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.