- Kevin Seifert, NFL Nation
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Quarterback Christian Ponder shook off interceptions on consecutive throws by completing 11 of his final 12 passes for 100 yards. Ponder had been fortunate to avoid interceptions on several occasions over the Vikings' first four games, but he clearly buckled down after the Titans capitalized Sunday. Afterward, he said neither interception was a bad decision but simply "bad throws." On the first, he threw behind and high to wide-open tight end Kyle Rudolph. On the second, he would have had receiver Jerome Simpson open if he waited a moment to allow him to clear the defense. "I shook it off and moved on," Ponder said. "I was going to throw an interception at some point this season and it ... probably will happen again. That's my job, to put the team first and move on and forget it."
We discussed Rudolph's enormous catching radius in training camp and got another demonstration of it in the fourth quarter Sunday. Running along the back of the end zone, Rudolph simply reached above safety Jordan Babineaux, who was in man coverage, and safety Michael Griffin, who had sprinted over to help when Ponder lofted a 15-yard pass. I'm not even sure Rudolph jumped for the ball. "Christian, as soon as he saw man coverage, he gave me a shot," Rudolph said. "And I just went up and got it." That's four touchdowns among 19 receptions over five games for one of the league's emerging red zone threats. No NFL tight end has scored more than four touchdowns so far this season.
Of all the surprises about this team, the play of the secondary and linebackers in pass coverage might be the biggest. Cornerback Antoine Winfield intercepted a pass and safety Jamarca Sanford got his hands on two others. Meanwhile, cornerback Chris Cook, linebacker Jasper Brinkley and linebacker Chad Greenway all had one breakup apiece. (Sanford and Greenway both could have had interceptions.) Remember, this is a defense that allowed opponents one of the highest passer ratings (107.6) in NFL history last season. Sunday also marked a subtle transition designed to limit Winfield's exposure to injury. Rookie Josh Robinson started opposite Cook in the base defense and played a season-high 83 percent of snaps (59 of 71). Winfield played plenty (87 percent of snaps) but the Vikings would love for Robinson to emerge as a fixture on the outside while Winfield focuses on the nickel slot role.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
What happened to Simpson? He said he woke up Sunday morning and "couldn't really perform when I got on the field." He could be seen flexing his left leg on the sideline, but after the game the Vikings were at a loss to explain the issue. He played 25 of the Vikings' 69 offensive snaps and didn't catch any of the three passes thrown his way. "I couldn't push off," he said. "I couldn't jump around like I usually do. I just couldn't be Jerome Simpson." I would expect further news on Simpson's condition in the coming days, but it's worth noting the Vikings completed five passes of at least 15 yards without him being a factor.