The Sports Xchange, Published December 23 2013
Peterson among Vikings stumping for Frazier's returnA decision on Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier's future will come next week, but it sure felt like the end arrived at Paul Brown Stadium during Sunday's embarrassingly lackluster 42-14 beat-down loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
When the Bengals went ahead 35-7 on the opening drive of the second half, they had two more touchdowns (five) than the Vikings had first downs. The Vikings offense went 0-for-9 with zero yards and two turnovers on third downs, while the defense allowed Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton to complete 7 of 10 passes to five different targets for 120 yards, five first downs and a touchdown on third downs.
The list of head-turning incompetence could continue, but let's just say it was a debacle in every facet but rookie Cordarrelle Patterson's electrifying kickoff returns and 35-yard touchdown run.
After the game, players came to Frazier's defense, which has been a common occurrence down the stretch of a 4-10-1 season that has dropped Frazier to 20-33-1 in his three-plus seasons as head coach. One player with considerable clout said he would be talking to management to express his desire to see Frazier coach another season.
"I'm definitely not an individual that's looking for dramatic change like that," running back Adrian Peterson said. "It will hurt if he leaves.
"I'll try and say what I have to say (to management about Frazier), but there's a time and place for everything. With the season getting ready to wrap up, that time is coming. I'm going to give my input and see what they have to say."
Frazier's contract, which runs through 2014, is working against him. He won't get an extension and coaches typically aren't put into a lame-duck status because of the distractions that can create.
Also working against him, obviously, is two double-digit-loss seasons in a three-year span. Also, being a defensive-oriented coach, it's not a good sign when your team has allowed a league-high 467 points and is within 18 points of unseating Les Steckel's 3-13 team from 1984 as the worst in franchise history.
Still, Frazier is doing a fairly good job staying focused on trying to win games. A week before the Bengals fiasco, he did manage to guide the Vikings to a 48-30 upset of a Philadelphia Eagles team that was leading the NFC East.
"I think for our players, it's important that they focus on the task," Frazier said Monday. "That's what I'm asking them to do, and I need to do the same thing. It's very, very important if you want to have a chance to win these games down the stretch that I stay focused on what's involved with leading our team and I want them to follow. It's important I handle it the right way."
NOTES AND QUOTES
The 180-degree perception swings in the NFL from week to week never cease to amaze. A week ago, Matt Cassel threw for 382 yards in a 48-30 victory as the Vikings reached their highest point total since 1998. Fans and some media members began lamenting what might have been had Cassel only been the starter all season. They also projected him as the permanent starter for 2014.
Sunday, Cassel turned the ball over four times while posting the third-worst passer rating (32.6) of his nine-year career. He completed just 13 passes for 114 yards and was 0-for-8 with a pick-six on third downs. Heck, when it came to third downs, the Vikings didn't gain a yard and turned the ball over twice.
"As good as last week was, then you come in here and it was as bad as it gets," said Cassel, who fell to 2-3 as a starter this year. "We stunk it up here, quite frankly."
--The Vikings were down 21-7 early in the second quarter when Cassel threw deep to receiver Jerome Simpson. What should have been a 49-yard pass interference penalty, however, became Cassel's second interception of the game.
Simpson's back and head clearly were shoved by cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick before the ball arrived. But there was no flag.
The ball then bounced off Kirkpatrick's head and was intercepted by George Iloka, who caught the ball while lying on his back at the Bengals' 26-yard line.
"It was definitely pass interference," Simpson said. "The ref said (Kirkpatrick) was playing the ball. But the guy ran through my back and my head."
Simpson said the no-call felt similar to the Dec. 8 Baltimore game, when officials made at least three questionable decisions in the loss at Baltimore.
"It's been a weird situation with the officials," Simpson said. "Today, that would have been a big play. Could have been a touchdown at the right time, too."
• KR Cordarrelle Patterson, the NFL's leading kickoff returner, had 143 more yards on four returns. He needs just four more yards in the season finale to break the team record of 1,345 set by Buster Rhymes in 1985.
• QB Matt Cassel went 0-for-8 with an interception returned for a touchdown on third downs against the Bengals. On the Vikings' only other third down, Cassel was sacked and stripped of the ball. And the fumble was returned to the Vikings' 4-yard line.
• DE Jared Allen had half a sack against the Bengals and needs another half-sack in the season finale to extend his streak of seasons with at least 10 sacks to seven years. He also has a half-sack lead over Brian Robison for the team lead. Allen hasn't failed to lead his team in sacks since 2006, his third year with the Chiefs.
• DE Everson Griffen, who is the likely replacement for soon-to-be-free-agent Jared Allen, had a season-high 1.5 sacks. He has 4.5 on the year.
• WR Jarius Wright had his third touchdown reception of the season. The 36-yarder came on a double move that is becoming a signature move for Wright. As a rookie a year ago, he had the Vikings' two longest receptions (65 and 54 yards). This year, his touchdowns have gone for 38, 36 and 21 yards.
• RB Adrian Peterson (foot, groin) returned Sunday after missing the Baltimore game because of a sprained right foot. But he clearly wasn't himself because of the foot and a groin injury that has nagged him for weeks. With the Vikings trailing the Bengals by 28 points early in the third quarter, Peterson was pulled after just 11 carries. Peterson will be reevaluated this week.
• RB Toby Gerhart (hamstring) also returned Sunday after missing the Eagles game. He tweaked the hamstring chasing down a defender who had recovered a fumble. He's unlikely to play this week.
• TE John Carlson (concussion) was placed on injured reserve on Saturday. Carlson has a history of concussions, including two in two years with the Vikings. He's going to consider retirement in the offseason.
• CB Xavier Rhodes (ankle) missed his second straight game and will be reevaluated this week. Without Rhodes, punt returner Marcus Sherels made his sixth career start. He's not the most physically gifted player, but he's a quick little scrapper who knows how to stay in position.
• RG Brandon Fusco (knee) returned Sunday after missing the Baltimore game. He made it through the Bengals game and will play on Sunday against the Lions.
• CB Chris Cook (knee) returned after missing the Baltimore game. He didn't start, but that was performance-related. He rotated with Shaun Prater after Prater left briefly because of an injury. At this point, even Prater, who was claimed off waivers from Philadelphia on Oct. 22, is better than Cook.
• MLB Audie Cole (ankle) left Sunday's game early with a high ankle sprain and won't play in the season finale. Without Cole, WLB Erin Henderson, who was ineffective in the middle earlier this season, returned to the middle. Marvin Mitchell moved back to weak-side linebacker, a small role in the Vikings' defense because of how often they play nickel.
• CB Shaun Prater (ankle) left Sunday's game briefly but returned. He'll be reevaluated this week. He has been one of the surprise backups to step forward down the stretch. He has a chance to stick with the team beyond this season.
REPORT CARD VS. BENGALS
PASSING OFFENSE: F - This was a 180-degree turn from the previous week, when Matt Cassel threw for 382 yards in a 48-30 win over the Eagles. Cassel's 32.6 passer rating was the third-worst of his nine-year career. He completed only 13 passes for 114 yards, four sacks and three interceptions. The pass protection also crumbled on the third snap of the game. Two blitzers came free on a strip sack that resulted in a fumble return to the Vikings' 4-yard line. When the Bengals took a 35-7 lead in the third quarter, the Vikings had two fewer first downs (three) than the Bengals had touchdowns (five). The Vikings also were 0-for-9 on third downs and 0-for-2 on fourth downs.
RUSHING OFFENSE: D - Adrian Peterson was a non-factor in his return from a sprained right foot. He was pulled for precautionary reasons after his 11th carry got him to 45 yards early in the third quarter. Cordarrelle Patterson was the lone bright spot with a 35-yard touchdown run from the tailback position late in the game. He also had a 33-yard touchdown run from the tailback position against Chicago earlier this season.
PASS DEFENSE: F - Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton played simple pitch and catch with receivers throughout the game on third-and-long. He completed 7 of 10 third-down passes to five different targets for 120 yards, five first downs and a touchdown. Overall, Dalton completed 27 of 38 passes for 366 yards, four touchdowns and a 136.5 passer rating. The Vikings were overmatched in the secondary with promising rookie corner Xavier Rhodes unable to play because of an ankle injury.
RUSH DEFENSE: A - The Vikings get an A here mainly because the Bengals had no reason not to throw the football against a pass defense that couldn't rush or cover. The Bengals did run 37 times, but that was primarily to just kill clock time and show some balance. They gained only 81 yards for a 2.2-yard average.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A - Cordarrelle Patterson, the league's leading kickoff returner, had another outstanding game that left the opposing team completely baffled over whether they should kick to him or surrender chunks of field position with pooch kicks. The Bengals tried a little of both after Patterson returned the opening kickoff 48 yards. He also broke a 44-yarder while racking up 143 yards on four returns. Punter Jeff Locke struggled with some kicks, averaging less than 40 yards with a 34-yard net. He also hit a 55-yarder and had two downed inside the 20. Punt returner Marcus Sherels had a shifty 22-yard return through heavy traffic.
COACHING: F - This is exactly what coach Leslie Frazier didn't need while trying to save his job down the stretch. The Vikings were sloppy and flat while surrendering at least 40 points for the third time this season. It's only the third time in franchise history that the Vikings have done that. The last time came in 1984, when they did it four times in coach Les Steckel's one and only season as coach. The offense was atrocious and the defense might have been even worse. Quarterback Matt Cassel had as many turnovers (three) as first downs when the Vikings fell behind 35-7 in the third quarter. Special teams were the only bright spot, but the Vikings couldn't capitalize on good field position. Frazier seems almost certain to be fired with the Vikings now 4-10-1 two years after Frazier finished 3-13.