NFC North: Steven Hauschka
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota played it safe Sunday afternoon … and won. I’m not sure the victory was worthy of the wild celebration we just saw on the Metrodome field, but in the end the Vikings can say they are still undefeated this season.
Vikings coach Brad Childress’ team lost a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter as the Ravens exploded offensively for 302 yards in the second half. But Childress decided to play for a field goal after the Vikings got the ball to the Ravens’ 18-yard line with 2:46 remaining, calling three running plays before Ryan Longwell kicked a 31-yard field goal with 1:56 left.
A capacity crowd at the Metrodome booed lustily, knowing how easily the Ravens had moved the ball in the second half. And true to form, Baltimore marched down the field with no timeouts at their disposal. But Childress’ strategy paid off when Ravens place-kicker Steven Hauschka was wide left on a 44-yard field goal attempt as time expired.
Was it luck? Good strategy? Brett Favre magic? I don’t know for sure. At this point, all we can confirm is the Vikings are 6-0.
Back with more in a few hours.
Thought a few of you might be interested in this news item: The subject of last week's mailbag, placekicker Steven Hauschka, was claimed on waivers Sunday by the Baltimore Ravens. For now, Hauschka is a member of the Ravens' 53-man roster -- presumably as a kickoff specialist for veteran Matt Stover.
Hauschka made the most of a unique opportunity afforded by the Minnesota Vikings this summer. While incumbent Ryan Longwell limited his kicks to preserve leg strength, Hauschka worked two full preseason games and converted all four of his field goal attempts. Three of them came Aug. 16 at Baltimore.
Hauschka never had a chance to beat out Longwell, but we figured he had done enough to merit a look from another team. The Ravens must have liked what they saw. It's not entirely clear what role they have planned for Hauschka, but for now he has a job in the NFL.
We told you we planned to experiment with the weekly mailbag and we're still doing it. This week, we decided to produce a feature-style post based on a reader's question or comment. Monty of Buffalo suggested telling the story of rookie placekicker Steven Hauschka, who has been in a unique position this summer with the Minnesota Vikings.
Ask and you shall receive.
Barring catastrophic injuries elsewhere, Steven Hauschka has no chance to make the Vikings' 53-man roster. He never did and knew it the day he signed as an undrafted rookie; Veteran Ryan Longwell is firmly entrenched in the job.
As it turns out, however, Hauschka could not have made a better choice. The Vikings decided this summer to curtail Longwell's preseason kicks to maintain his leg strength, giving Hauschka the relatively rare opportunity to kick exclusively in their first two preseason games.
Hauschka has made the most of it, connecting on all eight attempts -- including a 48-yard field goal last Saturday in Baltimore. Longwell is expected to resume his duties this Saturday against Pittsburgh, but if nothing else Hauschka likely has earned himself a few tryouts when the annual scramble for kicking help begins later this month.
"He's done a great job listening and taking suggestions," Longwell said. "He's realized there is a bigger picture here than just trying to kick it right now. He's done a great job and I think he has a chance to kick in this league."
Like many kickers, Hauschka took a unique road to this point. He started as a soccer player at Division III Middlebury College before walking on to the football team as a sophomore. As a result, he had one year of football eligibility remaining when he graduated in 2006.
With an eye toward the NFL, Hauschka began graduate work at N.C. State and walked on for the 2007 season. He won the Wolfpack's kicking job, made 16 of 18 field goals and led the ACC with an 88.9 percent conversion percentage.
Undrafted rookies rarely win a job in their first training camp, so Hauschka took a more global view in deciding his next step.
"I looked at it and thought, 'Ryan is obviously a 12-year veteran,'" Hauschka said. "'There's a reason why he's been around for so long. He really knows what he's doing.' I just thought I could learn a lot from him and get some good exposure while I was doing it.
"There are very few kicking coaches," Hauschka added. "So really the guys that know the most about kicking are the guys that are in the NFL, and they're not always willing to share it. I'm thankful that Ryan has been."
Among the many adjustments Longwell has suggested is squaring his hips toward the crossbar, rather than angling them toward the pylon, when setting up for a field goal. Hauschka also had a 20-minute conversation last week with Ravens kicker Matt Stover and is keeping a journal of everything he learns this summer.
"I give him a lot of credit," Longwell said. "I've been with guys in camp that I've suggested things to, and they have said, 'No, my way is the way I want to do it.' They never pan out. But he's taken the suggestions and he's got a great situation here: Two full games for himself. That's rare for an undrafted guy. He's performed well, and you never know. There's certainly some jobs open out there."
|Tim Heitman/US PRESSWIRE|
|The Minnesota Vikings are counting on Adrian Peterson and Tarvaris Jackson this season.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
Let's, er, wrap-up our Camp Wrap series today by looking at the Minnesota Vikings. (We covered the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers late last week. And there isn't much to add to this report on the Detroit Lions, which came after a visit on the final day of their training camp).
What we learned about the Vikings this summer:
1. Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson has made some improvements but needs to be more careful about preserving his health. Most recently, he sprained his right knee after choosing to lower his shoulder on two Baltimore defenders rather than sliding. "Maybe we learn to play another day and take two less yards on running up the field," coach Brad Childress said. Amen.
2. Preseason injuries are a downer. The Vikings have lost special teams ace Heath Farwell (knee) and defensive end Jayme Mitchell (knee) for the season. They will go without new safety Madieu Williams (neck) for at least the first three games and are hoping Jackson is not sidelined long. Receiver Bernard Berrian has been bothered by a case of turf toe and nose tackle Pat Williams is battling elbow and knee ailments. Even with a deep roster, the Vikings can't withstand many more significant injuries.
3. The Vikings have a high degree of confidence in placekicker Ryan Longwell -- so much so that he was a healthy scratch for the first two preseason games. The decision was part of a plan to ensure that Longwell, 34, maintains a strong leg for the duration of the season. In the meantime, rookie Steven Hauschka has kicked well enough in Longwell's place to earn a few tryouts later this summer. We'll bring you more on Hauschka later this week. (Try to contain your excitement).
What we still need to find out:
1. Resolution at left tackle. There still has been no official word on the status of left tackle Bryant McKinnie, whom the NFL is likely to discipline in some way for an offseason arrest in Miami. Will it be a fine? One game? Two? Four? No one knows yet. The same can also be said for his potential replacement. Artis Hicks remains the likeliest candidate, but he spent no time at left tackle during camp. Instead, the Vikings worked three young players behind McKinnie: Chase Johnson, Drew Radovich and Tim Mattran. The latter two are sidelined with shoulder and ankle injuries, respectively.
2. If Jared Allen can fix the pass defense alone. Madieu Williams' injury leaves Allen as the only healthy newcomer the Vikings brought in to improve a pass defense that finished last in the NFL in 2007. Allen has applied some pressure in the preseason but it will be a while before we know whether the Vikings' perennially poor pass defense has gotten any better.
3. If the Vikings are ready to overcome the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears for NFC North supremacy. The Vikings haven't won the division since 2000, and on paper they have as deep a roster as any of the division's four teams. But the injuries and Jackson's uncertain status requires a wait-and-see attitude.