Despite Vikings' struggles, Allen still fired up
By Dave Campbell
AP Sports Writer
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings were on the wrong end of a blowout against New Orleans, and Jared Allen was on the sideline during the Saints' final possession.
That's not an unusual move to protect the health of a star player in the fourth quarter with the outcome long decided near the end of a lost season, particularly after he was chop-blocked during the previous series by center Brian De La Puente, drawing a penalty.
But Allen said after the game he was upset he wasn't on the field, another example of the competitive fire that has paid off in the form of 17½ sacks this year.
"What are we resting me for? The playoffs? Come on," Allen said. "That's not my decision. I guess they want the young guys to play. I don't know," Allen said after a 42-20 defeat on Sunday that dropped the Vikings to 2-12.
Allen's pursuit of the NFL's single-season sack record has added a touch of intrigue to the last two games, with the only other drama the desire to avoid the worst record in franchise history, set at 3-13 in 1984. Players have discussed that often this month.
"I don't want to come off the field. I feel like if we're trying to win games let's put the best players on the field," Allen said, continuing his complaint about the late rest against the Saints.
Allen was shut out by a stingy New Orleans offensive line and the sly steps of quarterback Drew Brees, who deftly used his pocket to carve up the Vikings for 412 yards passing. So Allen needs five sacks in the last two games to match former New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, who had 22½ sacks in 2001.
The Vikings play at Washington on Saturday and host Chicago on Jan. 1. As of Monday, the Redskins and the Bears were 20th and 28th in the league, respectively, in sacks allowed per pass play.
So there ought to be plenty of opportunities for the 29-year-old defensive end, whose relentless performance -- along with wide receiver Percy Harvin on the offensive side -- has been one bright spot in a second straight dark season.
"We're looking for any kind of positive around here," linebacker Chad Greenway said.
Defensive tackle Kevin Williams reminded Allen last week about the record.
"I said, 'Let me be the first one if nobody else has already brought it up. You've got a chance to do something in history that would be real remarkable and be on the plus side for this season,'" Williams said. "So I wished him luck, and hopefully he can do it."
Allen has 100½ sacks since he entered the NFL in 2004, the most of any player during that span.
"That's been awesome watching him play this year. He came back really focused and wanting to improve off of last year," Williams said.
Allen had a down season by his standards in 2010, recording only one sack in the first seven games and finishing with 11. He refined his pass-rushing technique and returned from the NFL lockout in prime shape, determined to rebound from a disappointing year. The Vikings, as a team, got worse. But he got better.
"He's been phenomenal from the day we reported on July 31 as far as encouraging people and really being focused on what he had to do to improve as a player," coach Leslie Frazier said.
Allen has come a long way from the wild-child reputation he brought to Minnesota after off-the-field trouble in Kansas City led to the trade that sent a first-round draft pick and two third-round selections to the Chiefs in 2008.
"There are no remnants of his past. He's a completely different person in every way, but he hasn't lost that same intensity, that high motor and that drive and passion for the game," Frazier said.
Becoming a father for the first time has changed Allen's perspective like never before. His wife gave birth to a girl in October. The sack record would be nice, of course. Who wouldn't want it? But that's not his focus, he has sworn over and over.
"I'm going out there trying to have fun. I'm not going to judge my season on whether I get it or not," he said. "I'm close. I know I'm close. I don't know if I'll ever be this close again. That's a heck of a benchmark to get to. So I'm just going to go out there and do what I've been doing."