I didn't get to watch the game until today, but it was well worth watching. Maybe the networks will figure out that even a game between two of the 'basement teams' can be pretty exciting.
The Vikings showed that they have a lot of things to work on, but they also showed a lot of potential for the future. Our rookie starters really showed up and made a big difference, and the second-year guys demonstrated improvement. Ponder turned in a miserable 25 minutes before turning a corner, while Harvin showed everyone that he's a force of nature no less impressive than the Purple Terminator himself, Adrian Peterson. Peterson said that he doesn't feel he's 100%, but a 90% AD is at least as good as a 100% MJD.
Here's some of my observations (long and rambling!), after the jump;
Vikings vs Jaguars, 1st Quarter
Ponder isn't getting a lot of time to set and decide, most times his pass protection seems a bit above average, but not great. I don't see Ponder checking down very much, and when he runs, you can tell it was a designed run because he doesn't sell the pass option.
The O-line is doing alright, but not great. The pocket is still collapsing, it's no 'Purple Curtain', but it's holding up better than before. The two-TE sets are critical to sealing off the edges.
Carlson looks like an effective blocker, he's definitely helping Ponder that way.
Harvin tries running out of the backfield but he's starting so far back that by the time he gets 6-8 yards of forward progress, he's just reaching the original line of scrimmage.
Josh Robinson is FAST! He's getting some special teams action early on and looks better than Frampton did.
Jared Allen's sack is nullified, but it makes me question what defines the defense being, 'off-sides'? NFL.com says, "Offside: A player is offside when any part of his body is beyond his scrimmage or free kick line when the ball is snapped or kicked.". Allen is super-fast off the block, he's clearly moving before anyone else, but I don't think he ever passed the nose of the football before, or during, the hike. Take a look at this pic;
JA Off-sides (via Flickr)
The yellow line is for comparison. I watched this forward and back, and if Allen was off-sides, we're talking about something literally within the space of .1 of a second. Damn he's fast. I knew he was fast, everyone said he was fast, but watching this sequence over and over again, his speed is just insane. Everyone else is still a statue and he's already moving. Was he, or wasn't he? If he was off-sides, I couldn't see it. Maybe someone with NFL Rewind Coaches View can see more on this.
K-Will was a bit antsy, but he settled in fine. He seemed determined to show that he's still the anchor on the inside and he did just that.
Greenway got burned by Jag's TE, Lewis, but Greenway was the ONLY Viking in the flat, he had no support and there was nothing to slow Lewis down. I don't put this on Greenway, I put this on the Vikings' secondary that left the flat undefended. Robinson makes the stop.
The O-line gave Gerhart little-to-no run blocking and the Vikes go 3 and out. Ponder makes a terrible pass to Harvin, putting it where there's no way Harvin can reach it because there's 2 Jag defenders in the way. The Vikings get lucky when Jag's safety drops an easy pick.
Kluwe's 53 yard boomer has enough air under it that Sanford nails MJD just as the ball falls through MJD's hands. I suspect MJD was hearing pounding footsteps bearing down on him. Great hustle on Sanford's part.
Winfield is showing up consistently as well, both on the blitz and in run-stopping. When he can't make the stop himself, he tangles up Jag blockers, opening the lane for Robison and Cook. Experiences shows.
Vikings vs Jaguars, 2nd Quarter
Robison continues to apply hard pressure on Gabbert, looks great!
AD continues his feast-or-famine runnning pattern, in one series it's -1, +9, and -1 yard. Ellison is doing time on the ST squad, and deep in the mix on stops.
Cook gave up a big gainer, mostly because he never looked up or back to see that the ball was coming his way. Fortunately, Smith was angling in and made the tackle, with Cook assisting.
Brinkley draws a defensive holding penalty, which is absolutely fascinating. I watched the play 4 times, very closely, and Brinkley never had contact with ANYONE. He did help pursue to intercept Gabbert's bootleg, but Gabbert ran out of bounds and Brinkley never touched a soul. WTF. And it wasn't questioned. I don't get it.
Josh Robinson's making some excellent tackles, but I'd like to see some ball-hawking out of him.
Jags score easy from the 1 yard line on a short pass to the back of the end-zone. Vikings deflect the extra point (Arif says it was Kalil's hand, it certainly wasn't Cook, like the announcers claimed).
On the next series, Ponder's first pass goes into the ground in front of Jenkins, his next two are to Rudy who gets a first down. Then Ponder goes back to Rudy down the side-line and almost gets intercepted. This was eerily similar to a pre-season game where Ponder went to a tightly covered Simpson and over-threw it, but Ellison was open and between Ponder and Simpson. This time, it was Jenkins who was somewhat open and between Ponder and Rudy... and was ignored. It makes me wonder about Ponder's field-of-view.
Gerhart finally gets some blocking and breaks off a nice 7 yard run. Ponder goes back to Rudy again, who' double-dovered, and almost gets picked off. Kluwe gets more face-time. Robison and Allen continue to get in Gabbert's face and force some poor decisions out of him, resulting in a Jag punt.
... And here's where things begin to change ....
... 5 minutes left before the half.
Ponder turns to Harvin on a screen and Percy grabs 14 YAC through heavy traffic. Amazing run, really amazing.
Jenkins gets open and contributes across the middle. Kalil produces a beautiful push to open the hole and Peterson stomps through it and into the end-zone for the Vikings first score of the game. The whole tempo of the Vikings offense changes.
Vikings vs Jaguars, 3rd Quarter
MJD manages to chump Smith, who couldn't finish the tackle, but Henderson wraps it up.
Ellison's girlfriend is HOT!
K-Will snags a Jag fumble and the Vikes get the ball back. It's good to see that Peterson still has his explosiveness, but I see that he's more careful now. That's not necessarily a bad thing, especially when someone's hanging on to just his ankle.
Ponder makes a very sweet throw across the middle to Harvin, power and touch are perfect. The Vikings move the dog-pile by brute force for about 10 yards, they want this score and Peterson leaps over the top at the goal-line to take it. No tentativeness there.
Robison continues to be a BEAST, and gets a blocked pass.
On the next possession, Ponder's sacked and fumbles. The Jags recover and drive for a field goal.
Harvin takes the kick return out to the 23, you can see he's just not giving up. Ponder hits Jenkins for a first down, then Carlson shows up again with great blocking that helps Gerhart to get 6. Harvin gets the ball and runs like a man possessed for a 9 yard gain, beautiful. Ponder goes back to the hot hand and hits Harvin again, this time for 13 yards.
Ponder now switches back to Rudy, a beautiful deep pass. What Ponder isn't showing in zip, he's making up for in touch. Percy tries to run up the middle for the TD and is reminded that he doesn't have the bulk to smash through those DTs. Better run-blocking would have made the difference, though, and again, the O-line wasn't doing it.
Vikings vs Jaguars, 4th Quarter
2nd and goal, Ponder goes to Asiata who tries to cut inside and only gets a couple yards. Next, Ponder fakes to AD and throws to Carlson, who can't haul it in. Walsh salvages the drive with a field goal.
On the Jag's next possession, Gabbert strings a 19 yd clothesline and the Viking's secondary wasn't there until after the catch. This reminds me of last year's secondary, that's got to stop.
Josh Robinson handles Blackmon easily on a screen, I think Robinson is very impressive so far. The Vikings get a sack but Guion nullifies it with a personal foul penalty, falling on Gabbert while Gabbert's already down. The Jag's drive gets fresh life and they end up scoring a field goal.
Robison and Winfield are brutal run-stoppers, while Mistral Raymond and Harrison Smith are beginning to gel and work well together, meeting at the receiver. I hope this turns into some ball-hawking as the chemistry improves.
Greenway and Henderson are reading the offenses really well, and consistently positioning themselves to make the stops.
Ponder hits Jenkins for a 16 yarder, and Jenkins manages to stutter-step at the sideline to get both feet in before he goes out. Well done. Then Harvin is targeted at the line of scrimmage for a quick screen and turns it into a 20 YAC gain. Crazy good!
Aromashadu shows up as he hauls in a Ponder pass, 18 yards out. Very nice catch, and a good throw. A couple plays later, Ponder zips the ball 20 yards out to Rudy, who can't haul it in. This is really interesting because Ponder put a lot of mustard on that pass and it was very catch-able. Ponder showed that he's capable of the fast-ball, but for some reason, most of the time he's not producing it. Mechanics and footwork can be improved, though, so there's hope.
Walsh nails the field goal for 3 more points, and then on the kick-off, a mic'ed up hot blonde in a white dress and stiletto heels, distracts me as she walks through the back of the end-zone behind Walsh on the kick-off. I'm pretty sure Walsh did something good on that play :)
In the next series, Cook blitzes in and nails Gabbert for a sack! Very encouraging.
So now we're down to 1:51 remaining in the game, Vikings 20, Jags 15.... and the Vikings get the ball. Game should be over. Instead, we get a roller-coaster!
AD gets the ball and dances around at the LoS and gets nailed on the spot. Some things don't change, lol. Then Jenkins manages to draw an illegal blocking penalty which stops the clock for the Jags, which they desperately needed. It also stops any Viking momentum for using up the clock. Gerhart tries to run and gets nowhere, the Jags use their final time-out and the Vikings have to punt. In 3 downs, the Vikings could only consume 30 seconds, and didn't get the 1st.
Jags get the ball and Greenway shows up to tip a Gabbert pass away. Very nice. Then Cook gets lost in space again while Gabbert goes over his head to hit Shorts for a Jag TD. The Jags know they can't rely on a 1 point lead so they go for the 2 point conversion, and crazily, they get it.
There's 20 seconds left on the clock.
The Vikings have Asiata recieving the kick-off... WTF? Ponder then hits Aromashodu with a beautiful pass across the middle and the Vikes are almost in FG range and they use a time-out. Then Ponder hits Rudy perfectly and they have FG range. They spend the last time-out, and Walsh comes out with 4 seconds remaining to boom the 44 yard field goal for the tie! Helluva drive in 20 seconds!
Vikings vs Jaguars, =OVER-TIME=
Vikes win the toss (always pick TAILS) and Harvin takes the kick-off return, fighting like a mad man to get out to the 25 yard line. Ponder gives it to Peterson who comes alive, galloping for a 21 yard gain and nearly breaks out. Then Ponder goes back to Aromashodu, with a really sweet touch, and the DA doesn't let us down. What a difference from Aromashodu's mediocre pre-season performance!
Ponder hands off to AD and the O-line collapses, AD gets nailed 4 yards behind the LoS. Ponder then goes to Gerhart on an option pass and Toby gets 8, not enough for a 1st down, but into field goal range. Walsh continues to work for the nickname, 'The Money' and nails what will become the winning field goal.
Vikes kick off and in the final series, Gabbert seems very cautious. The Vikings D stiffens and Smith comes up with a huge batted-down pass, putting the Jags in a 4th and 3, must-convert situation. Gabbert decides to go deep and overthrows his reciever, and the Vikings win. On this last play, if Gabbert had been on-target, things might have gone very poorly. Smith and Cook with both half-a-step behind and as usual, Cook didn't look back in time. I think the Jags learned to target Cook as the weaker CB.
In any case, VIKINGS WIN!
Robison and Henderson were beastly! Those guys were everywhere, never letting up. No doubt they were helped by the double-teaming on Jared Allen, but I was really pleased to see these guys showing up. Greenway was a consistently in the mix and was only burned once in pass-defence, and that one time, arguably, he should have had help.
The Vikings D brought consistent pressure on Gabbert all game long, I think he's going to have nightmares about this game. Credit where's due, though; Gabbert has a very fast release and he needed it.
Walsh is MONEY, baby! Long booter on kick-offs make a huge difference, pinning the Jags back deep or forcing them to accept a 20 yard line start, consistently. Extra points and field goals are right down the middle with huge room to spare, he's proving to be the right choice. I saw snippets of Zuerlein yesterday and frankly, I'm glad the Vikings have Walsh instead.
Ponder played much better in the second half of the game and his accuracy was very good. He doesn't get discouraged by early problems and he's reading the D much better. On the other hand, I think he needs to work more on his check-downs and be more flexible when the play of the intended target breaks down. He didn't get in the end-zone with a pass, and at least two balls which should have been intercepted, were dropped by the Jags. While Ponder's done better this game, he needs do a lot better still. He needs to start, as well as finish.
Simpson's return will definitely be a game-changer by stretching the field and opening up the inside game. On the other side of the ball, Allen and Robinson are both ridiculously fast, and the both Raymond and Smith are developing a nasty chemistry that may make the opposition respect the Vikings secondary again.
As so many have noted, this is precisely the sort of game that the Vikings would have likely lost, last year. This is a new year, and a very young team that's only going to get better, game by game.