In between being pelted with questions about running back Adrian Peterson, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer was asked to evaluate the Vikings special teams performance. His answers were just as short as those regarding Peterson.
“It wasn’t too good,” Zimmer said of the special teams unit. “It wasn’t too good.”
Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones blocked kicker Blair Walsh’s 48-yard field goal attempt and returned it 58 yards for a touchdown with nine seconds left in the first half. It was part of a stretch where New England ripped off 30 unanswered points in the 30-7 victory over the Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium.
“We needed that kick,” Walsh said. “We have to do better as a unit there, and we can’t have that. We have to have enough room to do our kicks and do our job.”
Zimmer said Jones swam inside to block the kick that would’ve trimmed the deficit down to 17-10 right before the half. Instead, the 10-point swing was part of many mistakes made on special teams.
The Patriots froze the Vikings defense on 4th and short situations, stalling their decision to punt with the offense still out on the field. They’d have their punt team ready on the sideline and wait late in the play clock to send out punter Ryan Allen.
During the first instance, the Vikings left their defense on the field with punt returner Marcus Sherels back to return the punt. The Patriots decided to punt the ball, and Sherels waived for a fair catch.
There was another moment in the second half when the Vikings defense was confused whether to remain on the field again, though the coaching staff was waving them over to the sideline with the Patriots lining up to punt. The Vikings only had nine players on the field.
The Vikings have been without their special teams coordinator, Mike Priefer, during the first two games as he serves a suspension for anti-gay comments made during the 2012 season. The three-game ban can be reduced to two games at the team’s discretion, making Priefer available to return to the team on Monday. Zimmer did not say whether Priefer would return to coach against the Saints in Week 3.
“As far as I know, it’s three weeks,” Zimmer said.
Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel tied his career high with four interceptions in the 30-7 loss to the Patriots on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium. It’s his 19th career regular season game with multiple interceptions and third in eight starts with the Vikings.
But Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer won’t make a change heading into Week 3 against the Saints, naming Cassel as the starter after the game.
“As I’ve said before, I’m going to hold the quarterback position just like every position here to the same standard,” Zimmer said. “And I also said I wasn’t going to have a quick hook. Matt needs to play better. It’s pretty obvious he needs to play better. We all need to play better. I need to coach better.”
Cassel’s performance hindered an offense playing without running back Adrian Peterson, who was deactivated after being indicted and charged on one count of injury to a child in Montgomery County (Texas). Cassel looked sharp on the opening drive, which lasted seven plays and 80 yards, finding running back Matt Asiata for a 25-yard touchdown pass. It was the only time Cassel looked sharp. His play regressed as the game progressed, missing open receivers and failing to sustain drives.
The Patriots scored 17 points on Cassel’s turnovers. He was also sacked six times after having a clean pocket against the Rams last week. Cassel said he appreciated Zimmer immediately naming him the starting quarterback next week after his performance.
“There’s no doubt it, today was a rough day for me,” Cassel said. “You want to put your team in a great position to win and like I said, I take full responsibility for not taking care of the football today. I’ve got to do a better job, and I will.”
The fans began chanting “Teddy” as the offense struggled after the opening drive, hoping to see rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater replace Cassel at some point in the game. It never happened and doesn’t appear it will over the next week.
“Of course the crowd’s going to do that when the quarterback starts doing bad, but Matt – he’s a heck of a quarterback,” wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson said. “I love him to death. If Teddy gets his shine, Teddy gets his shine. But Matt is our starting quarterback, and Matt’s going to play. Our hats off to Matt for taking that pressure from the fans.
“I stand behind Matt with just me and him; it’s just me and Matt out there. I’ll stand behind him each day, because I respect him, the things he do and what he brings to this game every day.”
Well, for starters, I’m not willing to pin this on Adrian Peterson being deactivated because of his indictment on Friday. I predicted the Vikings would be out of sorts at the beginning of the game because of Peterson’s absence. But the opposite was true. They took the opening kickoff — after New England won the coin toss and deferred — and drove 80 yards in seven plays for a 25-yard touchdown pass to Matt Asiata, Peterson’s replacement.
Obviously, Peterson not playing isn’t a good thing. But I wouldn’t pin this loss on that. It’s too convenient. The Vikings lost because 24 points came off of four Matt Cassel interceptions and a blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown.
The average scoring drive for New England’s offense: 33 yards. So while the defense didn’t play great, particularly against the run or in creating turnovers (0), it also isn’t the reason the Vikings lost.
Cassel had the biggest hand in the loss. Three of his four picks were his fault. But this is what Matt is, which is up and down. As well as we all remember him playing during last year’s three-headed quarterback fiasco, he also laid some stinkers at home against Carolina and on the road in Cincinnati.
Coach Mike Zimmer also was wise not to throw Teddy Bridgewater into a lopsided loss and to announced today that Cassel will start next week at New Orleans. Cassel deserves a leash that’s longer than one bad game.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said the organization will discuss running back Adrian Peterson’s future at some point next week. Zimmer declined to talk about the 2012 NFL MVP that was deactivated for the Vikings 30-7 loss to the Patriots on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium. Peterson was indicted and charged one count of injury to a child in Montgomery County (Texas) over the last three days.
“I don’t want to discuss the Adrian issue at all today,” Zimmer said after the game. “This is about the football game here. We’ll talk about it Monday or whenever we have the press conference on.”
Zimmer was pressed with Peterson questions throughout the press conference, though he continued to decline comment on the running back’s future.
“We’re just trying to get through the weekend right now and figure out where everything is,” Zimmer said. “And again, I don’t really want to talk about it. You guys can keep asking me, and I’ll give you the same answer.”
Zimmer said the game plan offensively didn’t change much after the Vikings officially deactivated Peterson on Friday, two days before the game. Though he did admit removing the best player from a team would have an impact, Zimmer wasn’t using Peterson’s absence as an excuse for the team’s performance.
“I think he could’ve gotten injured on the first play of the game,” Zimmer countered when asked about Peterson’s impact. “We’ve got to go on and go about it. It’s just part of life. Would we like to have him? Sure. But I think anytime you lose your best player, it is a team game. Everybody has to step up. I’m sure when [Aaron] Rodgers went down last year, they had to suck it up and go. We’ve got to suck it up, too. We didn’t do it today.”
Most players in the locker room declined to comment on Peterson. Running back Matt Asiata, who replaced Peterson in the starting lineup, came in support for his teammate. Asiata had 13 carries for 36 yards in his second career start.
“It’s really tough,” Asiata said. Since I’ve been here, he’s been a brother to me. I always try to have his back, and I support him 100 percent. I just wish he’ll be back soon.”
Well, that was ugly. Let’s get right to it with some immediate post-game thoughts:
1) The big story for the past 48 hours, without a doubt, has been the saga of Adrian Peterson. The bulk of the discussion has been on off-field matters relating to his indictment, and rightfully so. We had a chance to speak with a handful of Vikings fans at TCF Bank Stadium before Sunday’s game, and we were interested to hear their thoughtful responses when it comes to Peterson. Two fans wearing AP jerseys said they hesitated before putting their jerseys on for the game, but both essentially said they want to see how the process plays out before passing further judgment. Another fan, though, was wearing a Cordarrelle Patterson jersey that he bought Friday to replace his Peterson jersey. The fan, who has three young daughters, said he can’t support Peterson any more even if he will continue to watch the Vikings.
At noon, the focus turned to on-field matters, and the big question was how the Vikings would function offensively without a player who, even when he isn’t dominant (which he was not last week), gives opposing defenses plenty to think about. Matt Asiata does not similarly strike fear into opponents. We’re not sure how much of Sunday’s offensive struggle was due to Peterson’s absence, since Matt Cassel made some awful throws and the offensive line struggled all day, but a New England defense that looked ordinary at best last week looked quite good this week.
2) The biggest play of the game was probably Cassel’s first INT, an underthrown deep ball the Patriots returned to the Vikings’ 1 and cashed in for a score that tied the game 7-7 after an impressive first Minnesota drive. But the second-biggest play was the blocked field goal at the end of the first half; if Blair Walsh knocks it through, it’s 17-10 New England at the break, and the game is theoretically still up for grabs. Instead, of course, it was blocked and returned for a TD that made it 24-7. That play, combined with a big punt return by Julian Edelman, made us think about a story line that hasn’t popped up much but is still relevant: the absence of special teams coach Mike Priefer, who is serving his suspension after the Chris Kluwe investigation. Regardless of what you think of Priefer personally and whether he should still have a job, he has been a very good special teams coach during his tenure here. Joe Marciano was hired as an interim special teams coach, but it’s certainly possible that the Vikings missed Priefer on Sunday. He can return as early as this coming week if his suspension is reduced from three games to two.
3) We wrote on Wednesday that this game against New England would be the defining game of the Vikings’ season. Sure, it’s weird to think of Game 2 of 16 having that kind of weight, but we really felt it was going to be a test of where Minnesota really is. A win against New England meant the Vikings were suddenly 2-0 against what many thought was a tough early schedule. A loss meant a reality check.
Well, we certainly got the reality check. The Vikings have questions all over the field — still in the secondary, still on the offensive line and certainly at QB after Cassel’s performance. If coaches were geniuses a week ago, we can tap the brakes on that talk. Having Peterson removed from the game plan abruptly certainly didn’t help, but this loss was far more wide-reaching than just one player.
Much like the sobering loss to the Patriots in 2006 in Brad Childress’ first season — the Vikings entered that game 4-2 — this one is a reminder of just how far Minnesota has to go to be a consistently competitive team.