EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Receiver Jerome Simpson stood at his locker in the Minnesota Vikings’ facilities at Winter Park on Monday as members of the media assembled around him.
Fresh off a surprise inactive status in Sunday’s 38-26 loss, Simpson offered several one-word answers to questions about his health, and how tough it was to sit out the game. Simpson, a week after waking up with a strange injury that caused weakness and numbness in his leg, thought he had improved enough during the week to be able to play.
Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier felt otherwise. Frazier said he talked with the energetic and athletic receiver the night before and told Simpson what he was thinking. By the time Sunday’s game rolled around, Frazier wasn’t ready to let Simpson loose.
A day later, Simpson still clearly wasn’t happy with the decision.
“Terrible,” Simpson said of how tough it was to sit Sunday, one of four one-word answers to start his interview session with the media.
Simpson was brought to the Vikings to be one of the final pieces for an offense built around stars — running back Adrian Peterson and receiver Percy Harvin, with quarterback Christian Ponder ready to take a step in his second season. Peterson had returned from his severe knee injury and Harvin had proven to be one of the most unique, versatile big-play weapons in the NFL. Minnesota also had emerging second-year tight end Kyle Rudolph and signed John Carlson to be another receiving threat at tight end.
Simpson, off a breakout 50-catch, 725-yard season for the Cincinnati Bengals last year, was the receiver with the speed and athleticism to stretch the field. Just the type of plays the Vikings could have used in Sunday’s loss to the Redskins when they trailed 24-9, 31-12 and 38-26 in the second half.
It was the type of game Simpson had been waiting to make an impact in due to his three-game suspension at the start of the season. But Frazier told Simpson Saturday he would make a decision before Sunday’s game and Simpson was on the outside looking in when the active roster was announced.
“Me being a competitor, I always want to play the game, play in the game,” Simpson said. “So I just have to go with his decision and what he thinks is best for the team.”
Frazier, on Sunday, felt giving Simpson more time for his injury to heal was the best solution. Frazier has said Simpson is dealing with a back injury that radiates down his leg and keeps the explosive receiver from pushing off like normal. Simpson said Monday he feels “great” and all the symptoms have subsided, adding: “I feel good. I feel like Jerome Simpson.”
“He’s a competitor, which is what you appreciate about him,” Frazier said. “He wanted to be out there. But we’ll see how it goes this week. He’s a competitor. He wants to play. He wants to help our team win and we’ll evaluate it this week.”
Without Simpson on the field, Minnesota again failed to establish any kind of deep passing attack in a game where it was trailing by double-digits early in the second half. At times this season, backups Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu have come up with big catches, but they don’t offer the same threat as Simpson does with his speed and exceptional leaping ability.
In his first game back from the suspension, Simpson had four catches for 50 yards against the Detroit Lions, and also accounted for another 57 yards in penalties while getting pass interference calls against Detroit. He was then limited the next week as the leg and back issues popped up after he woke up the morning of the game and he was out Sunday.
Simpson went through a week of tests, which discovered the back problem, and treatment. He missed Wednesday’s practice last week, but returned in a limited role on Thursday and Friday.
“I felt like it loosened up a lot,” Simpson said, just calling the issue tightness and said he doesn’t have trouble with his back. “I felt like I was ready but coach is just going to do what’s best for the team.”
Playing catchup the entire second half proved difficult with QB Ponder misfiring and not able to get the ball down field for big plays. Of Ponder’s career-high 52 pass attempts on Sunday, only seven were considered deep, passes traveling 15 or more yards in the air. He connected on three of those, and drew an important pass interference in the end zone. Ponder threw for 352 yards, but only averaged 6.77 yards-per-attempt. His 6.83 yards-per-attempt for the season ranks 25th in the NFL.
The short passing game was working while the defense dominated opponents and Minnesota was in close games. Needing to play catch-up, the Vikings couldn’t get down field Sunday. Frazier said Ponder isn’t reluctant to take shots down field.
“No, he’ll put it out there if the coverage will allow him to throw it,” Frazier said. “There are times that their coverage is good enough… it depends a little bit on the coverage. If they’ve got good coverage, the ball may not go down the field. It may go to a check-down or it may go to the sideline or it may go out of bounds. We’ll continue to take shots when they’re available.”
Simpson is ready to play Sunday and says he “can do everything.” He could get that chance Sunday, and believes, like Minnesota did when they signed him, that he could offer the missing piece to the offense.
“Yeah, just with my speed,” Simpson said. “I feel like with my speed I just can do that by helping this team get that extra man out of the box and that’s what I’m just going to try to continue to do to my best ability.”