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Vikings Could Even ‘Limp’ into Playoffs

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October 24, 2016

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The Vikings had a dismal performance in losing to the Eagles yesterday but with a 5-1 record they are positioned to qualify for the playoffs, and possibly a repeat title in the NFC North.

Mistakes on offense and special teams resulted in the team’s first loss of the season in Philadelphia, 21-10. The Vikings’ patchwork offensive line was exploited by the Eagles—creating the possibility quarterback Sam Bradford would sustain a serious and even season-ending injury.

Sam Bradford (photo courtesy of Minnesota Vikings)

Sam Bradford (photo courtesy of Minnesota Vikings)

Bradford is okay but perhaps the Eagles discovered something schematically other teams can use against the Vikings’ offense. Possible, but Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer would be expected to make schematic adjustments, too, and perhaps with personnel changes. Evident for certain yesterday was the Eagles played at a high level defensively. Philadelphia has given up only 23 total points in three home games this season.

A weak Bears team likely helps the Vikings to a sixth win when the two teams play next Monday night in Chicago. The 1-6 Bears have the worst record among the remaining teams on Minnesota’s schedule. The Vikings close the regular season with the Bears in Minneapolis January 1.

The Vikings also have two games remaining against the Lions (4-3), another division rival. The other opponents are the Cardinals (3-3-1), Colts (3-4), Cowboys (5-1), Jaguars (2-4), Packers (4-2) and Redskins (4-3).

With their remaining schedule (five home, five road) and superb defense, the Vikings figure to win at least five or six more times. Even playing .500 football—and the Vikings should do better than that—gives Minnesota a regular season record of 10-6 and probable spot in the playoffs. Last season the Vikings’ 11-5 record won the NFC North. In 2008 and 2012 Minnesota had 10-6 records, good enough to win the division one year and finish second the other season. The Vikings qualified for the playoffs both years. …

Former Vikings linebacker Jeff Siemon will (for a fee) sign memorabilia and pose for photos on Saturday from noon to 2 p.m. at Southtown Shopping Center in Bloomington. His appearance is part of the two-day Saturday-Sunday Triple Crown Sports Collectibles show. Show hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.  …

Gophers redshirt sophomore running back Rodney Smith was announced as the Big Ten’s Offensive player of the week this morning. He had 257 all-purpose yards in Minnesota’s win last Saturday against Rutgers. That was the most for a Gopher since Troy Stoudermire had 290 against Iowa in 2008. Highlights for Smith included a 94-yeard kickoff return for a touchdown. …

Gophers hockey coach Don Lucia didn’t bring up the subject but told Sports Headliners his uncertain contract status earlier this year cost the program at least one future recruit. He wouldn’t specify a number.

Lucia ended last season with just one more year on his contract. It was thought an extension could be finalized last spring or summer but an agreement for an additional two years wasn’t announced until earlier this month.

“I don’t know why it took so long, to be honest,” Lucia said. “Nothing changed from June when we talked, so it just took that long to get everything back from the University and get it all signed.”

When asked about the delay’s impact on recruiting, Lucia said, “It didn’t help. Let’s put it that way.”

Lucia, 58, has been leading the program since 1999 and is the Gophers’ all-time winningest coach. He is comfortable with the new contract that takes him through the 2018-2019 season. “It’s fine. It’s like anything. In some ways when you coach at this level, you’re always year to year. You do enough, and they want to keep you around. If not, they go in a different direction.

“I still love what I do. I know I am fortunate to be working here. It’s hard to believe this is my 18th year, 30th year as a head coach. It’s nice to be able to go to work and say I really enjoy what I do. I love the kids. This is a fun team to be around. They want to work.”

Lucia and other coaches in the athletic department were reporting to an interim athletic director during the past school year. That negated contract talks for Lucia until new AD Mark Coyle arrived last spring. It also impacted recruiting, although the Gophers do have multiple verbal commitments in place for next season.

Lucia is trying to get the Gophers back in the NCAA Tournament after failing to qualify last season—although Minnesota did win the Big Ten championship. The Gophers’ 6-11 nonconference record was the team’s undoing for the NCAA’s.

This season Minnesota is 2-2 in nonleague games. The Gophers won two games in Alaska against Anchorage and Fairbanks, but were swept last weekend by St. Cloud State. …

Tyus Jones

Tyus Jones

Rumors about the Timberwolves trading Tyus Jones to the Sixers makes sense for guard-desperate Philly. Jones could reunite with boyhood friend and ex-Duke teammate Jahlil Okafor.

Sports Illustrated’s NBA Preview issue predicts the Timberwolves will just miss qualifying for the playoffs, finishing ninth in the 15-team Western Conference. The magazine picks the Warriors to defeat the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.

Basketball authorities, including the NBA’s general managers, are optimistic about the Timberwolves who were 29-53 last season and haven’t qualified for the playoffs since 2004. The league’s GMs said in a survey Minnesota will be the NBA’s most improved team.

The survey named Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns the player most general managers want to start a franchise. They also chose point guard Kris Dunn as most likely to be Rookie of the Year, and the second biggest steal in the draft. It’s a popular view Dunn, selected No. 5 overall in the first round, was the best player in the 2016 NBA Draft.

Sports Illustrated quoted an anonymous NBA scout as saying former Wolves forward Kevin Love wasn’t happy with the Cavaliers last season and likely would have been traded over the summer if the club hadn’t won the league championship in June. …

Greg Eslinger, the former Gopher All-American center inducted last week into the M Club Hall of Fame, weighed close to 300 pounds in college but has lost about 75 pounds and is running marathons. Eslinger has a sales career in Fargo.

Steve Fritz bobblehead (photo courtesy of University of St. Thomas)

Steve Fritz bobblehead (photo courtesy of University of St. Thomas)

Athletic director Steve Fritz is the cover subject of the current University of St. Thomas magazine. A bobblehead photo of Fritz, who coached the 2011 UST men’s basketball team to a national title, is on the cover with the headline “Steve Fritz Is the Ulitmate Tommie.” He is in his 50th school year, arriving at St. Thomas in 1967 as a student and basketball player, and after graduation staying on as an employee in various positions during his career.

Minneapolis-based Taste of the NFL founder Wayne Kostroski said via email that tickets are on sale for the 2017 event in Houston Saturday, February 4. The 26th annual party dedicated to hunger relief in America will be held at the University of Houston and be even more appealing to Minnesotans if the Vikings are playing in Houston’s Super Bowl the next day. More at Tasteofthenfl.com.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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