NFC North: John Sullivan

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings will be without three defensive starters and an offensive lineman on Sunday in Detroit, and Cordarrelle Patterson's status is uncertain.

The Vikings listed linebacker Anthony Barr (knee), safety Robert Blanton (ankle/knee), defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (knee) and guard Charlie Johnson (ankle) as out for Sunday's game against the Lions. Patterson, who showed up on the injury report for the first time on Friday, is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury.

Patterson was returning kickoffs during the open portion of practice, which means he could have tweaked his hamstring later in the session once it was closed to reporters. He played only one offensive snap last week against the New York Jets and lost a fumble on the opening kickoff in the second half.

The loss of Barr and Floyd, in particular, might hinder the Vikings as they face the 9-4 Lions on Sunday afternoon. Detroit's offense thrives when Matthew Stafford has time to throw downfield to Calvin Johnson, and though the Lions beat the Vikings with quick passes in Week 6, Johnson wasn't on the field for that game. Stafford has been sacked 39 times this year; the Vikings can hope for another big day from Everson Griffen, but having Barr and Floyd would certainly help them generate a pass rush.

With Blanton out, Andrew Sendejo figures to start at safety next to Harrison Smith. Vlad Ducasse will likely start at left guard with Johnson sidelined, meaning the Vikings will have just two of their five preferred linemen (Matt Kalil and John Sullivan) on the field against a Lions pass rush that took Teddy Bridgewater down eight times on Oct. 12.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The play that sent the Minnesota Vikings home victorious on Sunday has been in Teddy Bridgewater's repertoire for situations like these ever since his first NFL start.

Remember the screen pass Bridgewater threw to Jarius Wright during the Vikings' win over Atlanta on Sept. 28? It came barely a minute into that game, with the Falcons showing a "zero blitz" -- or a pressure with no safeties back in coverage -- on third-and-7. Bridgewater appeared to change the play at the line and flipped a pass to Wright, who looped behind blocks from Greg Jennings and tight end Chase Ford for a 52-yard gain.

The play shows up in the Vikings' offense at least once a week, out of a number of different personnel groupings. Charles Johnson took a screen 24 yards on the Vikings' first series last week, lining up alone on the left side of the Vikings' formation and following a block from Matt Kalil. Wright nearly took one for a touchdown earlier on Sunday against the New York Jets. And in overtime, with the Vikings backed up in their own territory on third-and-5, Bridgewater checked to the play to beat the Jets on one of their own pet calls.

New York had given Bridgewater trouble with zero blitzes all day, and coach Rex Ryan had another one called, with hopes of forcing a quick throw (or possibly a turnover). The Vikings had a longer pass called, but Bridgewater had an option to check to the screen. His silent count got the Jets to show their pressure, and Bridgewater changed the play to the screen.

"The check was built into the call, so if he saw something, he was going to check to that," coach Mike Zimmer said. "He did that several times today."

The Vikings set the screen up the same way they did in the Atlanta game, with Wright to the outside of Jennings and tight end Kyle Rudolph. The Jets brought seven, Wright picked up blocks from Jennings and Rudolph and took off, with nothing but space in front of him.

"As I broke free I saw Sully [center John Sullivan running down field] and I said, 'Oh, yeah, this is going a long ways,'" Wright said.

Jets coach Rex Ryan blamed himself for the loss, saying it was his call on the blitz and complimenting Bridgewater for making the check once the Jets showed their hand, but not every rookie quarterback would have as firm a grasp of pre-snap adjustments as Bridgewater seems to have. He finished 19-of-27 for 309 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. His turnover came on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half, and he would've had three TD passes if Johnson hadn't fumbled at the goal line. Bridgewater has shown marked improvement in a number of ways during the second half of the season, and the Vikings' comfort level with him at the controls of their offense is no small thing.

"That's the thing the veterans really respect and appreciate about Teddy is the way he prepares, the way he studies, the way he cares about his job, and the way he loves playing the game," Zimmer said. "The franchise is Teddy's; I know that was a good headline for you. That's what he needs to do; he needs to take it over. This is his team now."

Bridgewater demurred, saying the team belongs as much to backup guard Vlad Ducasse as it does to him. But on the field, he showed a command of the game that will get his teammates to follow him anywhere.

"That's where you see him maturing; you see he's getting a good grasp on the whole offense," Johnson said. "He's smart. He's able to see things like that and help us win on them."
CHICAGO -- Observed and heard in the locker room following the Minnesota Vikings' 21-13 loss Sunday to the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field:

Zimmer rips clock malfunction: The game clocks at Soldier Field stopped working for a good portion of the second half Sunday, leaving officials to communicate how much time was left in the game to both teams on the field. Afterward, coach Mike Zimmer didn't mince words when talking about the situation. "The clocks here are bulls---," Zimmer said, before apologizing to PR man Bob Hagan and adding, "Excuse my language." At one point in the second half, center John Sullivan recalled saying to himself, "You've got to be kidding me." But after that, Sullivan said he told himself, "Get over it, because it doesn't matter. Ultimately, if we win the game, we won't care about the clock."

Sendejo is Vikings' leading rusher: Safety Andrew Sendejo said he hadn't played running back since fifth grade, but he finished the day as the Vikings' leading rusher after taking a handoff from Adam Thielen and racing 48 yards on a fake punt. "We actually just drew it up on the sidelines," Sendejo joked. "[Special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer], he's got this mind. He saw what they were doing, and we drew it up in the dirt."

Smith on pick: 'I've got to score': The Vikings had a chance to regain the lead after Harrison Smith's 52-yard interception return in the third quarter, but they went three-and-out and missed a field goal. Afterward, Smith said he needed to take care of things himself. "I've got to score," he said. "If I score there, it changes the whole game. There's always a path; you've got to find it. If you get in the end zone, it changes momentum. You start putting some doubt in people's minds. You've got to take advantage."

MINNEAPOLIS -- There are varying theories in the Minnesota Vikings organization as to why rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has been so much more effective at the ends of halves, when his job should be at its most stressful. Bridgewater -- who has blamed himself for overthinking things a number of times in his rookie season -- said last week he's calmer in two-minute drills, when defenses aren't able to change their fronts. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner suggested it might be because Bridgewater is able to throw so many passes and get into a rhythm in those situations, rather than sprinkling his passes between run plays as the game plan dictates.

"I think it’s easier on a quarterback," Turner said last week. "Like I said, you’re not worrying about running the ball. You’re not worried about setting something up, just playing."

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltVikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater seems to be at his best when time is of the essence.
The results would certainly suggest the ends of halves have been something of a haven for Bridgewater in a rookie season that's featured plenty of strife. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Bridgewater's Total QBR jumps to 54.4 in the final five minutes of a half, compared to 30.5 the rest of the time. In the final three minutes of a half, his QBR is 62.2. In the final two minutes, it's 64.9. And in the last minute of a half, Bridgewater's QBR jumps to 81.9, as he has completed 15 of his 22 throws for 196 yards, directing four field-goal drives and a touchdown drive in his first six NFL games.

It's as though Bridgewater is a distance runner with an indomitable kick, surging toward top speed as he approaches the finish line. He has been able to produce in moments that would rattle most young quarterbacks."What's he's got," center John Sullivan said, "you can't teach."

What Bridgewater has -- and what he did on Sunday -- is the reason the Vikings are 4-5, not 3-6, headed into their bye week. After completing three of his final four throws for 46 yards (including a touchdown strike to Chase Ford) at the end of the first half on Sunday, Bridgewater finished his day connecting on five of his final seven throws for 64 yards, as part of a 12-play, 73-yard march that culminated in a Matt Asiata touchdown with 3:31 left in the Vikings' 29-26 win over the Washington Redskins.

Bridgewater had struggled with his deep throws all day. He hit Greg Jennings for 22 yards and Ford for a 20-yard score at the end of the first half, and connected with Jarius Wright and Ford on back-to-back 21-yard passes in the fourth quarter. In field-goal drives at the end of each half last Sunday in Tampa Bay, including a two-minute drill to tie the game, Bridgewater hit all three of his throws that traveled more than 10 yards in the air.

His issues throwing down the field prevented the Vikings from splitting Sunday's game open, when Bridgewater missed early deep balls to Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson, and he'll have to get better in those situations if he wants to be a productive NFL quarterback. But again on Sunday, Bridgewater lifted himself up when it mattered most, and he's done it enough as a rookie that it's beginning to appear as though it's not a fluke.

"I try not to get rattled [at the end of games] because I know I have 10 other guys in the huddle who are depending on me, whose eyes are all on me," Bridgewater said. "In those two-minute situations, I just tell myself, 'Don't try to be perfect; just play football.' I always seem comfortable because I know those 10 other guys in the huddle are going to do their job."
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Minnesota Vikings will have another change in their offensive line this week, and it could be one that lasts for a while.

Despite guard Vlad Ducasse being a full participant in practice Thursday and Friday, the Vikings put him on their inactive list Sunday with a knee injury. That means Joe Berger will start at right guard, after stepping in for John Sullivan at center last week. If Ducasse is healthy, the move might have more to do with performance than health.

Berger has been with the Vikings since 2011 and talked Friday about the benefit of the continuity he's enjoyed with offensive line coach Jeff Davidson and veterans like Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt. Especially if Sullivan stays healthy enough that the Vikings don't need to use Berger at center, they could stick with Berger at right guard with Brandon Fusco out.

Linebacker Gerald Hodges is also inactive for the Vikings with a hamstring injury; Hodges was listed as doubtful Friday and will miss his second straight game. Cornerback Josh Robinson, however, is active after missing time with a sprained ankle late in the week. Robinson said he'd be able to play, and he was apparently correct.

Here is the Vikings' full list of inactives Sunday:
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings could be without cornerback Josh Robinson on Sunday, after Robinson injured his ankle during individual drills on Thursday.

Robinson did not practice on Friday, indicating his availability for Sunday is in some doubt. The cornerback said after practice, however, that he's feeling better after rolling his ankle on Thursday, and he sounded optimistic he could still play Sunday.

"We were just going through the motions and not really trying to go full speed or anything like that [when the injury occurred]," Robinson said. "That should help as far as recovery time."

Asked about Robinson's availability for Sunday, coach Mike Zimmer said, "I don't know. We'll find out a little bit more tomorrow."

If Robinson were unable to play, rookie Jabari Price would likely be next in line.

With John Sullivan ready to return from a concussion this week, the Vikings won't need Joe Berger to start at center on Sunday, but it seems possible Berger could find his way into the lineup at right guard instead. He saw some first-team snaps at the spot this week, while Vlad Ducasse worked his way back from a knee injury. Berger and Zimmer were coy about the plan for the offensive line, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see Berger in the lineup on Sunday.

"I may or may not know that," Berger said when asked whether he has been told if he'll start on Sunday. "If you guys don't know that, I'm going to let the coach tell you."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings center John Sullivan has passed the NFL's concussion protocol and is in line to play Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, coach Mike Zimmer said Thursday.

Sullivan was a limited participant in practice Thursday, but Zimmer said the center "did everything."

Guard Vlad Ducasse also returned to practice in full after injuring his knee last Sunday in Buffalo. Zimmer, however, would not say for certain whether the Vikings would use the same five offensive linemen against the Buccaneers.

"Everything's a little in flux with the injuries, so we'll see," Zimmer said.

Linebacker Gerald Hodges (hamstring) returned to practice on a limited basis, and defensive end Corey Wootton was a full participant after the lower-back injury that kept him out of Sunday's game also limited him Wednesday. Safety Antone Exum missed practice with an ankle injury, however, and cornerback Josh Robinson left practice early after injuring his ankle in individual drills. Zimmer said he wasn't sure how the injury would affect Robinson's status for Sunday.

"He wasn't going very fast when he did it," Zimmer said.

Don't expect any fine offensive displays Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

That's because the Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers both are struggling on offense. The Vikings (2-5) and Bucs (1-5) are starting young quarterbacks and ranked near the bottom of the league in most offensive categories.

The Vikings, led by rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, rank No. 29 in overall offense and are last in passing offense. The Bucs have been starting second-year pro Mike Glennon and they're ranked No. 30 in overall offense.

ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and ESPN Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas preview the matchup:

Yasinskas: Ben, I know the numbers aren't pretty. But has Bridgewater been showing any signs of progress?

Goessling: He has shown some. He hit 12 of his 15 throws after a pair of interceptions in Buffalo on Sunday, and I thought he did a better job of trusting himself to find his receivers downfield than he has in recent weeks. He has looked great at times, especially in the Vikings' win over Atlanta last month, but he's still figuring a lot of things out.

He needs to be better about throwing on target, and he has fallen victim to the same problems that plague many rookies, when he has held the ball a little too long or thrown late because he didn't make up his mind soon enough. But it's important to remember Bridgewater doesn't have Adrian Peterson, Kyle Rudolph and an offensive line that can protect him. The Vikings have given up 27 sacks this season, which is the second-most in the league, and they've forced Bridgewater to run for his life on a number of other occasions.

Speaking of quarterbacks, will Glennon remain the starter or will Josh McCown get the job back now that he's getting healthy?

Yasinskas: Coach Lovie Smith has been coy about his plans. My best guess is Glennon will get at least one more start because McCown returned to practice only this week and was out for more than a month. I think Glennon has played well enough to be the full-time starter, but I'm not sure Smith sees it that way. McCown was Smith's hand-picked quarterback and the two have history together from their Chicago days. Smith's history has shown he prefers to go with veterans. Back in Chicago, he once benched Kyle Orton, who was playing well, as soon as Rex Grossman got healthy. It wouldn't surprise me if Smith goes back to McCown.

You mentioned Minnesota's offensive line. I know it has been banged up. Will it be any healthier this week, and can it at least give Bridgewater some protection against a Tampa Bay pass rush that hasn't been good?

Goessling: It's hard to say at this point if it will be healthier. Guard Vladimir Ducasse is optimistic about his chances to play after injuring his knee on Sunday, but John Sullivan is still going through the concussion protocol, and his loss would be a big one. He's the Vikings' most reliable blocker, and does plenty to help Bridgewater set protections.

The biggest problem, though, has been left tackle Matt Kalil, who got beat again several times on Sunday and has struggled in pass protection all season. Kalil was the No. 4 pick in the draft in 2012 and made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, but got hurt last year and hasn't looked like the same guy. The Vikings were able to protect Bridgewater effectively against Atlanta, another team with an underwhelming pass rush, so I'd expect they'll fare better this week than they have against Detroit and Buffalo.

Shifting to the defensive side of the ball, how has the Vikings' old coach, Leslie Frazier, fared as the coordinator? The Bucs have obviously been shredded on defense; how much of that do you think is Frazier and Smith's old Cover 2 scheme and how much is personnel?

Yaskinsas: Tampa Bay ranks last in total defense and also is No. 32 in pass defense. That's shocking since Smith and Frazier are supposed to be defensive gurus. I think this team has good defensive personnel, especially with tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David. But the pass rush has been non-existent, and that has taken a toll on the secondary. The main problem might be Smith's stubbornness. He's sticking with the Tampa 2 scheme even though it looks like it might be outdated. I'm not saying he should totally ditch the Tampa 2, but it might be wise -- and productive -- to mix in some man coverage at times.

The Vikings lost a last-minute game against Buffalo last week. That reminded me that the Vikings lost a lot of games in the final minutes last season. Is there some sort of flaw there or is this just a young team that needs to learn how to win?

Goessling: They believe it's the latter. The approach the Vikings took on the final drive on Sunday didn't look like what they did last year, when they sat back in coverage on a lot of those final drives. They were aggressive with their fronts, blitzing Orton four times on the drive and sacking him twice. But there were breakdowns that probably can be traced to inexperience. Josh Robinson needed to reroute Sammy Watkins when he pressed him on third-and-12, Xavier Rhodes misplayed Watkins' game-winning touchdown, and first-year coach Mike Zimmer said he probably should have called a timeout before a fourth-and-20 play -- like Frazier did in a couple games last season -- to get the defense settled. The Vikings gave up a first down there after Chad Greenway was trying to get Captain Munnerlyn in the right spot in a no-huddle situation. Greenway had his head turned at the snap and didn't get deep enough in coverage to keep Orton from hitting Scott Chandler for a first down.

The Vikings are young in the secondary, especially, and I think that showed up Sunday, but I continue to see progress in what they're doing. They have Pro Bowl-caliber players in Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith, and Rhodes has continued to improve as a corner. It'll take another year of player acquisitions, but they're headed in the right direction.

To wrap this up, why has the Buccaneers' ground game struggled so much? It might be a function of playing from behind as much as they have, but it seems like they've struggled to run the ball in closer games, too. What do you think the problem has been there?

Yasinskas: It's true they have had to abandon the running game at times because they've fallen so far behind. But even at the start of games, they've struggled to run the ball. That's puzzling because they have a rebuilt offensive line and running back Doug Martin is healthy after missing much of last season with a shoulder injury. I put the majority of the blame on the offensive line. But I also put some blame on Martin. He is averaging only 2.9 yards per carry. His backup, Bobby Rainey, is averaging 4.9 yards a carry. Martin needs to make more out of his opportunities.

MINNEAPOLIS -- By the end of Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills, the Minnesota Vikings had a rookie quarterback playing behind a line down to its last healthy active players and still missing a tight end who is nearly as valuable in pass protection as he is as a receiving threat.

Considering all that, and the fact the Vikings were facing one of the game's best defensive lines, perhaps it's fair to apply some perspective to the Bills' six-sack performance, as Vikings coach Mike Zimmer seemed to do after the game.

"My concern level isn't real high (with the offensive line)," Zimmer said. "I'm proud of the way the guys went in there and continue to fight. We lost those two guys on the same play early in the ballgame. We ran the ball well in the second half and we gave up some opportunities in there. We played good enough defensively that we should've won that last drive."

Perhaps, but the Vikings might have also been able to avoid losing on a last-second touchdown altogether if their first drive of the fourth quarter hadn't sputtered at the Bills' 14 and they'd been able to score a touchdown instead of kick a field goal. Teddy Bridgewater was sacked on back-to-back plays on the drive, and the Vikings ran a read-option handoff on third down, choosing to play it safe and take the points.

Bridgewater put the first sack on himself, saying he had a run-pass option and chose to throw, but Jerry Hughes beat Matt Kalil on a quick inside move. Then, Marcell Dareus got to Bridgewater after looping around Jarius Wynn on a stunt, sliding by Phil Loadholt and dropping the quarterback for a nine-yard loss.

"We didn't do well enough. We lost," Loadholt said. "That's what I say every time. Everybody always asks, 'How did the line play, how did the line play?' When we lose, we didn't play well enough. When we win, it doesn't really matter. It doesn't really matter. We didn't win, so we didn't do well enough and we need to play better."

The numbers would suggest the Vikings protected Bridgewater a little better Sunday than they did the previous week against Detroit, despite losing center John Sullivan and right guard Vlad Ducasse to injuries on the same play. The quarterback was only pressured on 25.8 percent of his dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information, after facing pressure 36.2 percent of the time against the Lions. And the Bills had to bring extra rushers to get to Bridgewater, blitzing on 12 of his 31 dropbacks.

But questions persist about the Vikings' pass protection. And whether or not too much blame is being fixed on the offensive line, a unit that was supposed to be a strength -- and was being paid like one -- hasn't played up to par. Correcting the problem could get more difficult if Sullivan isn't available to direct protections this week, though the Vikings will be facing a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that has just nine sacks on the season. Still, it will take a clean afternoon of protecting Bridgewater to turn down some of the volume about the Vikings' offensive line.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- It would appear Chad Greenway has a good chance to get back on the field this Sunday after a three-game absence.

Greenway was with the Minnesota Vikings at the start of their practice Wednesday afternoon, after doing some limited work on Friday for the first time since he broke three ribs on Sept. 21 in New Orleans. As the veteran returned, linebacker Gerald Hodges -- who started the last three games in Greenway's place -- was sitting out of practice after injuring his hamstring Sunday, so Greenway could have an open path back to his spot as the starting weakside linebacker.

Coach Mike Zimmer said on Wednesday afternoon he would "possibly" consider making changes to the starting five on the Vikings' offensive line after the team gave up eight sacks on Sunday, but the Vikings had the same five starting linemen from Sunday's game -- Matt Kalil, Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Vlad Ducasse and Phil Loadholt -- working together during the open portion of Wednesday's practice.

Cornerback Jabari Price and defensive end Corey Wootton also appeared to not be practicing, and tight end Kyle Rudolph, of course, remains out with a sports hernia.

MINNEAPOLIS -- It began as a day full of promise, a sun-splashed October afternoon that saw Teddy Bridgewater returning from a sprained ankle to play his second home game in front of a fan base thankful to see him. His mother, Rose Murphy, handed out pink ribbons outside TCF Bank Stadium and was honored before the game for her successful fight against breast cancer when Bridgewater was in high school, and Bridgewater had every reason to think that he, too, would hear plenty of cheers in his second NFL start.

It ended as a rude indoctrination, a reminder of how steep a learning curve there is on the way to success as an NFL quarterback. For as poised as Teddy Bridgewater had looked in his first seven quarters as a NFL quarterback, for as well as he'd performed when he was pressured, Bridgewater met the great equalizer that's controlled quarterbacks 10 years his senior: a team that can get pressure with just four pass-rushers.

The Detroit Lions did that on Sunday, harrying the Vikings' offensive line with speed rushes and stunts that gave Bridgewater little time to set his feet. They got five of their eight sacks with four or fewer pass-rushers, according to ESPN Stats & Information, bringing standard pressure on 70.2 percent of Bridgewater's dropbacks. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin dialed up a few well-timed blitzes to finish off what coach Jim Caldwell called a "smothering" defensive performance in the Lions' 17-3 win over the Vikings.

Bridgewater threw for just 188 yards on 37 attempts on Sunday, his longest gain of the day a short pass that Matt Asiata took for 18 yards. Bridgewater was intercepted three times (though two of the passes were tipped), and hit a total of 12 times. If Bridgewater looked like a veteran in control of his offense two weeks ago against Atlanta, on Sunday he looked like a rookie for whom things were happening awfully fast.

"One week you can go out and have over 500 yards of total offense, and the next week you can have 200 yards," Bridgewater said. "That says a lot about this league, how difficult it is each week. Nothing is given; you have to earn it all. Today we just didn't do that."

The consistent pressure on Bridgewater certainly didn't help. The Vikings' offensive line had allowed quarterbacks to be pressured on 30.9 percent of their dropbacks before Sunday -- the sixth-highest rate in the league -- and the group had few answers for the Lions' relentless front.

"Look, they've got great personnel, but that's no excuse," center John Sullivan said. "We've got to block those guys. That's what it comes down to."

Still, Bridgewater agreed with coach Mike Zimmer's opinion that the quarterback could have gotten the ball out quicker at times; Bridgewater said he needed to be faster at ruling out covered receivers in his progressions and put some of the sacks on himself, saying he needed to play faster.

He also was fooled on his first career interception, when safety Glover Quin stepped in front of Bridgewater's throw to Cordarrelle Patterson in the end zone. Bridgewater said he believed Quin would follow Greg Jennings' inside route, but the safety kept himself in position to jump a post route to Patterson, taking away the Vikings' chance to tie the game early.

"I have to see the safety," Bridgewater said. "I was expecting him to run with Greg, but he ran to the outside receiver and made a great play."

There will be better days ahead for Bridgewater, as he adapts to the speed of the pro game, but the Vikings dropped two games behind the Lions in the NFC North on Sunday in part because of how effectively they frustrated the rookie QB. Bridgewater wasn't the first quarterback to have that kind of a day against the Lions this season, but Sunday served as a reminder to Vikings fans that he's not immune to them.

"I expect a lot of myself," Bridgewater said. "It's just one of those days where we needed to show up and we didn't."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The New England Patriots' first outing with their 3-4 defense didn't yield positive results, especially against the run; the Patriots gave up 191 rushing yards to the Miami Dolphins last Sunday, after hoping they had fixed a run defense that allowed 2,145 yards last season.

Though the Minnesota Vikings' own 185-yard rushing total against the St. Louis Rams was helped more by Cordarrelle Patterson's 67-yard touchdown run than by the Vikings' bread-and-butter plays with Adrian Peterson, there could be plenty of room to run against the Patriots on Sunday, too.

"We've seen it before. We see more space out there," guard Brandon Fusco said. "I'll be more out in space, getting to the second level more, running around a little more. I'm fine with that."

Fusco, in particular, saw plenty of action last week, as the Vikings gained 152 of their 185 yards on the right side of the line, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Their new running scheme frequently employs Fusco as a pulling guard, and he was out in front of Peterson on his two biggest runs last week -- a 17-yarder in the first quarter when Fusco was pulling with center John Sullivan, and a 16-yarder in the third quarter, when Fusco and fullback Jerome Felton were leading Peterson.

"(Left guard) Charlie (Johnson) and I are athletic guards, and we're using it to our advantage," Fusco said. "It's something (offensive coordinator) Norv (Turner) likes to do. Sully's out there pulling a little bit, too. It's getting us out in space and hitting the little guys.

"The St. Louis game, there was a play where we're pulling, but they couldn't stop it, so we just kept running it over and over. It seemed like maybe it was a coincidence that I was pulling a lot more than usual, but they couldn't stop the play."

Fusco and right tackle Phil Loadholt are typically the players behind whom the Vikings run the most, and after seeing the Dolphins push Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork around last week, the Vikings could find room to be aggressive with New England's front, as well.

"Miami did a great job, especially with Wilfork in the middle," Fusco said. "They pushed him around a little bit, and we've just got to be physical with these guys."
ST. LOUIS -- The five-year, $25 million contract extension the Minnesota Vikings gave Brandon Fusco on Saturday came three years after they finished a seven-year contract extension with Adrian Peterson, which also came on the day before the season in 2011.

Since then, the Vikings' spending pattern has been consistent: They prized continuity on the offensive line and would devote the necessary resources to ensure they would have it.

In December 2011, the Vikings gave center John Sullivan a five-year deal, also worth $25 million. They used the fourth pick in the draft on left tackle Matt Kalil the following spring and made right tackle Phil Loadholt one of the highest-paid players at his position in March 2013. Even guard Charlie Johnson, the oldest and possibly least-entrenched member of the group, got a new two-year deal from the Vikings after the start of free agency this March, ensuring that the five-man group that has collectively played 163 of a possible 165 games over the last two seasons would remain intact for a third season.

Fusco's deal includes just $6 million guaranteed, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, but his deal will add to the bill for a team that was already spending more on its offensive line than all but 10 teams in the league, according to ESPN Stats and Information. If Kalil plays well enough to earn a long-term extension or the fifth-year option on his rookie deal in 2016, the total figures to rise even more. But with as much money as the Vikings still are spending on Peterson -- and with as much of their future as they will likely entrust to Teddy Bridgewater -- a reliable, cohesive line is an asset the team has deemed worth paying to retain.

The Fusco deal -- while still modest in comparison to the salaries for the league's highest-paid guards -- rewards a former sixth-round pick from tiny Slippery Rock University who has made himself into one of the game's best interior linemen, a road-grader for Peterson who isn't afraid to play with some edginess. It means the Vikings have effectively locked up all of their major in-house priorities before free agency next spring, and it keeps together a line the Vikings have been building since they took Sullivan and Loadholt in the 2008 and 2009 drafts.

There will be some questions for the group to answer, particularly in pass protection after the Vikings allowed 44 sacks last season. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner's scheme is predicated on keeping the quarterback upright long enough to push the ball downfield, and while the perception that his quarterbacks are regularly throwing off seven-step drops is overcooked -- Turner will call for plenty of play-action and quick-developing passes -- his offenses have typically centered around pocket passers who haven't been sacked very much.

But Turner made it clear early in training camp how much he valued the Vikings' offensive line continuity, and it seemed likely the Vikings would make sure they took care of Fusco before he hit free agency next March. The deal was consistent with an approach that's worked well enough for the team not to think of doing anything else.
Welcome back to our chronological look at the 10 plays that most shaped the Minnesota Vikings' 2013 season. Today: Play No. 10.

WHEN: Dec. 8, 2013

WHERE: A 29-26 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

THE PLAY: Cordarrelle Patterson's 79-yard touchdown off a screen pass from Matt Cassel.

WHAT THEY SAID: Patterson: "The way my offensive line blocked and (fullback) Jerome (Felton) kicked his man out ... it was perfect. There was no way that I should have scored. I made a cut and (Matt) Elam slipped and it was a touchdown."

IMPACT OF THE PLAY: The play gave the Vikings a 26-22 lead with just under a minute to play, which they wound up blowing on Joe Flacco's touchdown pass in the closing seconds. But this play, and the handoffs Patterson would turn into big gains, underscored two points: Just how dynamic a talent the Vikings had on their hands, and what a disservice they had done themselves by not finding simple ways to get the ball into Patterson's hands sooner. Say what you want about Patterson's learning curve, about the speed with which he grasps the complexities of a NFL offense, but what he did on this play was pure instinct; he motioned into the right slot on third-and-10, faked a downfield route before stepping back for a screen from Matt Cassel, stepped through a lane created by running back Matt Asiata (not Felton) and Joe Berger, followed a block from John Sullivan, corkscrewed safety Matt Elam into the ground and raced the remaining 25 yards for a touchdown. The play wasn't unlike what Patterson does on kickoffs, showcasing his exemplary vision and top-end speed. It was a brilliantly simple design from offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, and it's a shame the Vikings didn't find occasions to employ Patterson in similar ways earlier in the year.
Welcome to Around the Horns, our daily look at what's happening on the Vikings beat:

Tuesdays in the NFL are typically when players have their day off, so it also tends to be when they make their public appearances, whether for charity, a sponsorship deal or something else. For Vikings running back Toby Gerhart, the last two Tuesdays couldn't have looked any more different.

He showed up at a Best Buy in Richfield, Minn., last week for the "Ultimate Gamers Showdown," squaring off in a couple games of "Madden NFL 25" on PlayStation 4 as part of the event. This week? Gerhart spent his Tuesday on a dairy farm.

The running back appeared at Bremer Farm in Hastings, Minn., as part of the family's prize for submitting the winning photo in a National Dairy Council contest. Michael Rand of the Minneapolis Star Tribune spent the day with Gerhart, chronicling his experience learning to feed calves and talking football with the family farmers.

Gerhart grew up in Norco, Calif., which bills itself as "Horsetown USA" and mostly has riding trails instead of sidewalks, so he's not unfamiliar with rural living. But there's a tendency to forget sometimes how many different types of people make it to the NFL. Gerhart is there. So is Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, who grew up playing nine-man football in a South Dakota town of 400, and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who emerged from poverty in Philadelphia. The league brings together players from a fascinating array of backgrounds, and Rand's story is an enjoyable reminder of that fact.

Here are today's other Vikings stories of note:
  • We looked at the legacy Vikings center John Sullivan is carrying on of charity work at the University of Minnesota's Amplatz Children's Hospital, and exactly what goes into developing a relationship between a player and a cause.
  • We also heard from former Vikings tackle Tim Irwin, who was named to the Vikings' All-Mall of America Field team and came back to Minneapolis on Sunday to watch safety Harrison Smith -- whom Irwin coached in youth football -- return from injured reserve.
  • Andrew Krammer of looked at what made Matt Cassel so efficient in the Vikings' win over the Eagles on Sunday.
  • Cordarrelle Patterson's impact on the Vikings' offense is continuing to grow, writes Tim Yotter of Viking Update.