NFC North: Vikings-Lions

It's late.

We're all tired.

Most of us are cranky.

So let's get to the bottom line.

It's time.

It's time for the Minnesota Vikings to recognize that their admirable but toothless stadium strategy has failed.

It's time to end the exclusivity they have given the state of Minnesota on this issue.

There's no more reasons to tiptoe around skittish state leaders who root for the Vikings but won't commit public money to maintain their long-term presence.

It's time for the Vikings to play their last remaining card, the one I'm surprised they haven't used already.

What's the secret to securing public financing for a new stadium?

Relocation.

Relocation.

Relocation.

(Or at least the threat thereof.)

Even after their Metrodome lease expired, the Vikings couldn't advance their stadium bill through a single committee in the Minnesota Senate. It was rejected outright late Monday night by a committee in the Minnesota House of Representatives, and prominent state Rep. John Kriesel said of the bill via Twitter: "it is almost certainly dead this year."

Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley reacted angrily to the committee vote, telling reporters "it would be a mistake" to believe the team won't react accordingly to the news.

To me, there is only one reaction remaining.

Bagley and the Vikings' owning Wilf family have tried to work within the system. One of the first things Zygi Wilf said when he bought the team in 2005 was that he would never move it. He's changed stadium strategies repeatedly upon direction from state leaders, including an abandonment of his 2006 effort to make political room for new parks for the Minnesota Twins and the University of Minnesota. The Vikings also buried a year's worth of work at their chosen site in suburban Arden Hills because political and business leaders wanted the stadium to remain in downtown Minneapolis.

It's time for Wilf to acknowledge in a public way that Minnesota state leaders might not be willing to support any part of the financing of a $975 million stadium. If that's the case, it would only make prudent business sense for the Vikings to begin investigating stadium sites outside of Minnesota.

I truly don't think the Vikings, the Wilf family or the NFL want to move the franchise. But state leaders felt little urgency after the Vikings allowed the NFL's Feb. 15 deadline for relocation applications to pass. As disappointing as it sounds, there aren't many legislative bodies left in this country that will take on controversial long-term issues when they don't absolutely, positively, have to. The Vikings don't have a lease, but they also haven't given themselves an option and have essentially asked state leaders to give them a break for playing by the rules.

I've always followed the theory that the Vikings' stadium issue wouldn't be addressed in a meaningful way until a crisis was at hand. And a crisis is not the expiration of a lease, at least if it's not accompanied by at least a realistic possibility that the franchise can act on its status as a free agent and seek other options.

The Vikings have avoided the threat of relocation for obvious reasons. It's distasteful. It can hurt feelings, bruise egos and create long-lasting ill will in the community. I can't say I would enjoy covering it.

But I'll be fascinated to see if the Vikings find a way to avoid it now.

It's time.

If not now, when?

Another chance for Tarvaris Jackson

December, 7, 2008
12/07/08
7:39
PM ET
 
 Leon Halip/US Presswire
 Tarvaris Jackson led the Vikings to 17 second-half points on Sunday.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

DETROIT -- A group of Minnesota coaches and players gathered around Tarvaris Jackson in the locker room late Sunday afternoon. Jackson was grinning from ear to ear, accepting congratulations and slaps on the back.

Someone passed out a final stat sheet.

"One-forty-three!" exclaimed offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.

No, that figure wasn't the number of interceptions Jackson threw Sunday. He didn't take 143 sacks or make 143 poor decisions or throw a pass 143 feet over someone's head.

Actually, 143.8 was Jackson's passer rating in Minnesota's 20-16 victory at Ford Field. After replacing an injured Gus Frerotte, Jackson led the Vikings to 17 second-half points. His 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe proved to be the game winner, an important milestone for a once-banished player who might be asked to quarterback his team to the playoffs.

"[Coaches] have been telling me, 'I guarantee you'll be back in there at some point,'" Jackson said. "That's just how the NFL is. And today it actually happened. I'm just glad we got a win out of it."

Coaches often motivate a disappointed backup with similar rhetoric, but in the Vikings' case it was a very reasonable scenario. Frerotte, 37, has been knocked from four of the 11 games he has started since taking over in Week 3. Sunday, Frerotte never returned after a back contusion forced him to leave the field on a cart in the second quarter.

(Read full post)

Rapid Reaction: Vikings 20, Lions 16

December, 7, 2008
12/07/08
4:03
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

DETROIT -- This game was blacked out on local television, so I guess it's appropriate that I come to you via Blackberry thanks to a wireless outage at Ford Field.

Boys and girls, the Vikings squeezed by the winless Detroit Lions in nerve-wracking fashion here. The Lions appeared to be moving in for the go-ahead score with less than six minutes remaining, but a reversed third-down catch by Calvin Johnson forced the Lions to settle for a field goal and a one-point deficit.

The Vikings, playing with backup Tarvaris Jackson after a back injury to Gus Frerotte, sealed the game on Ryan Longwell's 50-yard field goal.

It was hardly an aesthetic victory for the Vikings, who now have to worry about both the "Williams Wall" and Frerotte's health. But the win allowed them to hold on to first place in the NFC North with three games to play.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
Jackson

DETROIT -- Sorry for the late posting. We're having wireless problems in the Ford Field press box. Right now I'm crawling on a broadband card.

This game got awfully interesting in the final five minutes or so of the second quarter. The most recent turn of events was Minnesota quarterback Gus Frerotte leaving the field on a cart with what the team called a lower back injury.

The Lions will get the ball first in the third quarter, but it's very possible the Vikings will have to go with backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. I didn't see Frerotte warming up on the field.

Interestingly, most of the Vikings players came running out of the locker room about 30 seconds before kickoff. I'm guessing they got a pretty good tongue-lashing with the score 6-3.

Frerotte leaves on a cart

December, 7, 2008
12/07/08
2:20
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

DETROIT -- The injury to Minnesota quarterback Gus Frerotte is serious enough that he just left the field on a cart.

The injury was announced as a lower back injury. On the last play he was on the field, Frerotte tackled Detroit defensive end Corey Smith after an interception.

Tarvaris Jackson, of course, is the Vikings' backup quarterback.

Fireworks at Ford Field

December, 7, 2008
12/07/08
2:18
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

DETROIT -- Things just got really interesting at Ford Field.

Minnesota right end Jared Allen limped off the field with an apparent left knee injury. But before he got off the field, Allen had to be held back from attacking Detroit right tackle Gosder Cherilus -- who caused the injury by cutting Allen below the knee on a pass rush.

No penalty was called, but Allen was livid and had to be restrained by teammate Ray Edwards.

On the next play, Lions fullback Moran Norris was ejected for punching Minnesota linebacker Napoleon Harris.

The series of plays has definitely ratcheted up the intensity here at Ford Field.

The Lions are threatening to expand a 6-3 lead here at the end of the second quarter, courtesy another interception of Gus Frerotte. (This one was tipped by Shaun Cody into the hands of Corey Smith).

Allen was initially replaced by Otis Grigsby but has since returned.

Meanwhile, Frerotte has come up with a lower back injury. We'll keep you updated.

Lions like Gus Frerotte

December, 7, 2008
12/07/08
1:48
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

DETROIT -- Here's a good one for you: The Detroit Lions have three interceptions this season. Two have come against Minnesota's Gus Frerotte.

(Thanks to the Star Tribune's Judd Zulgad for pointing that out).

The most recent -- by linebacker Ryan Nece -- led to a 23-yard field goal from Jason Hanson, giving the Lions a 6-0 lead early in the second quarter.

This isn't totally unusual for the Lions, who had bigger leads against Carolina (10-0) and Tampa Bay (17-0) before imploding. But to this point, the Lions have been pretty steady and the Vikings have been exceedingly flat.

Will there be a turning point? We're waiting to find out.

A few of your close friends

December, 7, 2008
12/07/08
1:03
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

DETROIT -- Wow. If I had a few more minutes, I think I could count most of the people in the stands at Ford Field. I've never seen an NFL game with more empty seats at kickoff.

This is a 65,000-seat stadium. If I had to guess, there are maybe 40,000 or 45,000 people in the stands. Although fans are still coming through the doors, there are rows of completely empty seats all through the building.

Either way, this is an all-timer, at least for me.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

DETROIT -- For those who crave minute-by-minute updates on the status of Detroit backup quarterback Drew Stanton, I can report to you that he's in uniform and available to play if needed.

Stanton has been suffering from the effects of a concussion, and Drew Henson will be the primary backup to Daunte Culpepper. But Stanton is officially the No. 3 quarterback and would be eligible to play if both Culpepper and Henson become unavailable.

Video: Blogger's Blitz

December, 5, 2008
12/05/08
12:30
PM ET

Kevin Seifert discusses the playoff race in the NFC North.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

By minor miracle, we managed to keep this week's "Have at it" topic relevant for the past 48 hours.

We asked you to take a side on a sticky issue: Should Minnesota defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams pursue legal action to lift their four-game suspensions? By doing so, they run the risk of having their suspensions temporarily overturned but later reinstated by the courts, a scenario that would leave them suspended for a potential playoff game.

The alternative would be to drop their legal challenge, serve the four-game suspension and be eligible for the playoffs.

The players' attorneys decided Wednesday afternoon to pursue the temporary injunction, but the overwhelming number of you argued for them to serve the suspension now.

Aginor_DM believes the Vikings have a strong shot to win two of their final four games without their star defensive tackles, a formula that should be good enough to win the division:

"Sit for the remainder of the season and take your chances. There is a good bet they beat Detroit for one win and there is a good bet the Giants rest their starters for the final game of the year for the other. Add in a good shot at the Cardinals and Falcons and there is no reason to jeopardize a possible playoff game on the off chance that the Vikings don't at least take two of the final four games. I don't see them running the table, but to say they won't win 2 games seems like a stretch even without the Williams wall."

NorsemanPower thinks other players would step well into the Williamses' shoes if they sit out the final four games:

"Take the suspension now. I believe the suspect suspension of two team leaders will elevate the play of the whole team. Use it to motivate the team!! We can get 2 of the next 4. Detroit and Arizona are very winnable and Atlanta and NY are in the dome. NY will be resting for the playoffs."

Doug Pretty sympathizes with the inherent problem -- it's conceivable the Vikings could miss the playoffs if the Williams sit out the next four games.

"It really is a "chicken or egg" type dilemma. As a fan, it's been so long since they've won a title or been in the playoffs, the temptation is great to want them to play now. However, what would the point be if we put a shell of our original defense on the field for the duration (however long or short) of the playoffs? Three of the four teams the Vikings finish the season with are contending for or have already clinched playoff berths, so at some point we're going to have to face a playoff caliber team without them anyway. Better to take our lumps now, since we get Detroit, and end the season with two home games."

My take? One thing I'll say off the top is there are some people in the Vikings organization who agree with you: They would prefer to see the Williamses take their punishment now and not risk missing a playoff game.

They know the players have some legitimate points and stand to lose more than $1 million in combined base salary, a total that their shares for playing even in multiple postseason games wouldn't make up. But they also know there is no precedent for challenging the NFL's steroid policy in court. There's no guarantee this lawsuit will work, no matter how legitimate the points are. And while it's possible that a good group of attorneys could delay the issue into the offseason, that's not a risk you want to be wrong on.

So here's my opinion: Let's find out how good the Vikings really are. If they're a legitimate playoff-caliber team, they should be able to beat Detroit and one of their final three opponents without the Williams Wall. Doing so almost certainly will win the NFC North title.

A team's regular-season competitiveness shouldn't be based on the presence of two defensive tackles, no matter how good they are. Playoff football, on the other hand, takes place on an entirely different plane and every team needs to be at full strength.

In the end, I think the Vikings have a better chance of winning two of their next four regular-season games without the Williams Wall than they do of winning a playoff game without them.

Vikings monitoring Peterson's health

December, 4, 2008
12/04/08
5:27
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
 
 Bruce Kluckhohn/US Presswire
 Minnesota's Adrian Peterson has 270 carries this season.

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- We take a momentary break in our wall-to-wall coverage of, well, the Williams Wall to suggest Vikings fans keep a close eye on the health of tailback Adrian Peterson.

Peterson limped to the sideline twice during last Sunday's game against Chicago. He returned to play on both occasions, finishing with 131 yards on 28 carries, but has hardly practiced this week while in serious recovery mode.

It's not unusual for a veteran running back to limit his repetitions during the week, but the Vikings are going out of their way to avoid tagging him with a specific ailment. The Vikings on Wednesday attributed his absence from practice as "rest" in their official injury report, while on Thursday the reason for his limited work was "not injury-related."

Peterson said Thursday he was "a little sore" after Sunday night's game.

"I took a lot of shots," he said. "A little beat up. Had a little rest. Feeling pretty good."

Peterson wore a brace on his right knee a few weeks ago in practice, the same knee in which he suffered a torn lateral collateral ligament last season. Asked if he took a shot on his knee Sunday night, Peterson said: ""I took a shot on my right knee, my left knee, my ankle, my foot, hip. I took so many shots, but I'm feeling pretty good."

There is every reason to believe that Peterson will start Sunday at Detroit. But his 270 carries are the most he's had in a season since his freshman year at Oklahoma in 2004, when he rushed 339 times. Whether he has a specific injury or is just sore, the Vikings are working hard to preserve their top player during the most crucial stretch of the season.

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