EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Blair Walsh, the rookie kicker with his locker tucked into a corner of the Minnesota Vikings’ locker room at the Metrodome, was enjoying the celebration of Sunday’s overtime victory when team owner Zygi Wilf approached.
Walsh had just propelled Minnesota to a 26-23 overtime win against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the season-opener by hitting two clutch field goals, looking nothing like a rookie playing in his first NFL regular-season game. Wilf wanted to present Walsh something for his two field goals, the first which forced overtime as time expired and the second in overtime to provide the winning margin.
Walsh wasn’t prepared for what Wilf had for him. It wasn’t a game ball, or the ball from the two kicks. Wilf gave Walsh the tie he was wearing.
“Like literally off his neck and threw it at me,” Walsh said. “I didn’t know what to expect. I was like, ‘Alright.'”
What Walsh didn’t understand was the gesture was Wilf’s way of acknowledging Walsh’s big kicks. It’s not a regular occurrence, but Wilf will give his tie away to players after special performances.
Walsh didn’t get the game ball from either of those big kicks. He says he’s not big on mementos from games. In this case though, he’ll keep Wilf’s tie.
“I guess it’s his tradition that he does,” Walsh said. “It was kind of cool for him to do that for me and for him to actually notice that I had done something. It was cool.”
He said he won’t wear the tie and isn’t sure what he’s going to do with it, but appreciates the gesture.
“It’s a nice thing to have, and it is a nice one,” Walsh said. “I couldn’t even read whatever the brand was, that’s usually a good sign.”
Walsh spent his first regular-season game having a few interactions he wasn’t expecting. He knows most kickers are normally on their own. Walsh had plenty of reactions from his teammates, before and after his pressure-packed 55-yard field goal at the end of regulation.
Running back Adrian Peterson came up as Walsh was running on the field. Did he have words of encouragement for the rookie?
“He slapped my helmet and kind of turned it actually,” Walsh said. “I was laughing when I was running onto the field because I couldn’t believe he just did that. Most people don’t even want to touch the kicker or talk to him or anything. Christian (Ponder) just gave me a little low high-five as I walking by, and (Peterson) went and slapped my helmet. I don’t think he knows how strong he is.”
Did Peterson’s move break the tension?
“It actually kind of broke my concentration a little bit,” Walsh said. “I was like, ‘Wow, that was ridiculous.'”
Head slaps from Peterson won’t be something Walsh seeks out in the future, but he doesn’t seem to have a problem with a pressure kick.
The sixth-round pick out of Georgia, Walsh made the team’s brass look good after his first game. Walsh ran on to the field with four seconds left in regulation and nailed the 55-yarder. As the offense was getting ready to get the ball with 20 seconds left, Walsh was asked what his range was by special teams coordinator Mike Priefer.
“I said, ‘Anything 60 and in I can give it a legitimate shot,'” Walsh said.
He then came back in overtime and connected for a 38-yard field and Minnesota won after stopping Jacksonville’s offense in the new overtime rule that allows each team a chance at a position unless a touchdown is scored.
Clean injury list: Coach Leslie Frazier said the Vikings didn’t have any significant injuries during Sunday’s game and expects everyone could be practicing when the team returns to practice on Wednesday.
Backup linebacker Marvin Mitchell could be ready to return from his high ankle sprain. Frazier also said safety Andrew Sendejo should return from a low ankle sprain.
Frazier also said Peterson was feeling good after Sunday’s first game and didn’t complain about any swelling in his surgically repaired knee. Frazier wouldn’t say if Peterson will assume a full workload going forward.
“I think we still have to be somewhat cautious,” Frazier said. “Now, Adrian won’t want to hear that, but we still have to keep a rotation going between he and Toby (Gerhart). I don’t think we can at this point say, ‘Adrian, look forward to carrying that ball 20 to 25 times.’ I don’t think we’re at that point quite yet.”
Running out the clock: Frazier lamented that his team wasn’t able to run out the clock when Minnesota took over possession with a 20-15 lead and 1 minute, 51 seconds left on the clock. The Vikings ran three times and was only able to run 20 seconds off the clock, leading to the drive Jacksonville eventually took the lead with 20 seconds left.
“You want to be able to run the ball when people know that you have to run,” Frazier said. “We’ve got to get to the point where we can do that. There are going to be more games where we are going to have to be able to take some time off the clock and we will have to figure out a way to get a first down and we’ll have to get to the point where we are able to throw the ball in those situations as well. But right now for where we are we took the approach that we thought was necessary, but we got a find a way to move the ball in that situation a little bit better than we did yesterday.”
A penalty on receiver Michael Jenkins really hurt Minnesota and kept the offense from draining more time off the clock.
“It messed us up big time; you can’t have that,” Frazier said. “It would have been about a 1:03 we estimated, about 1:01. Which would have been great for us with no time on the clock for them, I mean no timeouts at that time for them. And then you get them in a backed up situation having to drive the football 80 yards down the field. That was our goal. And for us to have a penalty just discourages everything that you are trying to get done. You stopped the clock, you give them a chance to conserve a time out. It’s not what you want. We got to be smarter in that situation. Good teams, you don’t allow that to happen and we got to be better in that situation.”
Third-down defense a concern: Frazier’s biggest concern coming out of Sunday was the inability to get the defense off the field, especially after being successful on the first two downs and putting the Jaguars in third-and-long situations.
Jacksonville finished 9 of 18 on third downs, and was 5 of 8 in the first half. The Jaguars converted four third-downs on their first drive, a 17-play, 77-yard drive that took 9:22.
“We had them in the situations we want to get teams in; a lot of third-and-7 plus,” Frazier said. “We didn’t find a way to make a play. That could create problems. Now, fortunately for us, 17 plays, three points. You’ll take that when that happens and from an offensive standpoint, of course, you’re kicking yourself that you don’t get in the end zone. But when we get teams in third-and-8, third-and-9 we have to find a way to get off the field. So we’ve got to improve on that, that was discouraging and that will definitely be a point of emphasis when we sit down and talk this afternoon.”