Vikings defense aims to improve in the clutch
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier seems prepared for his team to play many games this season the way the first two weeks have unfolded, with games being decided in the final two minutes.
Late-game offense pushed the Vikings to a win in the opener and a tie on Sunday with 31 seconds left. Frazier’s concern is how the defense has handled the two-minute situations.
"We're not doing very well right now in two-minutes, the two minutes before the half, the two minutes at the end of the game," Frazier said. "That's glaring. We've got to do better. The way our team is built, we're going to play a lot of close games."
Following Christian Ponder's touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph with 31 seconds left Sunday, Minnesota felt it was headed to overtime for the second straight week.
All the defense had to do was keep the Indianapolis Colts and rookie quarterback Andrew Luck out of field-goal range for Adam Vinatieri. Three plays later, the Vikings were left to hope that Vinatieri, who has a history of clutch kicks, would miss a 53-yard field goal. He didn't and Minnesota lost, 23-20.
Through two games this season, the Vikings’ defense has been on the field in two-minute situations three times. Minnesota has surrendered points on each of those possessions, accounting for 18 of the 46 points scored against the defense this season.
"It's everybody; it can never be on one person," linebacker Chad Greenway said of the breakdowns. "It's team defense. It's been different situations each time, and I think it's important that we look at it that way, too. Just go to work, and we know this week things aren't going to get easier for us. So we've got to shore things up in a hurry. No excuses. No explanations. Go to work and get it right."
The Jacksonville Jaguars finished a drive in the final two minutes in Week 1 with a 39-yard touchdown pass to Cecil Shorts to take a short-lived, 23-20 lead with 20 seconds left. Jacksonville second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert was 4 of 6 on the drive, accounting for all 76 yards in 58 seconds.
Luck looked every bit as polished in the same situations on Sunday.
Leading 10-6 with 1 minute, 11 seconds left in the first half, Luck orchestrated a 64-yard drive in which he was 4 of 5 and connected with Reggie Wayne for a 30-yard touchdown with 14 seconds left.
Then following Ponder's own late-game success, the rookie Luck had his own last-minute drive ready in the fourth quarter. With only 31 seconds on the clock after Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh had started off with a touchback, Luck avoided the pass rush and found receiver Donnie Avery for a 20-yard reception and quickly followed with another 20-yarder to Wayne. Luck completed one more pass, a seven-yarder to Avery, but Indianapolis accepted a five-yard offsides penalty on Everson Griffen.
"Honestly, I don't know," linebacker Erin Henderson said of the two-minute defense. "Communication areas; I don't know if it's the calls that are being made, us just not going out there and executing. It's really hard to put your finger on one specific thing. I feel like there are some plays where it might be one person’s fault, next play it might be somebody else's fault. We just got to get it to that point where nobody’s to blame for anything because nothing bad is going wrong. Everybody's doing their job and taking care of their assignment and what they're responsible for, and we’ll go from there."
Minnesota's defense is ranked 12th in the league after two weeks in fewest yards allowed and 16th in points. But timing has been critical for the Vikings. Before Luck’s final drive on Sunday, Minnesota had allowed the Colts just 42 offensive yards in the second half. Indianapolis finished with just 278 yards of offense and 194 passing.
But the two-minute situations have masked any success.
Greenway said it was "splitting hairs" looking for positives in a loss. He likened it to early last season when the Vikings would play well in the first half, before surrendering big leads which ended in losses.
"Well, we did this good and that good,'" Greenway recalled. "We didn't finish, but we had a really good first half.' Well, you're losing, so it doesn't really matter. At the end of the year, you’re 3-13 and all you have is a bunch of excuses. We’re not trying to do that again this year. We're really not. We know we’re capable of being better, and we've got to get it done, 'now. We can't wait until, 'Well, hopefully by Week 6 we'll figure it out.' We'll be right back where we were."
Harvin victim of "terrible call": Receiver Percy Harvin was not pleased with the offensive pass interference he was charged with early in the fourth quarter, instead believing he was the one interfered with by Colts safety Antoine Bethea.
"It was a terrible call," Harvin said. "He kind of was shielding me from the ball. I was just trying to get around him to the ball and I don't know what they (saw). But he was shielding me off. So it was bad call, but it's all good."
Harvin still believed he was interfered with after watching the game film on Monday and believes some of the calls have come from the replacement officials emphasizing certain penalties.
"It's frustrating because I think there was no offensive pass interferences called the whole preseason so that's kind of what they've been emphasizing," Harvin said. "It wasn't just our game but a lot of offensive pass interferences called. It just seemed like they were gunning for the offensive pass interferences this week. It’s frustrating not knowing exactly what they are looking at but we can’t worry about that. We have to adjust to the game and be ready to go from there."
Harvin said he never got an explanation on the call, where he and Bethea got tangled up with both looking back for the ball.
"These guys are going to try to do their best and they are going to make bad calls," Harvin said. "Unfortunately it went against us at a pivotal time of the game. But we can’t worry about that.
Carlson still missing: Minnesota signed tight end John Carlson to a five-year, $25 million contract in the offseason and he hasn't had a catch through two games. Carlson missed a lot of practice time during training camp and the preseason with a knee injury, but Frazier doesn't think his injury or the time missed is the reason for the lack of production.
"I don't think it has anything to do with not being up to speed," Frazier said. "He's pretty much where we need him to be right now, it's just a matter of finding an opportunity. We tried some things and it didn't work out yesterday but we're looking for him and we do expect him to be a contributor as we go forward."
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