The Vikings shouldn’t just give Anthony Barr the game ball in Sunday’s victory for his direct impact on the winning touchdown. Instead, the congratulations to Barr should extend even further for changing the entire narrative of Monday’s conversation. The dominant story line, and rightfully so, is the emerging playmaking ability of the rookie linebacker — and his role in a revamped defense that turned in another very good performance Sunday in spite of allowing another late regulation rally.
Without Barr’s play — let’s say the Vikings manage to lose that game 16-13 — the overwhelming discussion would be about the team’s offensive futility, not the defensive breakthrough. While we saw a few good things on Sunday as the day progressed, let’s not forget the Vikings scored a mere 3 points in the first half and just 13 (on offense) for the game against one of the worst defenses in the NFL.
The play-calling was often timid, Teddy Bridgewater’s decisions were often safe but mild, and if not for that final drive in regulation to tie the game at 13, Minnesota would have lost and been held under 300 yards and 17 points for the sixth time this season. Indeed, if Bridgewater’s gift-wrapped throw had been picked off in the final minute, the story line would be so much different.
We’re not suggesting fans should be dwelling on all these negatives. It’s nice to talk about something positive, and a victory fueled by a huge play by Barr certainly qualifies. But let’s also not forget about the offensive deficiencies. There is a tendency to do that after victories (Gophers deficiencies, for instance, were glossed over after the Purdue win but came back to haunt again in the Illinois loss).
A softer schedule presents itself to the Vikings in the second half of the season, but it likely will mean nothing if the offense continues to sputter as it did Sunday.
While counting snaps from Sunday’s 19-13 win at Tampa Bay …
OFFENSIVE SNAPS: 70.
OFFENSIVE LINE: LT Matt Kalil 70, LG Charlie Johnson 70, C John Sullivan 70, RG Joe Berger 70, RT Phil Loadholt 70, G Vladimir Ducasse INA, G David Yankee INA.
THOUGHTS: None of us talks a great deal about him, but Berger has tremendous value as a 10-year veteran with starting experience who can back up all three interior positions. A week after playing 51 snaps at center for the injured Sullivan, Berger played 70 offensive snaps for injured right guard Ducasse and four additional special teams snaps. Sullivan returned from a concussion to also play 74 snaps, including special teams. Berger, the third player to start at right guard in eight games this season, was beaten on a sack. But it was the only sack allowed after the team had given up 19 in the previous three weeks.
QUARTERBACKS: Teddy Bridgewater 70, Christian Ponder DNP.
Thoughts: Bridgewater looked good at times and bad at times. In other words, he looked like a rookie QB making his fourth career start. He needed to connect on the deep ball more consistently and overthrew a wide-open Charles Johnson on a play that would have scored. On the flip side, his touchdown throw to Greg Jennings was placed perfectly over two defenders into the end zone.
RECEIVERS, TIGHT ENDS: WR Greg Jennings 57, WR Cordarrelle Patterson 53, TE Chase Ford 50, WR Jarius Wright 45, TE Rhett Ellison 34, WR Charles Johnson 20, WR Adam Thielen 4, TE Kyle Rudolph INA.
Thoughts: In his fourth game, Johnson played a season-high 20 snaps a week after playing only one. He caught two balls, including a 12-yarder on third-and-seven. He also showed some unexpected speed for a guy his size. Even when Rudolph returns from hernia surgery, there will be room for Ford in the offense. There has to be. Defenses underestimate him, but that could change. He caught passes under pressure in each of the three offensive scoring drives.
RUNNING BACKS, FULLBACKS: RB Jerick McKinnon 43, RB Matt Asiata 27, FB Jerome Felton 16, FB Zach Line INA.
Thoughts: Felton’s 16 snaps were the most since he had 18 in the season opener. He’s also had two games in which he has played only five snaps. Using Felton on 23 percent of the snaps showed the Vikings, at some point, decided they needed to assert themselves as a running team, even though they don’t have Adrian Peterson. Felton and McKinnon were a big part of the team’s only touchdown drive. A drive that started with four consecutive runs.
DEFENSIVE SNAPS: 60.
DEFENSIVE LINE: DE Everson Griffen 56, DT Sharrif Floyd 46, DE Brian Robison 40, NT Linval Joseph 39, DE Corey Wootton 24, DT Tom Johnson 18, NT Shamar Stephen 18, DE Scott Crichton INA.
Thoughts: The Vikings might be concerned about wear and tear on Robison, their oldest lineman. After four weeks in which his snap percentages were 93, 85, 93 and 93, Robison has season lows for snaps (40) and percentage (67) on Sunday. Wootton, the backup left end, returned from missing last week’s game (lower back) and played 24 snaps, his highest total since the season opener. Johnson played only 18 snaps, his second-lowest total behind the 16 he played in Week 2 against the Patriots.
LINEBACKERS: OLB Anthony Barr 60, OLB Chad Greenway 59, MLB Jasper Brinkley 28, OLB Audie Cole 1, OLB Gerald Hodges INA, OLB Brandon Watts INA.
Thoughts: Ah, it’s not only good to be really good, it’s good to be really young, too. The Vikings routinely play Barr in 100 percent of the defensive snaps and he shows no fatigue. And, as you can tell, it pays to have him on the field in every situation. Greenway left the field only in a short-yardage situation in the red zone near the end of regulation. Hodges missed his second straight game because of a hamstring injury.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: SS Robert Blanton 60, CB Xavier Rhodes 60, FS Harrison Smith 59, CB Captain Munnerlyn 59, CB Josh Robinson 32, FS Andrew Sendejo 1.
Thoughts: Eight games into the season and Blanton still hasn’t missed a defensive snap. He’s the only player on the team that can say that. Rhodes’ health has been holding up. He draws too many penalties, but they aren’t stupid mistakes. They’re the result of a physical player pushing Mike Zimmer’s aggressive techniques to the limit. Robinson was questionable because of an ankle sprain, but handled his usual workload. The Bucs completed a 40-yard pass on him, but the ankle didn’t appear to be an issue because he had tight coverage on the play.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Highest snap total: 21 (72 percent) – WR Adam Thielen, CB Shaun Prater, TE MarQuies Gray, S Antone Exum.
Thoughts: Exum is a promising young player, but flags follow him far too often on special teams. Gray tied for a team-high 21 special teams snaps, a first for him.
HIGHEST SNAP TOTAL: 74 (70 offensive, four special teams) by Kalil, Sullivan, Berger and Loadholt.
The Vikings nailed a 38-yard field goal to force overtime as time expired, but it was one of the few positives on special teams in the 19-13 overtime victory over the Bucs on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
Kicker Blair Walsh missed a 56-yard field goal on the Vikings first offensive series, punter Jeff Locke had three touchbacks while averaging 35.1 net yards on eight punts and the Vikings recorded three more penalties on special teams.
“We have to learn how important field position is, especially when we’re playing good defense,” Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said. “ It was disappointing. …It’s even more disappointing, the penalties we had in the kicking game. …We got a punt return and we got a penalty on it. All these young guys, I’m just about fed up with it.”
The young guys, as in cornerback Jabari Price and safety Antone Exum Jr., have been repeat offenders since the Vikings have relied on the rookies on special teams recently. Exum has been penalized once in the last three games.
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer wasn’t happy about Locke’s first touchback last week against the Bills. He tacked on three more in a bad performance.
“It’s very frustrating because in college and last year, I was really hitting the plus-50 punts very well,” Locke said. “Even the ones today, I hit them very well. I just didn’t hit the right club at the right moment. I just have to make the adjustment and dial those in and get some fair catches at the 10 or having it land at the eight instead of the 1.”
Even Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson expressed his concerns on kickoff returns, where he has failed to score a touchdown this season. He had two last season and lead the NFL in kickoff return yardage as a rookie.
“We need to step up man,” Patterson said. “I don’t feel like we’re performing that we should be. We’re going to have something planned next weekend, and we just got to step up. We’re not ourselves right now. It feels like something is missing. Coach [Mike] Priefer is doing a heck of a job. I see so many holes getting open. He’s doing a heck of a job with that, and it’s always one guy coming unblocked. We’re going to get that block and be good.”
Vikings rookie linebacker Anthony Barr made up for the defense’s only touchdown allowed by scoring one of his own.
Barr stripped tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and returned the fumble 27 yards for a touchdown to snag the 19-13 victory over the Bucs on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
“I was over by the Gatorade machine, and those dudes were pouring Gatorade,” wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson said. “I said, ‘Y’all pour that out. This thing is fixing to be over quick.’ Next play, Barr did that. Hats off to him and the heck of a job he did.”
On the Bucs previous offensive drive, Seferian-Jenkins scored a seven-yard touchdown with Barr in coverage to give Tampa Bay a 13-10 lead with 2:11 left.
“I gave one up on the other end minutes before that [game-winning touchdown],” Barr said. “So, I was happy I was able to make it up to those guys because I felt like I let them down a little bit.”
Barr finished second with eight tackles and also recorded his third sack this season. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said he was initially upset on the play because Barr was out of position and allowed the catch on the first play in overtime.
“He wasn’t being wide with the tight end enough and he let him catch the ball,” Zimmer said. “But now that it’s over, I’m glad he did.”
Pass coverage is an area Barr, who played just two seasons at linebacker previously, said he’s grown the most.
“I’m kind of understanding concepts, routes, 3-by-1, 2-by-2 [receiver sets] and just understanding how the offense wants to attack a little bit,” Barr said. “I’m feeling a little comfortable each week.”
His improvements in pass coverage didn’t technically show on the final play, but Barr displayed the athletic ability the Vikings drafted the rookie on. He’s building a stronger case for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year with each passing week.
Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson wore a walking boot on his left foot following the 19-13 overtime win over the Bucs at Raymond James Stadium.
Patterson said he injured his left ankle on his final kickoff return with 1:57 left in the game. He remained in the game on the final drive to help the Vikings force overtime on kicker Blair Walsh’s 38-yard field as time expired.
“I finished the whole game,” Patterson said. “In something like this, you’ve got to finish.”
Patterson said the boot was a precautionary step and felt he’d be fine. Fortunately for the Vikings, he didn’t leave the game. Patterson received two targets on the final drive, drawing a defensive pass interference penalty and making a 12-yard grab on the first two plays.
He finished with a season-high six catches for 86 yards. Patterson led all receivers with 12 targets from rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
“I tell Teddy don’t tease me this week,” Patterson said. “Give me six catches this week and next week don’t give me the ball, so it does feel good to get the ball — not just to me, but to all the other receivers.”
Patterson had his best performance as a receiver this season, but he felt it was an average game. He denied that it was even a breakout game when a reporter asked.
“I hope next week I get more catches than I did this week,” Patterson said.