep throws.

Mentality-wise, Cousins plays with a chip on his shoulder because he’s been underestimated all his life. He was drafted in the 4th round in 2012, the year when Andrew Luck, RG III were the first 2 picks and Russell Wilson was drafted in the third round. In fact, he and RG III were picked by the Redskins. RG III was an instant celebrity whereas Cousins went to work learning the playbook. Now RG III’s career is virtually over and Cousins just signed the richest contract in NFL history.

I have no doubt that Mr. Cousins will be the impressive face of the Vikings franchise for years to come.

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Last year, the Vikings got shredded in the NFC Championship Game by the now-world championship Philadelphia Eagles, finishing the season 13-3 while handily winning the NFC North. On the plus side, they finished far better than the Sporting News predicted. They predicted that Detroit and Green Bay would both finish 11-5, with the Vikings finishing 8-8 and the Bears finishing 3-13. predicted that the Lions would win the NFC North. It wasn’t just that they predicted this outcome.

It’s what they didn’t say, writing “Admittedly, this is a tough sell. Predicting the Lions will win a division they haven’t ever won (the NFC North was formed in 2002) already feels shaky after two sentences. Yet, there are reasons to think Detroit could pull off beating out Green Bay for the top spot. Start with addition by subtraction, as the Lions signed former Packer guard T.J. Lang in free agency. General manager Bob Quinn further bolstered the offensive line by adding tackle Ricky Wagner. Each should help running back Ameer Abdullah stay on course. Abdullah merely needs to stay healthy. This team was on its way toward winning the NFC North last year until Matthew Stafford injured his middle finger. How many teams can survive their starter hurting his throwing hand in the midst of a playoff run? No major injuries and no Hail Marys might mean an end to the days of merely sneaking into the postseason.”

They didn’t even mention the Vikings. (That’s the definition of a snub.)

Going into the 2018 season, everyone will have their eyes on the Vikings. Kirk Cousins is their starting QB. For the first time in his career, he’ll play behind a rock-solid O-Line. For the first time in his career, he’ll have a plethora of weapons to attack with. Never has he had the opportunity to throw to Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Kyle Rudolph and Dalvin Cook. Never has he had a running game featuring Dalvin Cook.

With this collection of weapons, though, comes high expectations. Winning the NFC North is a worthy goal but it isn’t the only expectation. Paying $84,000,000 guaranteed over 3 years gives the Vikings the reasonable expectation of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at least once in those 3 years.

I’m proud to state that I won’t watch tonight’s Super Bowl. I won’t watch because the NFL is attempting to get back in the good graces with the average fan by putting on big displays featuring the military. Apparently, the PR meisters told Commissioner Goodell that the NFL’s ratings drop is tied to the disrespect shown to police officers, the military and the average working joe.

At this point, I’ll emphatically state that Commissioner Goodell is the most tone-deaf commissioner of a major sporting league that I’ve ever seen. How could he have gotten the Ray Rice and Charles Johnson rulings that badly wrong? Those are decisions that the average eighth grader would’ve gotten right. Further, what commissioner would’ve gotten things so badly wrong with the kneel-down protests of the National Anthem?

The NFL owners can’t be too bright if they agreed to a lucrative contract extension for Commissioner Goodell. What has he done that a dozen other people couldn’t have done better? Wouldn’t Condi Rice make a better NFL Commissioner? I’d predict she’d be light years better than Commissioner Goodell in terms of PR.

Part of the reason why I won’t watch tonight’s Super Bowl is because I refuse to watch another Bill Bellicheat-coached team in the Super Bowl. Anyone that thinks that any of New England’s Super Bowl-winning teams is better than the worst of Bill Walsh’s Super Bowl winning teams is delusional. Imagine how many thousands of yards Jerry Rice would’ve accumulated had he played with the defenseless receiver rules they have now. On the flip side of that, imagine the match-up between Gronk and Ronnie Lott or the match-up between Dion Sanders and whoever the Patriots’ top wide receiver was.

The great thing about being a Vikings fan is that I don’t have to put up with the stupid things that Marshawn Lynch, Colin Kaepernick or Michael Bennett have done. The Mike Zimmer-Rick Spielman Vikings are old school. They played poorly in the NFC Championship Game but they consistently play the game right. Last year, a script was flipped this season in the NFC North. Going into this season, there’s no reason to think that the Vikings aren’t the pre-season favorite to repeat as NFC North Champions.

I’d rather wait until the Vikings are playing the final game of the season. It isn’t a stretch to think that might not be more than a year away.

While I’m boycotting the Super Bowl, I’m applauding 2 of this year’s NFL HoF class: Randy Moss and Ray Lewis. Both of these gentlemen are iconic players that transformed the league. These are some highlights from Randy Moss’s coming out party on Monday Night Football in Milwaukee:

As for Ray Lewis, he was the leader of the Ravens team. It wasn’t that he was the leader of their defense, which he was. It was that he was Baltimore’s leader. When Ray Lewis was playing, every Baltimore player had to play up to Ray Lewis’ expectations.

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As a long-suffering Vikings fan, it’s time for them to end the drought and hoist the Lombardi Trophy. It couldn’t happen to a more deserving team. On Sunday, Case Keenum, the player who started the season as the Vikings’ backup quarterback, connected with Stefon Diggs to produce the greatest memory in Twin sports history since Dan Gladden raced home in the bottom of the tenth inning of Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

The stories are eerily similar, though there are some dissimilarities. For instance, the Twins started the season with a 2-9 record. The Vikings got off to a slow start at 2-2 before starting on an 8-game winning streak. In early April of 1991, Twins fans were skeptical that the Twins could be a .500 team. Thoughts of winning a World Series championship weren’t just distant. With the fans, they didn’t exist. With the Vikings’ defense, there was reason for optimism for the team, although winning a Super Bowl championship in their home stadium wasn’t common.

The similarities start when the Twins took off on a 15-game win streak that ended in Baltimore and the Vikings ran off an 8-game win streak that ended in Carolina. Another similarity was that the teams had great defenses and a couple superstars that played like superstars. Most importantly, Tom Kelly and Mike Zimmer both preached the importance of playing seamless, complimentary ball.

That meant different contributors each night. With the Twins, that meant contributions from Mike Pagliarulo and Scott Leius at third, Chuck Knoblauch at second and Shane Mack in the outfield. With the Vikings, it’s meant unexpected but welcome contributions from safety Andrew Sendejo, defensive linemen like Shamar Stephen, Tom Johnson and offensive linemen like Rashod Hill and Jeremiah Sirles and breakout seasons by Case Keenum and Adam Thielen.

In his 1991 article titled “A Series to Savor“, Steve Rushin wrote this:

For it was only 24 hours earlier that Minnesota centerfielder Kirby Puckett had virtually single-handedly forced a seventh game by assembling what has to rank among the most outrageous all-around performances the World Series has ever seen. Puckett punctuated his night by hitting a home run in the bottom of the 11th inning off Atlanta’s Charlie Liebrandt. The solo shot gave the Twins a 4-3 win and gave Puckett’s teammates the same “chill-bump feeling” Braves manager Bobby Cox confessed to having had in Atlanta, where the Braves had swept Games 3, 4 and 5 earlier in the week to take a three games to two lead into Minneapolis.

Hrbek was reduced to a 10-year-old when the Series was tied last Saturday night; Sunday morning would be Christmas Day. “Guys will be staring at the ceiling tonight,” he said following Game 6. “They won’t even know if their wives are next to ’em. I know I won’t. She won’t want to hear that, but….”

Minnesota hitting coach Terry Crowley was reduced to a doddering man in long underwear that same evening, pacing a small circle in the clubhouse, head down and muttering to no one, “It’s unbelievable. Unbelievable.”

And Twins manager Tom Kelly fairly shed his skin in the aftermath of that game, wriggling from the hard exterior he has worn throughout his career and revealing himself to be, like the rest of us, both awed and addled by all he had witnessed. “This is storybook,” Kelly said. “Who’s got the script? Who is writing this? Can you imagine this?

I’ve now had 2 such moments of watching Minnesota sports that simply can’t be adequately described. They can’t be explained. They must be experienced.

It isn’t understatement to say that Stefon Diggs’ reception and run to the end zone will be seen as a transcendent moment. It’s almost to that point already. Here’s Diggs’ electric play:

Here’s Gene Larkin’s magical moment:

Sunday’s game between the visiting New Orleans Saints and the hosting Minnesota Vikings is an instant classic. We don’t need to wait for history to render its verdict. We don’t need to analyze or overanalyze this clash between the Saints and Vikings. To Vikings’ fans who’ve endured the Super Bowl losses and the heartbreaking finishes in 1998 and 2015, Sunday’s game isn’t just redemption. It’s the game that The Curse was broken.

It’s crazy to say this but the Vikings’ offense, though it didn’t play fantastic, outplayed the Vikings’ defense Sunday. As a result, the Vikings will meet Philadelphia in next Sunday’s NFC Championship Game to determine which team will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. If the Vikings win next Sunday, they’ll become the first time to play in the Super Bowl played in their home stadium because the Super Bowl will be held in US Bank Stadium.

But I digress.

Case Keenum threw an ill-advised pass down the sidelines that was intercepted. That Saints turned that interception into their second touchdown. The momentum swing was felt throughout Vikings Nation. When the Saints finally took the lead with 3:01 left in the game, Vikings Nation was worried. They felt better when Keenum engineered a drive that put the Vikings up 23-21 but there was too much time left for Drew Brees to work his magic. When Will Lutz kicked the go-ahead field goal with 25 seconds left in the game, Vikings Nation again thought the worst. After a false start penalty, the Vikings got a timely catch by Stefon Diggs with 17 seconds left. Because he was tackled in the field of play, the Vikings had to use their final timeout. After 2 incomplete passes, this happened:

The minute Stefon Diggs sprinted into the end zone, Vikings fans attending the Minnesota Timberwolves basketball game erupted with joy:

Nobody brings it home like Paul Allen, the Vikings’ radio play-by-play announcer:

Needless to say, the moment left Diggs speechless:

Everson Griffen, the captain of the Vikings’ defense, was speechless, too:

I’ve been a Minnesota sports fan since 1966, when I saw my first Twins game at Metropolitan Stadium. The only moments that surpass Diggs’ touchdown were Kirby Puckett’s walk off home run against the Braves’ Charlie Liebrandt in the 11th inning of Game 6 of the 1991 World Series and Gene Larkin’s pinch-hit single in the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

Historical footnote: Jack Buck was the play-by-play announcer for those games. Sunday night, his son Joe Buck was the play-by-play announcer for the Vikings game. How cool is that? Vikings fans will remember where they were when Stefon Diggs broke the tackle, then raced to the end zone for the game-winning touchdown. Wow! What a game.

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When the stories are written about Minnesota’s sports stories of the year, the Minnesota Twins going from being the worst team in baseball to being a playoff team will certainly be mentioned. In 2016, the Twins finished with a major league worst 59 wins. When this year finished, the Twins had lost to the New York Yankees in a 1-game playoff. The difference between 2016 and 2017 was the coming-of-age of the Twins young stars. Early on, the difference-maker was Miguel Sano. Sano’s homers, like Harmon’s, stayed hit:

The Twins developed an identity of being one of the best defensive teams in baseball. Joe Mauer played Gold Glove defense at first base but wasn’t rewarded. Brian Dozier had an outstanding season defensively and won a Gold Glove for his defense at second base. It was Byron Buxton, though, who led the defense, becoming the first Twin to win the Major League Defensive Player of the Year, thanks to catches that left Twins fans speechless. This catch topped the list:

This was special, too:

Another great sports story is still getting written in US Bank Stadium. In 2016, the Vikings were decimated by injuries. They lost Teddy Bridgewater a week before the season. The offensive line went from a next-man-up mentality to a last-man-standing proposition. Despite that, the Vikings finished 8-8. This year, the Vikings lost their starting QB after an opening game victory. They lost Dalvin Cook during the 4th game of the season. After 4 games, the Vikings owned a 2-2 record. Then they ripped off an 8-game winning streak. This afternoon, they’ll try to finish off a 13-3 regular season. Vikings fans are hoping to finish off cheering for the Vikings in the last game of the 2017 playoffs (in US Bank Stadium.)

The Vikings offense has been fun to watch but the Vikings’ defense has dominated. Defensive end Everson Griffen dominated early. Harrison Smith, aka Harry the Hitman, flashed his skills from time to time. Xavier Rhodes, aka Rhodes Closed, was sterling throughout. We won’t forget this diving, one-handed interception by Smith:

We won’t forget this game-finishing interception, either:

The Vikings are the definition of a team. What other team’s fans would give the back-up quarterback this type of ovation?

The Vikings’ story is still being written. Let’s hope that their last game this season is part of next year’s sports stories of the year.

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It’s time for the NFL to admit that the Vikings are a legitimate Super Bowl Championship contender. Thanks to their dominant victory over Atlanta (in Atlanta) and Seattle’s victory over Philadelphia, the Vikings are now the top seed in the NFC. Both teams have 10-2 records but the Vikings would get the top seed because they’d win the 4th tie-breaker.

Case Keenum turned in another impressive performance completing 25 of 30 passes for 227 yards and 2 TDs without any interceptions. Making that stat-line all the more impressive is the fact that he completed all 13 of his passes in the second half.

The game was won on defense, though. Last week, Julio Jones caught 12 passes for 253 yards. This week, playing against Xavier Rhodes, the best corner in the game, Jones caught 2 passes for a total of 24 yards. The Vikings’ pass rush intimidated Atlanta so much that they abandoned 5- and 7-step drop plays. That made things easier for Rhodes, who didn’t have to cover Jones as long. After the game, Deion Sanders called Xavier Rhodes a call to congratulate Rhodes on his performance. Check this out:

Mike Wobschall at said this about Mike Zimmer’s defensive game plan:

We saw yet another team significantly alter their offensive strategy, specifically as it relates to the passing game, while going against the Vikings defense. Opposing offenses continue to feature the quick-strike passing game, likely to take away the Vikings pass rush. The good news for opposing offenses is that does reduce the number of sacks the Vikings have; Ryan wasn’t sacked on Sunday. The bad news is it severely limits the ability to register explosive gains. The Falcons came into Sunday’s game averaging 9.3 explosive gains per game, and against the Vikings they had one. This is largely because Atlanta essentially refused to put Ryan on a five-step or seven-step drop to give receivers time to get open downfield. The few times Ryan did try that, he was blasted right as he released the ball and the passes fell incomplete as Ryan tried to pick himself up off the turf.

The difference between the Vikings’ defense and the rest of the league’s top defenses is that the Vikings are loaded at all 3 levels, the Vikings are super-physical and the Vikings’ defenders are the best tacklers in the league.

The Vikings came into the game with the top third-down defense. Atlanta came into the game with the best third-down offense. When the statistics were compiled, the Vikings’ defense stopped Atlanta’s offense 9 times in 10 third-down opportunities.

As good as they’ve been, there’s no letting up for the Vikings. Next week, they take on the Carolina Panthers in Carolina. Considering the fact that the Panthers got whipped by the Saints yesterday, the Panthers will likely be ready to play the game of their lives. The good news for the Vikings is that they’ve met each of their challenges this season.

After NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFLPA, criticized, NFL owners tried limiting the PR hit the NFL will take for taking a knee rather than standing at attention for the National Anthem by releasing statements. Zygi and Mark Wilf issued this statement.

The statement says “Professional sports offer a platform unlike any other, a platform that can bring people from a variety of backgrounds together to impact positive change in our society. As owners, it is our job to foster an environment that recognizes and appreciates diversity of thought and encourages using this platform in a constructive manner. Rather than make divisive statements, we believe in promoting thoughtful, inspiring conversation that unifies our communities. We are proud of our players, coaches and staff for the important role they play in our community, and we fully support their constitutional right to respectfully and peacefully express their beliefs.”

With all due respect to the Vikings, that statement is spin. For instance, saying that “we believe in promoting thoughtful, inspiring conversation that unifies our communities” is BS. When the St. Louis Rams’ wide receivers came out of the tunnel and did the ‘hands up, don’t shoot’ gesture, was that the Wilfs’ idea of promoting thoughtful, inspiring conversation that unifies our communities”?

Steve Bisciotti, the owner of the Baltimore Ravens, took a different approach:

“We respect their demonstration and support them 100 percent. All voices need to be heard. That’s democracy in its highest form.”

I wonder if Mr. Bisciotti would feel the same way if one of his employees spoke out of turn for one of his other companies, especially if that employee’s statement hurt Mr. Bisciotti’s business. I’m betting that Mr. Bisciotti wouldn’t have the same attitude with his less famous employees who hurt his business. And make no mistake about this. Mr. Bisciotti’s NFL ’employees’ are hurting his business.

Like Zygi Wilf, Commissioner Goodell is an East Coast progressive. They live inside the East Coast progressive echochamber. Witness the surprise that Commissioner Goodell had when the public criticized him for his Ray Rice suspension. He didn’t have a clue that the penalty was inadequate. It wasn’t until he realized that the NFL was experiencing a PR nightmare that he revised the penalties.

The NFL ratings will continue to take a hit. There might be some fluctuations but the trend will be unmistakable. Until the NFL and the Vikings start understanding what people expect, their PR problems and their product will suffer.