NFL Nation: Greg Lewis

Wrap-up: Vikings 38, Bills 14

December, 5, 2010
12/05/10
4:08
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The Buffalo Bills scored the first touchdown and then got swatted in a 38-14 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in the Metrodome.

What it means: After a string of highly competitive games, the Bills suffered one of the their worst losses. The Vikings rolled even with quarterback Brett Favre, receivers Percy Harvin and Greg Lewis and right guard Steve Hutchinson sidelined. The Bills are 2-10.

Hero: Adrian Peterson thrived against the NFL's worst defense. Bills rookie linebacker Arthur Moats knocked Favre out of the game on the third play, but the Vikings didn't need him. Peterson rushed 16 times for 107 yards and three touchdowns.

Goat: Bills cornerback and kick returner Leodis McKelvin had a rough afternoon. Vikings receiver Sidney Rice made a scintillating play to outjockey McKelvin and come down with a 31-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter. McKelvin fumbled the ensuing kickoff, helping the Vikings score 28 points in a 5:45 stretch.

Streak extended: Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick needed almost 56 minutes to lengthen his streak to 13 games with a touchdown pass, finding David Nelson for a 12-yarder with the game out of hand. Fitzpatrick also fumbled twice, losing one.

Defensive highlights: Buffalo's defense had its moments despite the lopsided score. Cornerback Drayton Florence had his first multi-interception game and his first interception return for a touchdown. Donte Whitner and McKelvin picked one apiece.

What's next: The Bills and Cleveland Browns have played some awful games in recent years. Remember that 6-3 gem last year? Next week's meeting should be livelier, with Trent Edwards and Derek Anderson long gone. The Browns defeated the Miami Dolphins 13-10 in Sun Life Stadium.

Inactive list intrigue for AFC East games

December, 5, 2010
12/05/10
12:15
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There are some notable inactives to report for Sunday's games involving AFC East teams.

For their must-win game against the Cleveland Browns in Sun Life Stadium, the Miami Dolphins have scratched receiver Brandon Marshall, linebacker Channing Crowder and cornerback Al Harris.

The absences of Crowder and Harris might be more significant than Marshall. The Dolphins won without him last week in Oakland, and quarterback Chad Henne played one of his best games.

Dolphins defensive end Phillip Merling is back from his Achilles injury and active for the first time this year.

For the Buffalo Bills' game at the Metrodome, guard Eric Wood, tight end Shawn Nelson and cornerback Terrence McGee are out, as expected.

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson will play, but receivers Percy Harvin, Greg Lewis and Hank Baskett are out. So is right guard Steve Hutchinson. That might help Bills nose tackle Kyle Williams add to his sack total.

As NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert notes, the Vikings have just three receivers: Sidney Rice, Bernard Berrian and Greg Camarillo. Rookie quarterback Joe Webb could see some action as a target.

How I See It: NFC North Stock Watch

October, 20, 2010
10/20/10
10:38
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Mike Martz's assumed IQ: The Chicago Bears' offensive coordinator has been called a genius, but let's just say he didn't live up to that description this past Sunday at Soldier Field. Why he abandoned the running game so early against the Seattle Seahawks, calling four running plays after halftime, defies explanation. Quarterback Jay Cutler has appeared hesitant in the pocket, but Martz's refusal to adjust has led to Cutler taking 18 sacks over his past three starts. I realize the Bears have had personnel issues along the offensive line. But that's all the more reason to pull back and lower ambitions for the passing game until the line can get straightened out. Want more "huh?" Check out Brad Biggs' story in the Chicago Tribune on Martz using tight end Greg Olsen as a left tackle in an unbalanced line. Yikes.

2. Concentration in Detroit: Quoting coach Jim Schwartz here, the Detroit Lions have committed some "dumb, idiotic" penalties in recent weeks. Defensive end Cliff Avril's personal foul Sunday, allowing the New York Giants a new set of red zone downs, was the latest example. Meanwhile, the Lions continue to lead the NFL in dropped passes. According to ESPN Stats & Information, they have 19. The league average is 9.6.

[+] Enlarge Mike McCarthy
John Rieger/US PresswireMike McCarthy's Packers have struggled to win close games.
3. Close games for the Green Bay Packers: In their past 12 games decided by four points or less, the Packers are 1-11. They already have a trio of three-point losses this season, including two in overtime. What's going on? Coach Mike McCarthy admitted this week that "it's become a situation." But he also added: "I don't think it's something that we're doing wrong. Frankly, it's a situation that's been evaluated, no different than third down and red zone and everything else has been evaluated on a weekly basis. We'll just continue to work at it, and we need to do a better job. There's no doubt about it."

RISING

1. Fortune in Minnesota: Yes, the Vikings improved to 2-3 after Sunday's 24-21 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. But they caught a break with 2 minutes, 22 seconds remaining. The Cowboys were out of timeouts, and the Vikings were facing a third-and-6 situation from their 29-yard line. Running the ball would have taken the clock down to the two-minute warning, but the Vikings called a short pass to reserve receiver Greg Lewis. Quarterback Brett Favre's throw was high, and it appeared the Cowboys would get the ball back with 2:18 remaining and the two-minute warning still at their disposal. But a pass interference call on Cowboys cornerback Mike Jenkins gave the Vikings a first down, and ultimately the Cowboys didn't get the ball back until 13 seconds remained. Asked about the decision, coach Brad Childress said: "Could you run it? Yeah, we could have run it and taken it down to the two-minute warning without a doubt. We wanted to get a first down. We got a first down. It doesn't make any difference whether it was by penalty or by throwing it." Let's just say it was an unconventional path.

2. Player outrage: Players from around the division have already spoken out at the NFL's decision to re-emphasize its rules regarding helmet-to-helmet hits. Bears safety Chris Harris wondered if offensive players who initiate such hits would also be disciplined. Speaking to Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune, Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher suggested the league change its name to the NFFL -- the National Flag Football League. The Vikings' Lewis suggested a hockey-like penalty box, rather than suspensions, for such hits. This game is violent and sometimes barbaric, and is marketed as such. More than anything, players are lashing out at the hypocrisy of selling the physical nature of the game but punishing players when that violence results in injuries.

3. Depth in Green Bay: We've spent so much time discussing the Packers' injury list this season that we should make special note of some looming reinforcements. The Packers are planning to get three players back on the practice field this week who could provide short- and long-term aid: cornerback Al Harris, safety Atari Bigby and running back James Starks. They'll be eligible to play as early as Sunday night's game against the Vikings. Linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring) also seems poised to return after a one-game absence.

Deion Branch and the price of receivers

October, 13, 2010
10/13/10
4:10
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Deion BranchThomas Campbell/US PresswireSeahawks receiver Deion Branch was worth a fourth-round pick to the Patriots.
Deion Branch suspected the Seattle Seahawks might release him last season.

The team's general manager at the time, Tim Ruskell, repeatedly assured Branch that the organization had no such plans. Ruskell wasn't lying. The Seahawks held onto Branch, but if they had cut ties with the veteran receiver in 2009 following three years of declining production, not even Branch could have expressed shock.

When the post-Ruskell Seahawks finally unloaded Branch this week, the biggest surprise came in the price New England paid in reacquiring the 31-year-old receiver. Branch will return the higher of the Patriots' 2011 fourth-round choices: the one acquired from Denver or the one originally belonging to New England. Wasn't that a little steep?

Randy Moss had commanded a third-round choice when New England traded him to Minnesota last week, an indication Seattle might be lucky to get a fifth-rounder for Branch. As Branch himself told reporters Tuesday, "I’m not Randy Moss. I wasn’t Randy Moss when I was here. And I’m not here to replace him."

The lesson, as always, is that any commodity is worth whatever someone can get for it at a given time. There is no sliding scale or reference chart based on a wide receiver's past production or anything else. Branch's value to the Patriots increased once New England determined keeping Moss was no longer tenable.

For perspective, and with an assist from Keith Hawkins of ESPN Stats & Information, I've classified 17 receiver trades since 2007 by compensation levels:

1. Roy E. Williams to Dallas (2008)

Price paid: Dallas sent 2009 first-, third- and sixth-round choices to Detroit for Williams and a seventh-rounder.

Comment: This one sets the standard for overspending. Williams is on pace for his first 1,000-yard season in Dallas, but this deal marked the last time (for now) an NFL team traded a first-round choice for a wide receiver.

2. Randy Moss to Oakland (2005)

Price paid: Oakland sent 2005 first- and seventh-round picks, plus linebacker Napoleon Harris, to Minnesota.

Comment: The Raiders never had the supporting cast to maximize this investment. Moss didn't hold up his end, of course, but the Patriots later proved Moss could function at a high level in the right environment.

3. Deion Branch to Seattle (2006)

Price paid: Seattle sent its 2007 first-round choice to New England.

Comment: Ruskell hoped Branch would add character and leadership to a position group he viewed as lacking in those areas. Branch did not have the talent to justify the price, however, and injury problems diminished what returns Seattle got from its over-investment.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMIDenver traded away a 100 catch per year receiver in Brandon Marshall.
4. Brandon Marshall to Miami (2010)

Price paid: Miami sent 2010 and 2011 second-round choices to Denver.

Comment: Marshall is on pace for another 100-catch season, although he has only one touchdown reception in his first four games with Miami. Broncos coach Josh McDaniels comes from the New England tree. Both organizations like to load up on second-round draft choices.

5. Wes Welker to New England (2007)

Price paid: The Patriots sent 2007 second- and seventh-round choices to Miami.

Comment: Welker is on pace for his fourth consecutive 100-catch season since joining the Patriots. He had caught 96 passes over two seasons with Miami previously. The quarterback situation in New England allowed the Patriots to maximize this trade.

6. Chris Chambers to San Diego (2007)

Price paid: San Diego sent a 2008 second-round choice to Miami.

Comment: This deal never worked out the way San Diego planned. Chambers made some solid contributions early, but an ankle injury altered the course of his career with the Chargers. Malcolm Floyd emerged as a big-play threat, and San Diego cut Chambers during the 2009 season.

7. Braylon Edwards to the New York Jets (2009)

Price paid: The Jets sent 2010 third- and fifth-round choices, plus Jason Trusnik and Chansi Stuckey, to Cleveland.

Comment: Edwards probably had run his course in Cleveland. The Browns were starting over. Edwards has 52 receptions, seven for touchdowns, in 17 games with the Jets. Check back later on this one.

8. Anquan Boldin to Baltimore (2010)

Price paid: Baltimore sent its 2010 third- and fourth-round choices to Arizona for Boldin and a fifth-round pick.

Comment: So far, so good for the Ravens. Boldin has 28 catches for 363 yards and three touchdowns in his first three games with Baltimore. Long-term durability concerns played into Arizona's decision to make the trade. Can Boldin hold up?

9. Randy Moss to Minnesota (2010)

Price paid: Minnesota sent a 2011 third-round choice to New England.

Comment: Moss had become unhappy and the Patriots decided to get value for him while they could, possibly at the expense of their 2010 on-field production. The Patriots spent only a fourth-round choice for Moss, used his immense talent for three-plus seasons, then got a third-rounder out of him. Not bad. But at what short-term cost?

10. Randy Moss to New England (2007)

Price paid: The Patriots sent a 2007 fourth-round choice to the Raiders.

Comment: Moss' relationship with the Raiders had deteriorated to the point that Oakland needed to unload him despite the high price it paid for Moss in 2005. Getting a fourth-round choice wasn't bad under the circumstances, although the price was a bargain from the Patriots' perspective.

11. Darrell Jackson to San Francisco (2007)

Price paid: The 49ers sent a 2007 fourth-round choice to Seattle.

Comment: Viewed as a risky move within the division at the time, Seattle came out OK. Jackson didn't fit the 49ers' offense and his deteriorating knee was another hindrance.

[+] EnlargeTed Ginn
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireThe 49ers hope they get better production from Tedd Ginn Jr. than they did from Darrell Jackson.
12. Ted Ginn Jr. to San Francisco (2010)

Price paid: The 49ers sent a 2010 fifth-round choice to Miami.

Comment: Ginn enjoyed a strong training camp before suffering a sprained knee in the regular-season opener. He has made a positive impact in the return game since coming back from the injury. San Francisco needs Ginn to emerge as a deep threat, too.

13. Deion Branch to New England (2010)

Price paid: The Patriots sent a fourth-round choice to Seattle.

Comment: The Seahawks got more in return for Branch than expected, but the Patriots can still come out OK. They've got Tom Brady, after all.

14. Santonio Holmes to the New York Jets (2010)

Price paid: The Jets sent a 2010 fifth-round choice to Pittsburgh.

Comment: Holmes served a four-game suspension to open the season. He caught three passes for 41 yards in his Jets debut Monday night. The Steelers had enough off-field concerns while dealing with the Ben Roethlisberger situation. Parting with Holmes made more sense in that context.

15. Greg Lewis to New England (2009)

Price paid: The Patriots sent a 2009 fifth-round choice to Philadelphia for Lewis and a seventh-rounder.

Comment: Oops. The Patriots cut Lewis before he played a regular-season game for them.

16. Mark Clayton to St. Louis (2010)

Price paid: The Rams sent a 2011 sixth-round choice to the Ravens for Clayton and a seventh-rounder.

Comment: This deal was working out very well for the Rams until Clayton suffered a season-ending knee injury against Detroit in Week 5. Clayton appeared to be a natural fit for the Rams' offense and he worked well with No. 1 overall choice Sam Bradford.

17. Troy Williamson to Jacksonville (2008)

Price paid: The Jaguars sent a 2008 sixth-round choice to Minnesota.

Comment: Williamson caught eight passes over two seasons for the Jaguars.

How I See It: NFC North Stock Watch

October, 13, 2010
10/13/10
11:38
AM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Backup receivers in Minnesota: Personnel distribution sometimes is a function of individual game-planning decisions, but it sure looks like Bernard Berrian and Greg Camarillo are going to have a hard time getting into the Minnesota Vikings' rotation as long as Randy Moss and Percy Harvin are healthy. Berrian has been a starter since his high-priced arrival in 2008 and Camarillo was acquired this summer from the Miami Dolphins for nickelback Benny Sapp. But Greg Lewis served as the No. 3 receiver in Monday night's game at the New York Jets, and neither Berrian nor Camarillo had a pass thrown his way. According to Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com, Berrian got 13 snaps and Camarillo was on the field for seven of 62 offensive plays.

2. Fourth-quarter play in Green Bay: ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer pointed out some painful statistics this week: The Packers' offense has scored one touchdown, committed four turnovers and been penalized 15 times in the combined fourth quarters of five games this season. Those numbers are a big part of why they have two last-second losses on their record already, and they don't bode well for long-term success. It's difficult to pinpoint a reason; conditioning, mental toughness and/or general organization are just guesses. But unless the Packers can start building insurmountable leads, they're going to have to find a way to be more efficient at the end of games.

3. Brett Favre, Minnesota Vikings quarterback: Elbow tendinitis and an ongoing NFL investigation made for a pretty dark week, and they threaten to consume what Favre has said is his final season. The league would like to complete its inquiry as quickly as possible, but there is no formal timetable. At the very least, Favre faces the possibility of an uncomfortable conversation with commissioner Roger Goodell. Discipline, if merited, could range anywhere from a fine to suspension. Aside from that issue, Favre matched the second-lowest completion percentage (41.2) of his career in Monday night's game. It's hard to imagine that tendinitis didn't affect at least some of his 20 incompletions.

[+] EnlargeMatt Forte
Geoff Burke/Getty ImagesMatt Forte rushed for 166 yards and two TDs on Sunday against Carolina.
RISING

1. Chicago Bears rushing game: In part because of quarterback Todd Collins' ineffectiveness, the Bears ran a season-high 42 running plays in last Sunday's 23-6 victory over the Carolina Panthers. Starter Matt Forte responded with a career-high 166 yards, while backup Chester Taylor helped run out the clock in the second half. It's hard to imagine offensive coordinator Mike Martz averaging 42 rushing plays per game, especially with starter Jay Cutler (concussion) on track to return to the lineup this Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. But the best offense is a balanced offense -- or, at least, one that has demonstrated the promise of balance. It's a maxim that Martz hasn't always lived by.

2. Upper Midwest medical costs: NFC North teams should be pretty close to fulfilling their deductibles by now. An incredible number of high-profile players have already suffered significant injuries, including all four starting quarterbacks. Usually, it's safe to say that the healthiest team wins a division. This year, however, it might be decided by the quality of depth. Little-noticed decisions could come into major play. Example: The Packers lost tailback Kregg Lumpkin via waivers when they tried to sign him to their practice squad last month. Had he remained with them, Lumpkin probably would have been the best candidate to replace injured starter Ryan Grant.

3. Confidence in Detroit: It had been 15 years since the Detroit Lions enjoyed a 38-plus point victory, and by all accounts, last Sunday was raucous at Ford Field. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has already predicted the Lions won't lose another home game this season, and some fans are calling for Shaun Hill to keep the starting quarterback job even after starter Matthew Stafford returns from a shoulder injury. I think we can recognize the Hill-Stafford "controversy" as silly talk, but it's an opinion driven by excitement rather than depression. Three near-wins followed by a blowout victory have the engines started in Detroit.

Free Head Exam: Minnesota Vikings

October, 12, 2010
10/12/10
11:52
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After the Minnesota Vikings' 29-20 loss Monday to the New York Jets, here are three issues that merit further examination:
    Head Exam
    Kevin SeifertThe Minnesota Vikings are back for another exam.

  1. Monday night, I felt strongly that there was little connection between Brett Favre's performance and the allegations that he sent racy text messages and photographs to a former Jets sideline reporter. Along those lines, I don't think his emotional release after a 37-yard touchdown pass to Randy Moss was related, either. Here's what Favre said about sprinting some 40 yards into Moss' arms after the catch: "I have to admit, when I threw a touchdown to Randy Moss, I've been thinking about that for about 8 to 10 years, if you didn't know that. I was a little bit excited about it." I think Favre saw the quick-strike potential Moss gives this offense and got fired up. Nothing more to read into than that.
  2. I don't have an exact play count yet, but it was obvious to anyone watching that Moss' arrival sent former starter Bernard Berrian into hibernation. The Vikings spent much of the game in a two-receiver, two tight-end set with Percy Harvin opposite of Moss. Greg Lewis was the third receiver in most of those formations. Berrian, meanwhile, got on the field for a handful of plays and wasn't targeted on any of Favre's 34 passes. Moss said afterward that he was originally scheduled for 20-25 plays, which I would have roundly ripped had that happened. Instead, he was on the field for almost the entire game. But it speaks to the flux of this offense that a player who has been a starter for the past two and a half seasons was banished to near inaction in the span of a couple of weeks. Why Berrian wasn't the No. 3 receiver Monday night is beyond me; it makes you wonder if a message was being sent after Berrian told reporters he was unhappy with his reduced playing time of late. But at this point in the season, the Vikings need their best players on the field. Period.
  3. [+] EnlargeFavre
    John Munson/US PresswireAlmost lost amid the milestones Brett Favre reached Monday night, he completed just 41.2 percent of his passes.

  4. For those who aren't willing to make the connection between Favre's elbow tendinitis and his limited effectiveness Monday night, consider this: His 41.2 percent completion percentage Monday night tied for the second-lowest in a game of his career. Every quarterback misses throws sometimes. And it's true that Favre drilled some tough passes Monday night as well. But when a completion percentage is so far below a career curve, you have to start looking for other explanations. Asked about it Monday night, Favre said: "This is probably the worst it's felt in four games. I missed some throws in the last drive I think I make in my sleep. Really, the last two drives. I'm not going to sit here and make excuses. I missed them. I felt like I should have made them. ... I'm not going to say that tendinitis caused me to miss however many throws. But it doesn't feel as good as it did [two weeks ago]."
And here is one issue I don't get:
How did the Jets expose the normally-stout Vikings run defense for 155 yards? According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Jets got 99 of those yards on runs up the middle, a relative gashing of defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams. The Vikings had given up 112 rushing yards up the middle in their first three games combined. It appeared the Jets had much of their success with quick-hitting trap-type plays in those situations. And on Shonn Greene's 23-yard touchdown run, fullback John Conner had a nice kick-out block on linebacker E.J. Henderson.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- As the minutes ticked by Wednesday on the Vincent Jackson trade window, the Minnesota Vikings revealed another crisis at the receiver position: Percy Harvin is once again suffering through a migraine episode that forced him to miss practice.

As a result, the Vikings had four receivers on the practice field: Bernard Berrian, Greg Lewis, Greg Camarillo and the just-signed Hank Baskett. Speaking about 45 minutes before the Jackson trade deadline, coach Brad Childress acknowledged Harvin has been given some new protocols for dealing with migraines but isn't sure if they will speed his recovery.

"I think there's not enough evidence so far," Childress said. "We'll see."

If you recall, Harvin missed most of training camp when the death of his grandmother and another close friend led to a migraine episode. He returned to practice Aug. 19, but a reaction to medication caused him to collapse on the field and be hospitalized. Harvin recently confirmed that doctors diagnosed him with sleep apnea during his hospital stay and hoped that sleeping with an oxygen mask would reduce or eliminate the frequency of migraines.

But unfortunately, as we discussed last month, Harvin's availability truly needs to be considered a week-to-week deal.

With Harvin still not clear of the migraines and Sidney Rice sidelined for at least another four weeks because of a hip injury, you can understand the desperation the Vikings feel and why they will push for Jackson right up to the 4 p.m. ET deadline. For whatever it's worth, quarterback Brett Favre pushed back his weekly news conference to Thursday. Like everyone else, he's waiting for the final word. We'll let you know when we know.

Minnesota's offense needs work -- now

September, 10, 2010
9/10/10
2:04
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Brett FavreDerick E. Hingle/US PresswireBrett Favre completed just four passes to his wide receivers in the 14-9 loss to New Orleans.
NEW ORLEANS -- For followers of the Minnesota Vikings, Thursday night was a litmus test. Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Do you see potential and get excited? Or do you see too many loose ends and wonder if the magic is gone?

That's the fence I'm sitting on after the Vikings' 14-9 loss to the New Orleans Saints. Being the cynic I like to be, much of me wants to spew what seems to be obvious: The Vikings' once-explosive offense appeared neutered and in many ways out of synch in what turned out to be a highly winnable game at the Superdome.

After all, before Thursday night, the Saints had never scored so few points in a victory under coach Sean Payton. The output was testament to what was a powerful and inspiring performance by the Vikings' defense. Had the Vikings approached anything close to their 2009 offensive production, they could have won Thursday night in a rout. But what we saw should be concerning to anyone who fears a season-crushing slow start by an offense that spent the summer in flux.

Quarterback Brett Favre uncharacteristically missed open receivers Greg Lewis and Percy Harvin on key third-down plays in the second half. Erstwhile No. 1 receiver Bernard Berrian appeared blanketed by a surprise Cover 2 scheme and finished with a single 3-yard catch. Tailback Adrian Peterson ran for 87 bruising yards but never busted anything longer than 14.

In all, the Vikings went three-and-out on five of their 10 possessions. They managed only three plays of longer than 15 yards. Their 253 yards and 12 first downs would have qualified as their second-worst outing last season.

Favre insisted the offense "can be really good this year," but he didn't dispute my primary point. While they offered some glimpses of elite play, the Vikings aren't yet good enough to face a schedule that includes matchups against the Saints, Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets before the middle of October.

"I can't say we're hitting on all cylinders like we did in the NFC Championship Game," Favre said. "I'd be lying if I said that. People can attribute that to whatever they want. They can call it rusty. People are going to have their own opinions. I know we're better than what we showed. ... If we were not any good, it would be obvious."

I don't dispute the Vikings can be better than they were Thursday night. But if you're a pessimist, this was your fear all along. You wondered if Favre's late arrival, combined with Harvin's bout with migraines and Sidney Rice's hip surgery, would conspire to stymie the offense. A few more outings like Thursday night's could bury this team before the NFC North race even starts.

I didn't see an incompetent offense Thursday night, but it was definitely still under construction. The Vikings got away with a transition phase in 2009, taking care of inferior opponents in Cleveland and Detroit. But this year, they might not have that luxury.

"I missed on some of those throws," said Favre, who completed 15 of 27 passes for 171 yards. "Everything felt fine, but I just threw it a little bit behind a couple of times. The reads that I made or didn't make, you can say in a couple of weeks that will come back or whatever. But this first game means a lot. You have to be ready for the first game. I came in as prepared as I could be. It's obvious we can get a lot better. It's obvious."

On top of their own struggles, the Vikings seemed thrown for a loop by the Saints' decision to limit their normal pressure packages and play a zone Cover 2 defense. Favre estimated the Saints used their maximum blitz package on "two or three plays, tops" and Berrian said the zone defense appeared "way more than anticipated."

"Their defense disrupted our timing a little bit," Berrian said. "I just think the looks that they gave us, we really couldn't adjust to them. I thought they would definitely blitz a lot more in this game."

Said coach Brad Childress: "I have to take my hat off to them. It was set up as a big blitz game. The blitz was very, very infrequent. So they did a nice job with that. There were not a lot of throws to be made far down the field."

Remember, the Vikings morphed into a passing offense last season because teams were ganging up on Peterson and the running game. That means they should have been able to run the ball more effectively and explosively Thursday night. But in a close game, the Vikings still threw more times (27) than they ran (23).

"Probably in some instances we can be a little bit more patient," Childress said. "We like to be able to run the ball."

More than anything, the Vikings don't look like they know what they want to be offensively. Peterson was a workhorse Thursday night, but he really didn't impact the game despite some favorable defensive fronts. Ultimately, I think the Vikings must find some combination in the passing game to find their explosive offensive plays. Thursday night, Favre found tight end Visanthe Shiancoe for consecutive passes of 33 and 20 yards to take a 9-7 halftime lead, but Shiancoe had only two passes thrown his way thereafter and didn't catch a pass in the second half.

Childress suggested that Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma was holding Shiancoe for much of the game -- "When he didn't maul him, [Shiancoe] ran down the middle for a touchdown," Childress said -- but more generally, what I saw was an offense still finding its way.

That's how the Vikings' offensive development played out after Favre's late 2009 arrival, and it wasn't unexpected this season. But I'm not sure if the Vikings can get away with it for a second consecutive year.

"This is nothing we're going to panic on or get distraught on," Shiancoe said.

I would agree -- if the Vikings had more margin for error. This year, they might not have it.video
Earlier Thursday, we looked at four established NFC North players who reside on the proverbial roster bubble. Now, let's take a broader look at some key questions our teams face in determining the final composition of their rosters.

Will the Bears wipe out a good bit of their 2009 draft? Defensive lineman Jarron Gilbert, receiver Juaquin Iglesias and defensive lineman Henry Melton were the Bears' top three picks of that draft. They've all been invisible this summer and certainly haven't done anything to earn roster spots. Whether one is reserved for them is another question.

Can the Bears find room for special-teams stud Tim Shaw? He had 30 tackles on special teams last season but isn't much of a factor on defense. But he would qualify as a specialist, and there isn't always room for one on a 53-man roster. Do the Bears feel comfortable using him at linebacker, especially considering preseason injuries to Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Nick Roach? Uncertain.

How many running backs will the Detroit Lions keep? We know that Jahvid Best is the starter, and veteran Kevin Smith would be the likely No. 2 if he were completely healthy. But does Smith's offseason knee surgery make the Lions nervous? And if so, do they keep five backs behind Best -- Smith, Maurice Morris, Aaron Brown, DeDe Dorsey and fullback Jerome Felton -- or does one get released?

If they keep an extra back, could the Lions take a roster spot from the quarterback position? That's not out of the question. The Lions have established Shaun Hill as the long-term backup to starter Matthew Stafford. So is there any reason to keep Drew Stanton on the roster?

Will the Green Bay Packers keep five tight ends? We mentioned the possibility of veteran Donald Lee meeting the end of the line. It's also possible that Tom Crabtree could be sneaked onto the practice squad. But you could make an argument that all five tight ends are among the Packers' top 53 players. General manager Ted Thompson has made odd numerical choices before; last year he kept three fullbacks for what is mostly a one-back offense.

Will both players who entered 2009 competing for the right tackle job be cut? It's very possible that Allen Barbre and Breno Giacomini have played their way off the team. This year's backup tackles are more likely to be Bryan Bulaga and T.J. Lang.

How will the Minnesota Vikings establish more depth at cornerback? Right now, their starters are Antoine Winfield and either Lito Sheppard or Asher Allen. The nonstarter in that group is the likely nickelback, but beyond him the Vikings have no viable candidates for depth. A waiver claim or trade would seem a near-certainty.

How many receivers can the Vikings keep? Bernard Berrian and Percy Harvin are locks. You would think Greg Lewis makes the team, along with Greg Camarillo. Will Javon Walker make the Week 1 roster as a No. 5 receiver? Or would the Vikings be wary of guaranteeing his 2010 salary? Signing him back as early as Week 2 would allow them to pay him on a weekly basis.

Earlier: Final-week position battles and players on the bubble.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- On his second day with the Minnesota Vikings this month, Brett Favre watched one of his top receivers taken off the field in an ambulance. On his sixth day, his No. 1 receiver succumbed to surgery that will cost him half of the season.

If he had known about Sidney Rice's impending hip surgery, and the apparent ongoing nature of Percy Harvin's migraine issues, would he still have agreed to play this season? That's the question Favre faced Wednesday after the Vikings' mid-day practice.

"I don't know that for certain because that obviously wasn't the case," Favre said. "But it's hard enough at 40 to play. Then you take a guy out that had [83] catches and obviously was productive ... But I had stayed in contact with Sidney throughout the offseason and knew that he wasn't practicing. I really felt that at some point in training camp he would be able to go. Obviously that's not the case. Probably like most people, I thought he was going to be OK."

Without Rice, Favre said, "there's no doubt it makes things a lot tougher." He added the Vikings have "got our work cut out for us" and said "we have to get on board together rather quickly."

With the Vikings dangling between $16 million and $20 million in front of him, I doubt Favre would have retired if he knew he wouldn't have Rice for the first half of the season. But Favre did take overt measures Wednesday to temper expectations for the Vikings' passing offense.

"This is a really good football teams in a lot of areas," Favre said. "And probably the big improvement last year was the passing game. This team had been very good prior to that without that part of it. ... Sidney or no Sidney, I would say our running game has to be better and more controlling throughout the season."

Harvin was on the practice field Wednesday but didn't participate in drills. There is some hope that he will participate in Thursday' practice, but given the events of this summer, there is no reason to consider him anything but day-to-day. For now, Favre's top wide receivers are Bernard Berrian, Greg Lewis, Greg Camarillo and Javon Walker.

Oh, and for the record, Favre joined Walker in saying their five-year-old feud is officially in mothballs. "There was never any hatchet to bury," Favre said. "Javon and I are good friends and we stayed in contact long after he left. That makes for good TV stuff, but he and I are fine. I think he can help us. I want him to have a great year. He deserves it. He's a great guy. What happened in the past is long over with. We need him, like we need a lot of these guys, to have a productive year in order for us to be good."
MANKATO, Minn. -- Let's get to some first-day impressions of the Minnesota Vikings, now that I've mopped off after a few hours on a steamy practice field where the heat index surpassed 100 degrees Monday afternoon:

  • When team drills began during the morning practice, these players were part of the first-team offense: Receiver Greg Lewis, center Jon Cooper, guard Chris DeGeare, tight end Jim Kleinsasser and quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. I wouldn't expect any of those five players to be in the starting lineup in the season-opening game Sept. 9 at New Orleans. Injuries, family death and indecision are all to blame.
  • [+] EnlargeHenderson
    AP Photo/Andy KingE.J. Henderson has made strides in his recovery from a fractured femur.
    Nose tackle Pat Williams, 37, and linebacker E.J. Henderson, who has a titanium rod in his leg, have each participated in more practices than receiver Sidney Rice, receiver Percy Harvin, center John Sullivan and quarterback Brett Favre combined. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe has been added to the injury list with what coach Brad Childress called a strain, and he missed both of Monday's practices.
  • I plan to write more about Henderson soon, but for now you should know that Monday was the best day yet in his recovery from a fractured femur. For the first time, Henderson participated in all of the defensive repetitions for his group in the morning practice (first team) and afternoon practice (second team). "It felt good," Henderson said. "No pain. No worries. Ready to keep it moving."
  • DeGeare, a fifth-round draft pick in April, was filing in for injured right guard Anthony Herrera and appears on his way to winning a roster spot as a backup who can play both guard spots and perhaps tackle in a pinch. With DeGeare and Cooper on the roster, you wonder if the end is near for center/tackle Ryan Cook -- the player drafted in 2006 with the choice acquired from Miami in the Daunte Culpepper trade.
  • I thought the Vikings looked pretty sharp defensively. The best play I saw was linebacker Chad Greenway's diving tip of a pass intended for Kleinsasser.
  • Count me in agreement among those who have already observed that rookie quarterback Joe Webb is struggling. I counted three ducks on basic go routes and got the sense he has hit the rookie wall of training camp. Even offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell admitted that Webb's head is "swimming" with terminology and added: "There's been times out here where he's flashed some great plays, but there's been times where he's flashing that he's definitely a rookie."
  • Here's an interesting wrinkle to the Harvin situation we discussed earlier: Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune reports that in addition to dealing with the death of his grandmother, Harvin might be suffering from the migraine headaches that plagued him for parts of last season. Childress reiterated Monday afternoon that he isn't certain when Harvin will rejoin the team. "I'm kind of flying in the dark a little bit," Childress said.
  • The Vikings have a full-pads practice scheduled for Tuesday morning. It will include some live scrimmaging and probably be their last real contact until Saturday's preseason game at St. Louis.
  • I made it almost a full day without addressing the elephant next door. Childress said he texted with Favre as recently as Monday morning but had no information on Favre's scheduled visit this week with Dr. James Andrews, who performed the routine surgery on Favre's ankle.

Patriots take wire cutters to Shawn Springs

May, 18, 2010
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Shawn Springs was the New England Patriots' starting left cornerback for nine games last year, including the playoffs.

Springs
Springs
Now he's out of work.

The Patriots released Springs on Tuesday and signed sixth-round draft choice Ted Larsen, an offensive lineman from North Carolina State.

The Patriots previously re-signed last year's starter on the right side, Leigh Bodden. If Bill Belichick doesn't switch him over, then left cornerback becomes New England's biggest battle of the summer.

As ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss wrote Monday, the Patriots have a crowded depth chart at cornerback. Several are recent draft choices. In 2008, Terrence Wheatley was a second-round pick and Jonathan Wilhite was a fourth-rounder. Darius Butler was a 2009 second-round pick. Devin McCourty was selected 27th overall last month.

Wilhite and Butler both started games at left cornerback last year.

Springs, who signed a three-year contract a year ago, and joins a sizable list of failures from last offseason (receivers Greg Lewis and Joey Galloway, tight ends Chris Baker and Alex Smith).

ESPN's Adam Schefter suggested the Patriots might re-sign Springs, which would make sense. If Springs was good enough to start at left cornerback down the homestretch and into the postseason, then he should be good enough to remain on the roster for less money in 2010.

Springs missed four games with an injury but finished with 39 tackles, an interception and four passes defensed.

The Big Question: Eagles whiff at CB?

April, 27, 2010
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NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Did the Philadelphia Eagles wheel and deal themselves out of a quality cornerback?

[+] EnlargeGraham
Eric Bronson/Icon SMIThe Eagles filled a void by drafting Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham, but they still have questions at cornerback.
If nothing else, new Eagles general manager Howie Roseman was entertaining while running his first draft alongside coach Andy Reid. Even the stoic Reid admitted to being impressed with the way Roseman moved up and down the draft board.

I've talked to some scouts who thought the Eagles "reached" a bit in moving up 11 spots to land Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham. But Roseman and Reid obviously decided that Graham was the best fit scheme-wise as a pass-rusher and they didn't want to take the chance of losing him. The fact they gave up two third-rounders to move from No. 24 to No. 13 was almost forgotten as Roseman basically tried to commandeer the fourth round. The Eagles once again extended a helping hand to a division foe in flipping picks with the Cowboys in the second round. The Cowboys took Penn State linebacker Sean Lee, who's expected to eventually take over for Keith Brooking at inside linebacker.

I think Graham and South Florida safety Nate Allen were both solid choices for the Eagles, but it concerns me they couldn't find a potential starter at cornerback. Veteran Marlin Jackson, signed in free agency, has experience at cornerback, but he's probably more comfortable at safety after tearing the ACL in each knee the past two years. Asante Samuel's a perennial Pro Bowler, but he's one of the least willing tacklers in the league.

The projected starter on the other side, Ellis Hobbs, is returning from a neck injury. I thought the Eagles needed more depth at cornerback in this draft, but they only came up with fourth-rounder Trevard Lindley out of Kentucky. Had Lindley come out after the '08 season, he probably would have gone in the second round. But the cornerback suffered a high ankle sprain last year and had a challenging senior season.

"He got banged-up this year,'' Reid said Saturday. "He had a high ankle sprain and that can kind of put a damper on a college season, and that's what happened. It happened early and he never really got over it, but he didn't want to stop playing, which showed me something."

Good to know, but it doesn't really address the issue that Miles Austin and Jason Witten ran roughshod over this secondary at the end of the '09 season. Even Roy Williams stumbled into daylight a couple times against this unit. Reid seems to think that players such as Macho Harris and Joselio Hanson can help patch together a decent group of cornerbacks. But that's a scary proposition when you know that the Giants and Cowboys both have big-time weapons on the outside. And the Redskins happened to acquire a quarterback who has been successful with inferior talent at wide receiver before. (I'd give Santana Moss the edge over Freddie Mitchell.)

I think the Eagles certainly improved their roster this past weekend, but cornerback is still a position of need. If you want to poke holes in Roseman's first draft, I'd start with that position.

Patriots sign Torry Holt for WR depth

April, 20, 2010
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The New England Patriots have two receivers who rank within the top 11 in career receptions after signing free agent Torry Holt to a one-year contract Tuesday.

Holt
The Patriots added depth to a position they failed to bolster last year by trading for Greg Lewis and signing Joey Galloway. Neither worked out. The Patriots cut Lewis at the end of training camp and cut Galloway after six games.

Adding help at receiver is even more critical for New England this summer with Wes Welker rehabbing from reconstructive knee surgery. The Patriots previously signed old friend David Patten. Sophomores Julian Edelman and Brandon Tate also will need to step into greater roles.

Holt, who will turn 34 years old in June, has more left in the tank than Galloway did. Holt caught 51 passes for 722 yards for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He didn't have a touchdown for the first time in his 11 seasons.

Holt has 920 receptions, six behind new teammate Randy Moss on the all-time list.

Westbrook vs. Tomlinson for Minnesota

February, 23, 2010
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I suppose we can't suggest LaDainian Tomlinson as a possible replacement for Chester Taylor without also adding Brian Westbrook to the list.

Tomlinson
Tomlinson
Westbrook
Westbrook
Above all else, I believe Minnesota wants to re-sign Taylor before the free-agent market opens. But if Taylor decides to test his value elsewhere -- a respectable decision given the relatively few miles on his 31-year-old legs -- the Vikings will need a backup/third-down back behind Adrian Peterson.

Tomlinson, who has averaged almost 60 receptions per season in his career, would be one option. Westbrook, whom the Eagles informed would be released Tuesday, would be another.

Westbrook would have the advantage of familiarity with Vikings coach Brad Childress, his offensive coordinator in Philadelphia from 2002 to 2005. But he also comes with more medical baggage than Tomlinson, who has missed only three games in his career.

There is no doubt Childress has an affinity for early-decade Eagles players and staffers. He hired defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier in part because of his time in Philadelphia from 1999 to 2001. The Vikings' athletic training and strength/conditioning staffs were once based in Philadelphia, and the Vikings have signed several former Eagles players -- Billy McMullen, Artis Hicks, Koy Detmer, Todd Pinkston and Greg Lewis among them. In 2007, meanwhile, the Vikings pursued free agent quarterback A.J. Feeley.

I'm sure Childress would like to have a healthy Westbrook on his team. But does Westbrook have a clean bill of health? At this point, the answer is uncertain.

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