NFL: Peterson carries Vikings with air attack grounded
By Dave Campbell, AP Pro Football Writer
EDEN PRAIRIE — The Minnesota Vikings don’t have a secret to success, really, because their formula is so obvious.
They used it again to beat the Chicago Bears and stay in the playoff chase.
“We won the way we’re designed to win,” coach Leslie Frazier said after the 21-14 victory Sunday. “We talk all the time to our team about what Viking ball is, and today was a perfect example of it.”
They took an early lead — 14-0 midway through the first quarter — which allowed them to turn Adrian Peterson loose for a career-high 31 carries that yielded 154 yards, a rather routine total for him these days. Then the defense went to work on trying to disrupt Bears quarterback Jay Cutler’s rhythm, sacking him twice, forcing several errant throws and most importantly grabbing two interceptions.
“If we’re able to build some sort of lead, I think our defense can handle pretty much any offense in the league,” defensive end Brian Robison said Monday. “I really do believe that. ... We have to make sure we jump on every team we play and keep going at it that way.”
The Vikings (7-6) have led from start to finish in six of their seven wins this season. Only the opener against Jacksonville required a late rally. Without much proof they can move the ball in a hurry with long passes, comebacks are a lot harder to make happen. So this is the way it has to be for now, as long as Christian Ponder is unable to get comfortable in the pocket and regularly connect with his downfield receivers, open or not.
The Vikings sure aren’t shying away from this old-fashioned methodology, either.
“We’re probably not going to win a lot of games when we throw the ball 40 times. That’s not who we are. We’re not going to overcome two or three turnovers in a game. That’s not the way we’re built right now,” Frazier said.
Minimizing turnovers, of course, is the other prerequisite for this strategy. While the Vikings netted 100 yards passing or less for the fourth time this season on Sunday, they posted their third win in those situations.
These days in the NFL, winning while throwing so little is almost unfathomable, but that’s what the Vikings have been doing. Ponder was picked off once, another bad ball off his back foot that fell well short of intended target Jarius Wright, but that came with 32 seconds left in the first half at the Chicago 20. It wasn’t in the end zone, like last week at Green Bay, and it wasn’t in Minnesota’s territory to give the Bears good field position.
Frazier said again Monday he believes a championship can be had with this blueprint, but Ponder’s performance since the first month of the season has provided plenty of evidence that it won’t work without improvement in the second-year quarterback’s footwork, throwing mechanics and decision making.
“Whether it be moving around in the pocket, stepping up or moving to the left or to the right, all these things are part of him being successful,” Frazier said. “We’re always working on his fundamentals and his technique at the position, and we’ll continue to do that.”
Ponder finished 11 for 17 for just 91 yards. He’s averaging exactly the same amount of yards per passing attempt — six — as Peterson is per rush. Frazier went out of his way to praise Ponder for what he did against the Bears, but without Percy Harvin the Vikings only appeared comfortable with Ponder rolling out on bootlegs or throwing short passes underneath the coverage on play-action fakes to Peterson.
“He has to be comfortable in the pocket. He has to be sure of himself, and he has to make certain throws in order for us to be successful,” Frazier said, acknowledging the impossibility of victory without at least some contribution from Ponder.
He did that against the Bears, completing six of his seven passes on third downs, with four of those completions moving the chains. Ponder also zipped a perfect pass to Devin Aromashodu on a post route in the second quarter that Aromashodu let bounce off his shoulder in the end zone.
Leading 21-7 after Harrison Smith’s interception return for a score, the defensive touchdown that makes the formula even more fail-proof, the Vikings took the ball at their 1-yard line with 48 seconds left in the third quarter. Their position was precarious, but Ponder found Michael Jenkins twice on that drive to convert third downs.
They stalled at the Chicago 41 and had to punt, but only after more than 6 minutes were taken off the clock.
“I thought we executed a lot better,” Ponder said. “Obviously there are a few things we have to get better at and improve upon, but we’re excited,” Ponder said.