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Monday, December 26, 2011
Free Head Exam: Minnesota Vikings

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

After the Minnesota Vikings' 33-26 victory over the Washington Redskins, here are three issues that merit further examination:
  1. Head Exam
    Following their win against the Redskins, the Vikings take a seat in the examination room.
    I felt a pang of sympathy for this franchise, which is owned, operated and coached by competent people I respect. None of them could have enjoyed the end of a six-game losing streak, not after watching tailback Adrian Peterson suffer a knee injury that could change the course of his career and the direction of the franchise. Peterson is a special athlete, but there isn't a long list of running backs who have returned from multiple torn knee ligaments without losing some of their strength and explosion. The good news is that Peterson has always been a high-effort player, meaning he will be productive -- if not elite -- upon his return. But in the meantime, the Vikings will be forced to take a fundamental look at the makeup of their offense this winter and spring. Fair or otherwise, they can't count on Peterson to be the best player on their team anymore. Peterson finished the season with 970 yards, snapping a four-season streak of compiling at least 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. Only two players in NFL history have had a longer streak: LaDainian Tomlinson (eight) and Shaun Alexander (five).
  2. Peterson's injury leaves receiver Percy Harvin as the Vikings' primary offensive playmaker entering the offseason. Harvin added two more big plays to what has been a career season Saturday, a 31-yard run on a reverse and a 36-yard catch on a jump ball from Webb. You might not realize it, but Harvin's 77 receptions this season is more than all but six wide receivers in the NFL. He's also rushed for 332 yards on 47 carries out of various formations. It's too bad the Vikings' poor record has overshadowed it, but Harvin has emerged as the multi-position threat the team envisioned for him three years ago and should be a cornerstone of the team's plans for 2012.
  3. It's getting more difficult to find reasons why the Vikings shouldn't consider Joe Webb as a legitimate candidate for their starting job in 2012 and beyond. Obviously they have invested a high draft pick on Christian Ponder, and it's hardly time to render final judgment on a rookie after nine starts. But it would be underestimating Webb to say that he has just been a raw athlete making playground plays. His 17-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph was thrown from the pocket with perfect touch to the back of the end zone. And consider this: Webb has accounted for five touchdowns on seven possessions in relief of Ponder this season, including three touchdown passes and two on the ground. It's hard to overlook that kind of production. Next season, coach Leslie Frazier will enter the second of a three-year contract. My expectation is that he will start the quarterback that gives him the best chance to see Year Three. At the very least, Webb should be in the conversation.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
Can Toby Gerhart be an every down replacement for Peterson? The Vikings traded up in the second round of the 2010 draft to select him, but for the most part they haven't found a way to use him except when Peterson has been injured. Gerhart has 786 rushing yards over two seasons, and on Saturday he ripped off a career-long 67-yarder to set up a touchdown. He definitely doesn't have Peterson's breakaway ability, and like the rest of the NFL, Gerhart doesn't run with as much power. But unless the Vikings find a free agent gem or invest another high draft pick on a runner, Gerhart probably is going to get his chance at the start of next season. We'll find out then if he's up to it.