MINNEAPOLIS — Since signing with the Minnesota Vikings in October, Shaun Prater was champing at the bit. He waited for his time to make an impact and had one game in mind – Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
It was Philadelphia who had released Prater allowing Minnesota to sign the cornerback drafted in the fifth round by the Cincinnati Bengals last year. It was the Vikings who gave Prater his chance at redemption.
“It is like that pitbull locked in the cage, and he’s waiting, he’s waiting, he finally gets out, and the only thing he’s focused on is getting to that bone,” Prater said. “I finally got it.”
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Prater got his chance to show his chops as an NFL cornerback. He had played in the past five games for Minnesota, but mostly in a special teams role.
When cornerback Chris Cook was declared inactive after working out prior to the game, Prater received his first NFL start. He finished with one of the biggest defensive plays in an offensive showcase, intercepting Eagles’ quarterback Nick Foles in the Vikings’ 48-30 win.
“I’ve spent eight or nine weeks getting ready for this one game,” Prater said, later adding: “I’m just taking it play-by-play, doing my job. I was on the Eagles’ scout team this past whatever it was, so I picked on some of the wide receivers.”
On a high lofting pass from Foles, who had thrown only one interception all season previously, Prater camped underneath and waited. He beat DeSean Jackson to the ball and returned it 30 yards.
“It took forever to fall into my hands,” Prater said. “Everything was in slow motion.”
Prater didn’t find out he’d start until right before the game. Cornerback Josh Robinson was put on injured reserve Saturday by Minnesota, unable to make a return this season from a fractured sternum. Rookie Xavier Rhodes was dealing with a sprained ankle and then Cook showed up on the team’s injury report Friday with a knee injury.
Without Cook, the Vikings were without their top three cornerbacks. In their place, Prater and Marcus Sherels, a diminutive pair, and Robert Blanton, the college cornerback turned NFL safety who has moved to cornerback in the nickel defense for Minnesota’s short-handed defense.
“I thought they played their butts off,” defensive end Jared Allen said of the secondary. “They’re a quick-strike offense. But I thought Prater played a heck of a game. The feel I got from the time we had to rush, and even when we didn’t get there, (Foles) patting the ball, that’s on us if he’s patting the ball to be able to throw downfield, but I thought across the board our secondary did a great job . . . From what we’d been watching on film, when he gets in a rhythm, he’s deadly. For our guys to be able to change that to give us an opportunity to get there, that’s great.”
Foles and the Eagles owned the league’s third-ranked offense in terms of yards gained and led the league in plays of 20 yards or more. Prater knew he’d be a target of Foles.
“I was ready for that,” Prater said. “‘New guy, he’s been cut twice.’ So I’m ready. I’m running around, I’m jumping up for the picks and doing all type of stuff. If you had a camera on me this entire week, I spent so much time watching film, stretching, watching more film, asking the coaches everything, being a little gnat. It showed out today.”
Peterson couldn’t make it: Adrian Peterson missed the game with a sprained foot and said he wanted to try and play Sunday. The decision was taken out of Peterson’s hands and Frazier made the call.
“It was not an easy conversation, trust me on that one,” Frazier said. “It was not easy to tell him what the decision was because of the feedback and how much he wanted to play. He’s a great teammate and a true team player. And after all the back-and-forth, at the end of the day, to come back and say, ‘OK coach, I got it.’ He could have stomped out and went bananas, but he didn’t. He wants to do what’s best for the team and he understood this was best for our team and best for him.”
With backup Toby Gerhart also out with a hamstring injury, Matt Asiata ran 30 times for 51 yards and three touchdowns. Frazier said Peterson likely would be able to return next week.
“We thought that he was going to make it,” Frazier said. “He did some good things on Friday in practice. I thought with the question mark in my mind, we would have both of them. Just get one of them. I really thought that Toby would be the one that would be closer. But when it came to bursting, that was his concern. He was fine hitting the hole, but once he got out and clear, he was concerned about that and then you run the risk of playing maybe one or two plays and then he’s out for another week or two. So, we pulled back on him for that reason.”
Allen sacks and snaps: Allen had two sacks of Foles and is one away from another season with double-digit sacks, a total he acknowledged means a lot to him. The two sacks also puts Allen a half-sack shy of Derrick Thomas for 13th on the NFL’s all-time list.
“I’m not going to go out of sorts to get it,” Allen said. “I’m going to play my game, I’m going to a lot of chances, I’m going to try to win football games. The good Lord willing, I’ll get to 10.”
Later, with long snapper Cullen Loeffler dealing with a hand injury, Allen even handled one long snap. Allen was a long-snapper in college and has often talked about being an NFL-capable long snapper.
“That was easy,” Allen said. “I had my fingers taped together because I got my knuckles mashed up. That was the only reason it was a little wobbly. . . . I think it’s hilarious. I think it’s funny. Everybody was shocked. The guys in our own huddle were like, ‘what are you doing? It’s a punt!’ The other team was looking at me like ‘what the heck are you doing?’ I’m just glad nobody blindsided me as I was going down the field.”
Defensive end Brian Robison had two sacks himself and is tied with Allen for the team lead this season.
“I hope he does,” Robison said of Allen getting double-digit sacks. “He doesn’t realize it, but he’s meant a lot to my career as far as helping me and stuff like that. Both of us are battling right now; we’re both trying to get to 10. We’re both trying to keep that lead. I know he doesn’t want to leave here with not having the lead in sacks, but I’m going to do my best to make sure that’s what he does.”
Smith returns to help secondary: One help in the secondary was getting back safety Harrison Smith, who had been out since Week 6 with a toe injury. Smith was placed on injured reserve with the team’s lone designation to return and made his return on Sunday in the first game he was eligible.
“It feels unbelievable,” Smith said. “It feels like a whole new season. I think that’s kind of our mindset, just to win out. Why not?”
Smith tied with Blanton for the team lead with eight tackles on Sunday.
Patterson adds to status: As rookie Cordarrelle Patterson’s season has continued he’s put himself in the race for the offensive rookie of the year award and has carved out a bigger role as a receiver in the offense.
Patterson had five catches for 35 yards and a touchdown on Sunday and added two carries for 15 yards. He’s also scored a touchdown this season receiving, rushing and returning and tried to add another on Sunday.
Minnesota called a Patterson pass on an end-around. Patterson got the ball and went to his right, but without any receivers open, Patterson reversed field and ended up with a 12-yard run with the help of a block by quarterback Matt Cassel.
“I was trying to throw it, but Greg (Jennings) couldn’t get open,” Patterson joked. “I just had to do with my best ability, just find a hole and get a first down.”
Jennings took the ribbing and is excited for Patterson’s potential.
“There’s not a lot of people that amazes me, but there’s some talent within him that, I mean, some things that he’s going to be special,” Jennings said, emphasizing special. “He’s just scratching the surface. He’s a special, special player. It’s all about just getting the ball in his hands. Just get it to him, I don’t care how, just let him touch it and something special can happen any single play.”
And Patterson’s exploits as a returner continues to have opposing teams avoiding him. Philadelphia used a series of short kicks to keep the ball out of Patterson’s hands, but it allowed Minnesota to have an average starting field position of the 39-yard line.
“It doesn’t get to me at all,” Patterson said. “We start the ball off on the 35, 40. So they don’t give you a chance, oh well, we’re going to get great field position.”
Frazier called it the “Cordarrelle Patterson effect.” Patterson had his own take, of course.
“Oh man, they can call it the ‘Flash Effect,'” Patterson said. But the kicker, I feel like they’re starting to respect me around here as a rookie. It’s kind of good being back there being scared to kick it to me.”