Passing attack gets boost from tight end John Carlson

MINNEAPOLIS — Long before John Carlson would start at tight
end for the Minnesota Vikings in place of the injured Kyle Rudolph, he started
his day with some eggs and oatmeal.

Nothing seemed to different for Carlson, the tight end who
signed with his hometown team last year as a big-money free-agent only to struggle
with injuries and have little impact. Maybe it was something in that breakfast
that led to Carlson’s biggest day since signing with the Vikings in March 2012.

“I had egg whites and oatmeal for breakfast
today,” Carlson recalled, joking. “I salted it a little bit more than
normal I think. Maybe that was the answer. No, I had some more opportunities
tonight because of Kyle being hurt, but you have to earn those opportunities
and Kyle has done that over the last year and a half while I’ve been here. So,
I got an opportunity tonight because he was hurt.”

And Carlson stepped up in place of Rudolph, the Pro Bowl
tight end. Rudolph fractured a foot in last week’s game and will miss four to
six weeks. Carlson’s increased role started last week when he had four catches
for 23 yards, which was his previous best game since signing a five-year, $25
million contract with Minnesota in the first week of free agency in 2012.

In Thursday’s 34-27 win against Washington, Carlson led the
team with seven catches for 98 yards and his first touchdown with Minnesota.

“I’m excited,” Carlson said. “It was fun to
be involved. That being said, obviously we miss Kyle. Kyle’s a beast. We want
him out there on the field. It was fun to be more involved in the offense,
hopefully that can continue, but we want Kyle back as soon as possible.”

A knee injury slowed Carlson from his first training camp
with the Vikings and he later suffered a concussion. Carlson, who grew up in
nearby Litchfield, Minn., finished his first season in Minnesota with eight
catches for 43 yards in 14 games. In 22 career games with the Vikings, Carlson
19 catches for 104 yards.

“For a guy that’s battled injuries, was in with Seattle
and came here and was injured last year and never got in a groove, finally he
had a great game,” quarterback Christian Ponder said. “And that’s
what we expect out of him. He’s been an athletic guy. He’s a smart player and
I’m glad he had a great game.”

Carlson did the damage, including a 28-yard touchdown in
which he came wide open across the middle and ran for the score, in Rudolph’s
place. But maybe Carlson’s emergence can give Minnesota the two tight end
attack it hoped for when signing Carlson, who restricted his contract in the

“It was great to see John step up and play the way he
played,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “We needed it. Kyle was such a
big part of our offense and you lose a lot when you don’t have him on the
field, not only as a receiver but a blocker as well. John filled those roles
tonight. To be the lead guy and to make the plays that he made, it will
increase our confidence in him and some of the things we’re doing when Kyle
does come back. So, feel good for John, feel good for our team.”

Patterson gets his first: Rookie Cordarrelle Patterson made
a big impact the first half of the season as a kickoff returner, scoring two
touchdowns and leading the league in kickoff returns.

His role had been slow to develop on offense as a receiver,
but he came through Thursday. Patterson, who played the most offensive snaps of
his career in last week’s game, had two catches for 22 yards, including a
20-yarder. He finished the same drive with his first career touchdown. He came
across the coverage and caught a 2-yard touchdown from Ponder.

“They’re easing me in, then it’s coming,”
Patterson said. “I’m just patiently waiting. I can’t really ask for too
much. I’ve got great guys in front of me, so I’m just patiently waiting behind
those guys. When they need a blow, I’m the next man up. They doing a great job,
so I’m just right behind them waiting.”

Patterson was holding tight to the ball from the touchdown
after the game, but said Thursday’s touchdown didn’t match up with the one he
scored in Week 2, when he scored on a 105-yard kickoff return. He also set an
NFL record with a 109-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in Week 8.

“My first kickoff return (for a touchdown) felt way
better,” Patterson said. “But at the end of the day, it felt great,
man. I wanted to give the ball in the stands, but I just thought about it being
my first NFL offensive touchdown, I have to keep it. It felt good, man.”

Patterson didn’t have much of a chance to contribute on
kickoff returns Thursday as Washington avoided kicking deep, instead kicking
short high kickoffs. Patterson had two returns for 37 yards. Toby Gerhart, A.J.
Jefferson and Joe Webb also had returns as Washington tried to avoid Patterson.

“Oh man, they’re messing up my return average right
now,” Patterson said. “I take good pride in that. they want to kick
it shorter man. I don’t like that. but at the end of the day, I can’t do
nothing about that. they’re giving us good field position on offense, and we
take advantage of that.

The timeouts: Frazier explained his use of the two timeouts
at the end of the game, which came as Washington was driving. Instead of
letting the clock run, Frazier curiously used two timeouts. He had his reasons.

“I wanted to make sure, one, our guys were getting a
little fatigued,” Frazier said. “And also if they were to get a
score, I wanted us to have a chance to go back and respond. I didn’t want them
to be able to run the clock out and us not have a chance on offense.
Fortunately for us, because our guys were gassed, they got their breath and
made some stops at the end.”

Some of the players were visibly upset on the sideline after
the timeouts were called, but Frazier said he wasn’t worried about the reaction
of the players.

“Not at all,” Frazier said about being bothered.
“I’ve learned in my short time as a head coach, you better do it the way
you believe in doing it, because you don’t have a chance to do this for very
long. So you don’t want to have any regrets. So, our players, they’re thinking
about what they need to think about, but I’ve got to think about total picture,
so, no big deal.”

Extremely short-handed: Minnesota didn’t dress nine players
for Thursday’s game because of injuries, meaning there were even short of the
full active roster. Defensive tackle Letroy Guion and tight end Rhett Ellison
were active but not in uniform.

The Vikings listed Rudolph, Chris Cook, Jamarca Sanford,
Matt Asiata, Phil Loadholt, Charlie Johnson and Fred Evans as inactives.

“They had the mindset they were going to figure out a
way to win,” Frazier said. “But there were definitely some obstacles
coming into this ball game on a short week, but credit those guys, they
overcame it.”

Follow Brian Hall on Twitter