NFL Nation: Minnesota Vikings

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings' time without Adrian Peterson officially began last week, but it wasn't until early Wednesday morning that the team made a move to suggest it would be without the 2012 NFL MVP for the foreseeable future.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
AP Photo/Sang TanMatt Cassel is not likely to see opposing defenses selling out to stop the run game without Adrian Peterson, but he's been in similar situations before.
Vikings players head into Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints knowing it could be weeks, if not months, before Peterson is back on the field. The practical effects of that move might weigh heaviest on the man now charged with running the Vikings' offense on the field, knowing he won't have Peterson to occupy defenses' attention.

Matt Cassel has been in this situation before, winning a pair of games when Peterson was out with a foot injury in December. But the Vikings could be without Peterson for a longer period of time this year. Unlike last year, when Cassel had emerged the winner of the Vikings' bizarre quarterback carousel and was playing for a team with no playoff prospects and little to lose, he's trying to keep the job he won over rookie Teddy Bridgewater in training camp.

Cassel threw four interceptions in the Vikings' 30-7 loss to the New England Patriots last Sunday, though coach Mike Zimmer said Cassel had played well from training camp through the Vikings' season-opening win over the St. Louis Rams, adding, "I'm not going to let one bad afternoon define it."

What I'll be curious to see, however, is how long Cassel can keep the Vikings' offense productive, and the team can keep its record competitive. Otherwise, the Vikings could have reason to turn over the job to Bridgewater at some point this season and give him a chance to develop on the field.

In the meantime, Cassel will have to work without one of the underrated luxuries of quarterbacking next to Peterson. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Vikings quarterbacks have seen eight-man fronts on 122 dropbacks since the start of the 2012 season, the second-most in the NFL during that time. Some of those looks have been a tacit sign that defenses didn't have to worry about getting beat by the Vikings' passing game, but many have been a reflection of how much attention Peterson commands. Neither Cassel nor Christian Ponder were able to make the most of the single-coverage looks they saw last year, but Cassel had drilled both of his throws against eight-man fronts this year for a total of 31 yards.

In any case, Cassel is not likely to see defenses selling out against Matt Asiata or Jerick McKinnon in the same way, and the Vikings won't be able to rely on the big gains they came to count on from Peterson in their offense.

"I think when you have a back who is capable of making big plays and has a history of making plays -- 10, 15-yard runs -- those plays can supplant some plays you're not getting in another area," offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. "I think when you're coaching a player like that you kind of count on that you're going to get those kind of plays. I think Matt and Jerick both had big runs, but I don't think you can say, 'Hey, in this game we are going to get three or four runs over 15 yards,' like you would with Adrian. You just have to adjust your plan."

The defining moment of Cassel's career came in 2008, when he stepped in for an injured Tom Brady and led the New England Patriots to an 11-5 record in the wake of Drady's deflating injury. He drew parallels to that experience Thursday, but the difference this time is, he's not working with the remainder of a team that went 18-1 the year before. These Vikings are young, they've lost their best player and they'll need Cassel to play well.

"We do have a young, impressionable team. I think that the main thing is trying to block out the noise on the outside because there is a lot of it going on right now," Cassel said. "The Saints aren't going to feel sorry for us when we go down there on Sunday. Part of doing this job is overcoming some adversity, and we've faced some adversity, obviously, early this year."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer still sounded optimistic on Thursday he'd have Chad Greenway on the field this Sunday in New Orleans, despite Greenway's broken left hand. But the Vikings have injuries to several starters to track on the other side of the ball.

Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson was added to Thursday's injury report after being limited in practice with a chest injury, and tight end Kyle Rudolph was again limited in practice with an abdominal injury. Right tackle Phil Loadholt was a limited participant with an ankle injury for the second straight day, though Zimmer thought Loadholt would be ready to go for Sunday's game.

"He'll be fine," Zimmer said. "He's tough."

Cornerback Xavier Rhodes (groin) and wide receiver Rodney Smith (hamstring) returned to full participation on Thursday, while defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd was a limited participant after missing Wednesday's practice. Linebacker Brandon Watts also worked in a limited capacity for the second consecutive day, after returning from a knee injury.

"He's got great speed," Zimmer said of Watts. "He's a young, developing player that I think has a great future in this league. He's got some coverage ability and it's hard to find linebackers with coverage ability nowadays, the way the league is."

Linebacker Michael Mauti was a full participant with a foot injury for the second straight day, and could be in line to make his regular-season debut on Sunday. If Greenway is unable to go, Mauti or Gerald Hodges might start in his place at weakside linebacker, but Zimmer said he thinks Greenway is improving.

"He feels a lot better today," Zimmer said. "He didn't practice, but he feels a lot better. He was running around pretty good, so we'll see how he does tomorrow."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- As he sat on his couch last Sunday, watching a handful of Minnesota Vikings special-teams mistakes in the final game of his suspension, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said he did a fairly good job of following his wife's "lecture" to stay calm in front of his kids.

That is, except for when he saw the Vikings put just nine players on the field for a third-quarter punt return, after the New England Patriots faked a decision to go for it on fourth down and made a late switch to their punt personnel.

[+] EnlargeMike Priefer
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallSpecial teams coordinator Mike Priefer returned to the Vikings this week after completing sensitivity training.
Of his reaction to that play, Priefer said, "I probably can't say it in public."

Priefer has the Vikings' special-teams units back under his control now after he completed sensitivity training to shorten his suspension from three games to two for making a homophobic remark during the 2012 season. The Vikings brought Priefer back to work on Monday, and the coach received a standing ovation from players in his first meeting.

"It was awesome,” Priefer said. “Normally, I’m there three or four minutes before the meeting starts. I walked in right as the meeting started because we had just finished up a staff meeting, and it was really, really a cool thing. It was something I didn’t expect. It was a warm reception and I really appreciated it. I’m an emotional guy and I really did appreciate it. Reflecting back on it, I think that will be one of the great things that’s ever happened to me as a football coach.”

Priefer wouldn't get into the details of what he did during sensitivity training, but said he embraced the training session. "I don't know if I've changed," he said, "but I think I have more awareness of my surroundings and other people around me. I think I'm a better man because of it."

Now that he's back and he's served the full punishment that resulted from a six-month independent investigation into former punter Chris Kluwe's allegations against him, Priefer said he told players the situation is "all behind us. It's over.

"The situation is a dead issue and it’s time to move on. I know it was hard for them. I apologized to them because of what I basically put them through being away for two weeks. But now it’s time to improve and get better. We have a lot of work to do.”
Zygi WilfAP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltThe indictment of Adrian Peterson was another lesson in management for the Wilf family (Mark, second from left, and Zygi, right) as Vikings owners.

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- It was about 2 years ago when Zygi Wilf and I were having an informal conversation in his office at the Minnesota Vikings' practice facility. It was the same room where, in previous years, Wilf had addressed his embarrassment over the team's "Love Boat" scandal, and later his concerns about a coach who kept releasing players without telling him, and later a stadium fight that threatened the future of his franchise.

"I'll tell you this," Wilf said, rubbing his forehead, "you have to really love football to do this. I mean, you have to love football. The headaches that come with it ..."

We laughed, because he and I both understood that the money is pretty decent, too. But to me, it was Wilf's way of saying that owning an NFL team comes with all sorts of unintended consequences and moments far beyond the comfort zone and interest level of even the most successful businessmen in the country.

The indictment of running back Adrian Peterson, and the Vikings' confusing and contradictory response, should be viewed as the latest in a long line of lessons in the education of an accidental owner. The Wilfs made their billions with a family-run real estate company that by definition bears little resemblance to the structure of NFL franchises, distinctions that have been made clear one incident at a time.

Few people remember that Zygi Wilf, his brother Mark and cousin Lenny never intended to be in a spot where their management style was subject to public scrutiny. They grew up as New York Giants fans whose father, Joseph Wilf, once made a run at purchasing the New York Jets.

In 2005, mutual acquaintances helped recruit Zygi Wilf into an investment group led by Arizona entrepreneur Reggie Fowler, who signed the initial 2005 purchase agreement with former Vikings owner Red McCombs. When questions about Fowler's financial backing threatened to scuttle the deal, Wilf and his family swapped places with him -- in part to salvage the group's $20 million deposit.

From the start, the Wilfs were on their managerial heels. Their initial hopes to be invested fans scuttled by Fowler's financial questions, the Wilfs tried to structure a franchise to operate independently with their occasional involvement.

The model was Garden Homes, the Wilfs' real estate company, where family members talk through issues and make group decisions. In Minnesota, it led to a three-man committee system for football operations that included the head coach, the personnel director and the contract negotiator. Zygi Wilf envisioned himself as the tiebreaker on football decisions, while Mark Wilf was considered the glue between vice presidents of finance, marketing, stadium development and legal.

That structure was appealing in theory because it removed owners from making decisions out of their expertise. But it proved clunky and inefficient while leaving the team vulnerable to issues that fall between the cracks of their internal fiefdoms.

Rick Spielman finally convinced Wilf in 2013 to verticalize football operations under one general manager role, but the rest of the organization remains structurally splintered and contributed to the team's chaotic response to Peterson's arrest.

The Wilfs are among a handful of NFL owners who don't live in their home market, but in most of the other cases, a unifying team president is on site every day. The Vikings' team president technically is Mark Wilf, who like his brother lives and works in New Jersey.

The arrest of a superstar, at a time of intense social scrutiny of the NFL, is not a matter for a general manager, a vice president of legal affairs or anyone else. It requires leadership from a unifying figure that the Vikings don't possess. Someone with the appropriate authority must take charge in that situation. The decision to reinstate Peterson on Monday was overbalanced toward football goals and was punctuated by an obvious failure to work through the problem from a moral and business standpoint.

Zygi Wilf acknowledged Wednesday that the Vikings made a mistake, and Mark Wilf expressed hope that team supporters will recognize "we are doing our best as ownership and a franchise to do the right thing."

How will the Wilfs react? It was worth noting that they were joined at their news conference by not only Spielman but also Kevin Warren, the longtime vice president of legal affairs. Is Warren in line for a business-side promotion on par with Spielman? That's a question worth asking as the Wilfs deal with the headache that is NFL ownership.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings were without linebacker Chad Greenway -- because of a broken hand and a rib injury -- at practice on Wednesday, as well as right tackle Phil Loadholt (ankle) and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (shoulder).

Tight end Kyle Rudolph and cornerback Xavier Rhodes joined those three players on a list of Vikings starters who missed practice time on Wednesday. Rudolph was limited with an abdominal injury, which showed up on the Vikings' injury report for the first time, while Rhodes was limited because of the groin injury he played with last Sunday. Coach Mike Zimmer said Rhodes will be "fine" to play on Sunday, after he played last week's game against the New England Patriots.

Linebacker Brandon Watts, who missed the Vikings' first two games with a knee injury, also practiced in a limited capacity for the first time this season. Wide receiver Rodney Smith (hamstring) was limited, and linebacker Michael Mauti (foot) was a full participant.

Zimmer: Chad Greenway has broken hand

September, 17, 2014
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- We'll attempt to squeeze in some football news on a day where most of the news surrounding the Minnesota Vikings is of a different nature. Coach Mike Zimmer said Wednesday that linebacker Chad Greenway broke his hand Sunday against the New England Patriots, though Zimmer is hoping Greenway will be able to play Sunday in New Orleans.

Greenway
Zimmer added that right tackle Phil Loadholt is not practicing Wednesday because of an ankle injury,

Zimmer said he thought Greenway broke his hand early in Sunday's game against the Patriots; Greenway received medical attention in the first quarter but finished the game. Zimmer wasn't sure to what extent the injury will affect Greenway's tackling, a year after the linebacker played much of the season with a broken wrist.

Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd should be ready to play after dealing with a shoulder injury last week, and cornerback Xavier Rhodes -- who was questionable last week with a groin injury -- will be fine for Sunday's game against the Saints as well.

Peterson's future with Vikings unclear

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
10:50
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His face was synonymous with the Minnesota Vikings, splashed across the architectural drawings and promotional materials for the new stadium they will open in 2016. Now, Adrian Peterson's relationship with the team that drafted him has been permanently changed, and the question now is how much longer it will last.

The Vikings' decision to take Peterson off the field while his child abuse case plays out was a startling about-face, less than 36 hours after the team had said Peterson would play Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. There was mounting pressure from sponsors, charitable partners and politicians -- including Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, who led a long legislative fight for the Vikings' new stadium and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with team owner Zygi Wilf at December's groundbreaking.

In the face of that reaction, it seemed the Vikings had two choices: stick to the decision they announced Monday and absorb the damage that came with it or step back and take Peterson off the field.

The decision to put him on the exempt list looks like the prudent one financially, however clumsily the Vikings arrived at it, but now it's fair to wonder whether Peterson has played his final game in Minnesota. He isn't due to make his first appearance in court until Oct. 8 -- his initial hearing was bumped back from Wednesday -- and even if Peterson pleads guilty to one count of reckless or negligent injury to a child, he would then be under the purview of the NFL's enhanced domestic violence policy and could face additional discipline from the league.

If the Vikings are going to keep Peterson beyond this year, they will again have to consider the finances, and much more.

He is due to make $12.75 million in 2015 as a 30-year-old running back, and the Vikings would have to count just $2.4 million of dead money against their salary cap if they were to release him.

There's plenty of rumbling in league circles that if the Vikings did part with Peterson, it would be through a trade rather than a release. While another team would have trouble absorbing Peterson's contract, that problem could be solved easily enough with an extension that cuts Peterson's overall salary, provides him some guaranteed money and spreads the cap hit out over several seasons that Peterson might never play.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsIf the Vikings were to cut Adrian Peterson, he would count as just $2.4 million of dead money against the 2015 salary cap.
The Vikings could use a similar approach to manage Peterson's crushing cap hit -- $15.4 million in 2015 -- and keep him on their roster. The question is, will they want to?

There's no doubt Vikings decision-makers are fond of Peterson. He's been a superstar who hasn't asked to be feted in the way many players of his stature are, and he's been among the team's most active players in the community. One of the greatest difficulties facing team officials this week has been reconciling their impression of Peterson -- a behemoth of a running back who maintains an enthusiasm for the game -- with the revelations brought about in his child abuse case. Some in the organization believe if a contrite Peterson were to return in a Vikings uniform, he could again be a force, for his own redemption on the field and for some positive change off it.

A court will ultimately decide whether Peterson was malicious, or simply misguided, when he disciplined his son so severely, but part of the awkwardness in this process stems from the Vikings trying to balance competitive, corporate, legal and relational interests and assign appropriate weight to each one.

The team wouldn't have tried so hard, and taken so many hits, to keep the 2012 NFL MVP under its control if it didn't have some interest in a future with Peterson, not when releasing him would have been so clean and simple. The fact that the Vikings announced their decision to take Peterson off the field early Wednesday morning, after hours of deliberations and consultations with the league, shows this was not a choice they arrived at easily. It's fair to assume more hard decisions with Peterson are on the way.
In an interview last week, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell spoke of the league's "responsibility to society" and suggested it has the ability to "make a difference" through its policies and responses to instances of misconduct.

"And every day," he concluded, "that's what we're going to strive to do."

Except for Monday, I presume.

After an exhaustive two-day investigation into serious charges against their best player -- charges that ballooned into two separate cases Monday night -- the Minnesota Vikings decided there was absolutely nothing they could do. They ignored Adrian Peterson's own admissions and announced they would allow due process to take its course before ruling on his status. Because the legal timetable will extend well into next year, it's quite possible the Vikings will never have to address the issue at all.

So let's call this what it is: A blatant and obvious play to wring one more year out of an aging superstar before bidding him farewell under the guise of salary cap management and the occasion of his 30th birthday.

Naturally, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman denied that suggestion Monday during a tense exchange with reporters.

"It has nothing to do with that," he said. "It has to do with the information that we have."

Let's look at that information and compare it to the recent history of the organization.

Peterson was charged Friday with reckless or negligent injury to a child after an incident in the spring involving his 4-year-old son in Texas. In separate statements, Peterson and his attorney have acknowledged he committed the acts that led to the injuries, which have been documented by photographs.

The statements disputed only the intent of the discipline, and Peterson said: "I am not a perfect parent, but I am not a child abuser. I am someone that disciplined his child and did not intend to cause him injury."

From a legal sense, Peterson absolutely has a right to due process. But in this case, it will not determine whether Peterson struck his son or caused injuries. The only question is whether he intended to injure. Let's put aside that legal debate for a moment and reiterate what we already know: Intentional or otherwise, Peterson injured his son. The resulting photographs, even Spielman admitted, were "disturbing."

Intent might be an important legal point, but as part of a league that claims it is striving every day to make a difference, the Vikings' reaction shouldn't be based solely on legal points. Can't we invite common sense, decency and just a drip of morality to the table as well? Isn't it possible to give Peterson due process while also insisting even incomplete information is enough to render some level of judgment?

We can reasonably discuss the severity of punishment required. A four-game suspension to undergo counseling is one idea I've heard. But you're not making a difference, as Goodell claims the league aspires to, by welcoming back a player who has admitted to injuring his son. Isn't that all the information necessary to render some level of judgment?

Certainly, it's more than the Vikings had when they acted decisively to keep cornerback Chris Cook away from the team in 2011 while he awaited trial for domestic abuse charges. It's more than what they knew about the assault case that led them to release a running back named Caleb King in 2012 and a domestic violence case that ended the career of cornerback A.J. Jefferson.

Spielman said those situations were "different," and he's right. None of them involved a future Hall of Fame player whose absence Sunday left the Vikings' offense lifeless in a 30-7 loss to the New England Patriots. Yes, we must plunge to the deepest levels of cynicism to understand why the Vikings are moving forward with Peterson as if nothing happened, why Spielman said they "feel strongly as an organization that this is disciplining a child" and thus not worthy of immediate action. (If the Vikings are consistent, you would assume revelations of an alleged second incident with another son won't impact their fervor for due process.)

The Vikings need Peterson on the field to compete this season, and they know it. They also know Peterson's contract gives them the opportunity to move on with minimal salary cap damage anytime after this season. He turns 30 -- far past the prime of most running backs -- in March, and barring a monster 2014 season, he seems an unlikely candidate for his scheduled salary of $13 million in 2015.

Montgomery County assistant district attorney Phil Grant has already said a trial is unlikely until next year, a timetable that conveniently excuses the Vikings from action should they -- oh, by coincidence, of course -- decide to release or trade him this offseason, as teams routinely do when superstar salaries outweigh performances.

Many will posit that football is about winning games, not constructing a morality play. Fine. But let's not allow the NFL to have it both ways. Let's not have its commissioner try to sell the brand as an agent of social change when, at an obvious and clear moment of reckoning, it reveals itself as nothing more than a mercenary of the status quo.

The Film Don't Lie: Vikings

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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A weekly look at what the Vikings must fix:

Minnesota allowed six sacks Sunday afternoon in a game where the New England Patriots moved Chandler Jones from a 3-4 outside linebacker position to a 4-3 defensive end spot, putting him in position to work against left tackle Matt Kalil for a large portion of the game. Kalil gave up two sacks -- one to Jones on a speed rush, and one to linebacker Dont'a Hightower on a blitz.

Even though the Vikings will face a New Orleans Saints team that has just two sacks this season, they'll be returning to a dome, where noise figures to be a factor in the Saints' home opener. If the Vikings want to avoid a second consecutive loss and get their offense in order after a 30-7 defeat on Sunday, they'll have to do a better job protecting Matt Cassel.

One thing to keep in mind is how much more help the Vikings were able to give Kalil in Week 1 than they did in Week 2 through the use of either tight end Rhett Ellison or Kyle Rudolph in a blocking role. Part of that, of course, was due to the score of the game against the Patriots and the fact the Vikings had to spend much more time in three-receiver sets as they tried to rally than they did in Week 1. But if the Vikings find themselves in that situation again, they have to be able to trust their left tackle to handle his man. It's worth noting, too, that Kalil and Charlie Johnson gave up a combined three quarterback hits and six hurries, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

With Adrian Peterson back this week, the Saints undoubtedly will have more to think about in stopping the Vikings' offense, but if the pass protection isn't better, there's only so much even Peterson can alleviate.

Live: Minnesota Vikings news conference

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
2:45
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Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer addressed the media in a news conference on Monday. ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling reported their remarks.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Two days after the Minnesota Vikings made the decision to deactivate Adrian Peterson for Sunday's game against the New England Patriots, those players who would speak about Peterson largely supported the 2012 NFL MVP while doing their best to downplay the effect his absence had in a 30-7 loss on Sunday.

Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson gave possibly the most insightful response when asked about the identity of the Vikings' offense without Peterson. "We've got to get the mindset that (No.) 28 probably ain't going to be here with us," Patterson said, "so we have to come in and do what we do best."

That could be the reality facing the Vikings in at least the near future as the team decides what to do with Peterson after he was indicted on one count of injury to a child in Montgomery County, Texas on Friday. Peterson was booked in the Montgomery County jail early on Saturday morning after a grand jury found he used an unreasonable amount of force in disciplining his son earlier this year. Vikings general manager Rick Spielman told ESPN's Sal Paolantonio on Sunday that the Vikings would determine Peterson's status after the weekend, adding that "all options are on the table." A league source told Paolantonio the Vikings could make a decision as soon as Monday following a meeting with ownership on Sunday night.

Running back Matt Asiata, who filled in for Peterson on Sunday, said he heard from Peterson before Sunday's game, telling him to "just go out and play hard," Asiata said. "We've got his back, and we miss him."

Fullback Jerome Felton also said he sent Peterson a text message before Sunday's game; "Adrian is a teammate and a friend -- sent him a little message, but we’ve got to focus on getting better this week," Felton said. "We talked, but I'll keep all of that between us."

Quarterback Matt Cassel said he was "shocked" to hear the news, "probably just like everybody else," but added the Vikings didn't change their game plan because of Peterson's absence.

"It’s Adrian Peterson. He’s definitely an impact player without a doubt," Cassel said. "At the same time, I don’t think we can use that as an excuse for why we performed the way we did today. The great example was last year, when we lost him for the Philadelphia game, and the team went out and performed well and we won the game without him. That happens sometimes, whether it’s through injury or unfortunate circumstances; you’re going to lose players and you have to learn how to close ranks and move forward.”

Coach Mike Zimmer largely declined to discuss Peterson, saying he would address the situation "Monday or whenever we have the press conference," and bristled at the idea that finding out the news about Peterson on Friday affected the Vikings.

"No, it didn’t affect the team," Zimmer said. "You know what affected the team? Throwing interceptions, getting a field goal blocked, not tackling well enough, having penalties on defense. That’s what affected the team. The team was fine.”
Julian EdelmanAP Photo/Jim MoneVikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes was flagged three times, including twice for pass interference, and had a rough day overall matched up against Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman.
MINNEAPOLIS -- A week after they allowed just six points on the road, the Minnesota Vikings had to apply some perspective to their 30-7 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday. The Patriots started four drives at midfield or better on Sunday, along with two others that began at the New England 39 and 45. That fact, along with Chandler Jones' touchdown return of a blocked field goal, contributed far more to the final score than long drives by Tom Brady and the Patriots' offense.

But the Vikings still had plenty to lament after the loss, in a game where a handful of defensive penalties and an inability to stop the run kept Minnesota from putting too much heat on Brady. The Vikings allowed 150 rushing yards on a day where the Patriots relied heavily on six-lineman formations, and Brady picked on second-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who was playing with a groin injury and was flagged three times, including twice for pass interference.

"They came in, obviously, with a plan to run the football and not let us get into these pressure situations," coach Mike Zimmer said. "They took good care of the ball."

Rhodes was covering Julian Edelman for much of the game, and that matchup led to some of the cornerback's worst moments. He was flagged for a defensive holding penalty that was declined in the third quarter, and was cited for his second pass interference penalty of the game two plays later. Edelman also caught a 44-yard pass when Rhodes, who was trailing him on the play, dove to deflect Brady's pass and missed the ball, giving Edelman room to run on third-and-14.

Asked about the penalties, Zimmer said, "Well, they were called, so I'm assuming they were good calls. These officials do a good job. We've got to do a better job of getting him in better position than what he was."

The Patriots spent much of the day in manageable down-and-distance situations, threw at rookie linebacker Anthony Barr enough to keep him from getting involved as a pass rusher and allowed just one sack (by defensive tackle Tom Johnson) a week after giving up four. That formula proved to be an effective one, on a day where New England's offense was frequently staked to good field position.

"You can’t do that against anyone in the NFL," defensive end Brian Robison said. "You go out there and allow them to have five to six yards a pop on first down that puts them ahead of the chains already. We go out and don’t create any turnovers and have three or four turnovers ourselves and lose the turnover battle that bad; your likelihood of winning isn’t that good."
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings were driving late in the first half of Sunday's game against the New England Patriots with an opportunity to score before halftime and pull within a touchdown or a field goal. Matt Cassel dropped back on third-and-16 and found Cordarrelle Patterson inside the Patriots' 10, running a corner route between their cornerback and safety.

It was a perfect call to beat the Patriots' coverage, and a connection with Patterson would have put the Vikings on the doorstep of a touchdown with 30 seconds and a timeout remaining. But Cassel's throw led Patterson too close to the sideline and the receiver wasn't able to get both of his feet in bounds. Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones blocked the Vikings' ensuing field goal attempt and returned it 58 yards for a touchdown to put the Patriots up 24-7.

"I had to put it outside away from the safety," Cassel said. "It was a split safety, and over the corner's head. I threw it where I wanted to, and unfortunately we weren't able to complete it in bounds."

[+] EnlargeMatt Cassel
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesMatt Cassel's four interceptions were too much to overcome.
Throws like those can extend drives and prevent the 10- or 14-point swing that effectively took the Vikings out of Sunday's game. They can help Cassel bounce back from the interceptions he threw on Sunday, and in the long run, they can help reinforce his hold on the starting quarterback job. But if Cassel can't make them, he might not be able to shake the notion that he has the job only until Teddy Bridgewater is ready.

Cassel will start for the Vikings in New Orleans next week after going 19 of 36 for 202 yards, a touchdown and four interceptions on Sunday, and in reality, the Vikings' decisions at quarterback should -- and probably do -- revolve more around determining the right course of action for Bridgewater than any short-term ramifications. But the Vikings' attempt to get to 2-0 turned sour on a poor performance from Cassel, and with it, the quarterback missed a chance to assert himself, against his former team and without Adrian Peterson by his side to command some of the defense's attention.

"I'm not going to make excuses and say that just because Adrian Peterson wasn't playing today is the reason why we faltered," Cassel said. "There are a number of different reasons, and I will take full responsibility. I've got to take better care of the ball and not give short fields against a good team, and maybe the circumstances will be different."

Chief among Cassel's concerns might be his struggles on shots down the field, which are a key component of offensive coordinator Norv Turner's scheme and led to three of his interceptions on Sunday. He was 0-of-8 on throws that traveled more than 10 yards in the air, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and is just 1-of-11 with three interceptions on throws that covered 10 or more air yards this season. Cassel is the first quarterback since 2006 to start in both Week 1 and 2 without completing more than one pass 10 or more yards downfield, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

There were more parties responsible for the Vikings' offensive shortcomings on Sunday than just Cassel. Tight end Kyle Rudolph dropped three passes, wide receiver Greg Jennings had a drop, and the Vikings gave up six sacks.

"Matt's been in this league 10 years," Rudolph said. "He's a professional; he's ready to get back to work. You know, it's not all on Matt by any means. We put ourselves in a lot of really tough situations."

Many teams do, and the good ones have quarterbacks who can get them out of those situations. Most of Cassel's opportunities to do that on Sunday fell by the wayside.

"Today was one game in a 16-game season," Cassel said. "Of course, at times would I have liked to change some outcomes and circumstances? Of course. I think any quarterback in the league would tell you that at times."

Rapid Reaction: Minnesota Vikings

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
4:09
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MINNEAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on the Minnesota Vikings' 30-7 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium:

What it means: The game will be seen largely in light of Adrian Peterson's absence, but even if the Vikings had kept the 2012 NFL MVP active on Sunday, it's difficult to see them beating the Patriots the way they played. They weren't able to put consistent pressure on Tom Brady a week after the Miami Dolphins sacked him four times, and they lost the turnover battle by four (or five, if you count the blocked field goal the Patriots returned for a touchdown in the first half). Matt Cassel threw three interceptions, and while he might have had a few more favorable looks if Peterson had been on the field, he also overthrew receivers at several key moments.

Stock watch: In a game in which he could have helped the Vikings get to 2-0 against his former team and his close friend Brady, Cassel didn't answer the bell. His first interception was a badly overthrown deep ball to Jarius Wright, and he overshot Kyle Rudolph on a second-quarter drive before leading Cordarrelle Patterson out of bounds on a pass that could have put the Vikings on the Patriots' doorstep. The Vikings, instead, had a field goal blocked on the next play. It seems unlikely the Vikings would think about a quarterback change this early, but they need Cassel to be better than this if they're hoping to surprise in the NFC North.

Difficult day for Rhodes: Targeted all day by Brady, especially when he was lined up on Julian Edelman, second-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes had a tough afternoon. He was playing with a groin injury that appeared to affect him in coverage, and he was also flagged for a couple of pass interference penalties. On Edelman's 44-yard completion in the first half, Rhodes made a diving attempt for the ball after he was beaten, and Edelman raced down the sideline after Rhodes missed the ball.

Game ball: There weren't many choices for the Vikings, but safety Harrison Smith gets the nod for today. He was credited with eight tackles and might have been the Vikings' most effective player in run support.

What's next: The Vikings (1-1) will head to New Orleans next Sunday to face the Saints in their home opener.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is officially inactive for Sunday's game against the New England Patriots.

The Vikings had announced on Friday they would keep Peterson out of their home opener after he was indicted in Montgomery County, Texas, on one count of injury to a child. Peterson is not expected to attend Sunday's game, and a league source told ESPN's Sal Paolantonio that a decision on Peterson's future could be announced as soon as Monday.

Without Peterson, though, the Vikings will try to construct a running attack to take advantage of the league's third-worst rushing defense from 2013. Matt Asiata figures to start in Peterson's place, and rookie running back Jerick McKinnon could see more work, as well. The Vikings also signed running back Joe Banyard on Saturday from their practice squad to give themselves three healthy running backs in Peterson's absence; Banyard is active for Sunday's game.

Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who were questionable with shoulder and groin injuries, respectively, will play on Sunday. Coach Mike Zimmer sounded optimistic about both on Friday, and Floyd was on the field early, playing catch with fellow defensive tackle Linval Joseph. It remains to be seen how much both Floyd and Rhodes will play, but the Vikings will have both available.

Here is the Vikings' full list of inactives:

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