EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Everyone around the Minnesota Vikings was holding out hope that injured receiver Percy Harvin would be able to return this season, but coach Leslie Frazier said Thursday that Harvin just had not made enough progress and needed to be shut down.
Harvin, who sprained his ankle Nov. 4, was placed on injured reserve Wednesday evening, ending his season with 61 catches, 677 receiving yards and five total touchdowns, along with a NFL-leading 35.9-yard kickoff return average. A day later, Frazier offered some insight to what led to the decision to end the season for Minnesota’s leading receiver and denied there was anything going on behind the scenes other than the injury.
“You realize for him, as well as for our team, this was the best thing to do, as opposed to try to make something happen that’s not going to happen,” Frazier said. “I think it helps all of us for him to concentrate on what he has to concentrate on from a physical standpoint, and knowing that he wasn’t going to make the progress that was necessary for him to get back and play this season.”
Frazier said surgery isn’t yet being considered and said “got my fingers crossed that won’t be the case.” But, for the second straight day, the coach refused to get into much more of the specifics on the severity of the ankle injury. A Tuesday report on 1500ESPN.com said Harvin had suffered a Grade 3 sprain, which means the ligament was completely torn. Frazier said he hadn’t been provided the Grade 3 term, but he admitted Harvin had suffered tearing and wouldn’t go into any further detail.
“He made some progress at times, but it was incremental,” Frazier said. “Just not the progress we needed to see along the way, so we’ve got to step back a little bit and try to do the things that are necessary for him and best for us and let him concentrate on getting well. He’s such a valuable commodity. You don’t want to do anything that’s going to create some long-term ill effects.”
The Vikings and Harvin were hoping the versatile, dynamic receiver would return as soon as two weeks after his original injury, but he never made enough progress to return to practice on a full-time basis. He returned, in a limited capacity, for one practice last week but was still having noticeable issues making cuts and coming out of his breaks while running routes. He was able to run in a straight line, but Frazier said the problems occurred when cutting or putting too much weight on the ankle.
“It certainly is disappointing that I was not able to finish out this season with my teammates,” Harvin said in a statement released by the team. “As a competitor, I definitely wanted to get back out on the field, but my injury has just not allowed me to progress to the point where I can help our team.
“I appreciate the efforts of our medical staff and the support of our fans in helping me through this process and look forward to coming back stronger and better than ever.”
Harvin, who dealt with migraine problems earlier in his career, had missed only three games total his first three seasons. He’ll now miss seven games this season, and his teammates understand the impact of losing one of their top playmakers.
“It’s a violent, physical game,” defensive end Jared Allen said. “No matter how many rule changes they have to try and keep it from happening, it’s going to happen. The next guy’s got to step up. I think that’s the way you’ve got to look at it. Whoever’s backing Percy up, that’s a huge void to fill obviously, but you have to take that as an opportunity to step up and now make a name for yourself and do whatever you can do to fill that void.”
Running back Adrian Peterson, who has come back even stronger from last year’s season-ending knee injury, said he was “shocked” and hadn’t had the chance to talk with Harvin since the news but offered some advice.
“Just keep your thoughts positive man, keep your head up and just get healthy and look forward to getting back next year,” Peterson said. “That’s pretty much what I would tell him. Just make the best out of the time.”
Without Harvin, the Vikings receiving corps has struggled to find consistency and help embattled quarterback Christian Ponder. Minnesota entered the season with receiver as one of the biggest question marks on a team expected to rebuild.
But Harvin’s success early — he led the league in receptions when he was hurt — helped the Vikings overcome deficiencies on a team that was one of the league’s biggest early-season surprises. Jerome Simpson, signed to a one-year contract in the offseason, has been a big disappointment with just 14 catches for 163 yards this season. After Harvin, tight end Kyle Rudolph (45 catches) and running back Adrian Peterson (36 catches) lead the team. Despite Harvin missing the past three games, Minnesota’s other wide receivers have a total of 68 catches this season to Harvin’s 62.
Rookie Jarius Wright, a rookie fourth-round draft pick, has been the most reliable receiver with Harvin out. Considered to have a skill set similar to Harvin’s, Wright has seen his first regular-season action the past three games, posting 11 catches, 127 yards and a touchdown.
“I don’t think it’s no bigger (opportunity) than it has been for me,” Wright said. “I don’t think my role will really change just with Percy being out for the rest of the season. I still have the same role whether he’s up or whether he’s down.”
Like many fans, Wright was interested in seeing how he and Harvin would co-exist on the field together. He was not made active until after Harvin was hurt.
“It was kind of heartbreaking,” Wright said of his reaction to the news. “I just wanted to get Percy back and see how we’d be on the field at the same time. I know a lot of the fans wanted a chance to see that also; just wanted to get a chance to see that.”