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Vikings Miss on Momentum Builder

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December 2, 2016

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The Vikings missed a storybook ending to their game last night, and diminished their chances of making the playoffs.

In the closing seconds the Vikings lined up for a two-point conversion attempt but right tackle Jeremiah Sirles was called for a false start, pushing the football back from the two-yard line to the seven. The next play quarterback Sam Bradford threw high on an attempted pass that if completed would have tied the score 17-17 with the Cowboys and sent the game into overtime.

Sam Bradford (photo courtesy of Minnesota Vikings)

Sam Bradford (photo courtesy of Minnesota Vikings)

A replay of Bradford passing showed that the Cowboys’ Cedric Thorton hit the Vikings quarterback on the helmet. A roughing penalty should have been called but the officials didn’t throw a flag.

Instead of another attempt at the two-point conversion and possible overtime, the Vikings were left with frustrations and a .500 record of 6-6 with four games remaining on their schedule. It’s been a traumatic week for the Vikings both off the field and on. Head coach Mike Zimmer followed the game from home because of emergency eye surgery Wednesday night. Zimmer’s players wanted to win for him and build momentum for a playoff run. It’s not known when the coach will return to practice.

It’s also very uncertain how the Vikings will play in their games between now and when the season ends on January 1. The good news is that the remaining teams on Minnesota’s regular season schedule all have losing records. The Jaguars (2-9), Colts (5-6), Packers (5-6) and Bears (2-9) have a cumulative record of 14 wins, 30 losses. The games with the Jaguars and Packers are away, while the Colts and Bears come to Minneapolis. The Vikings are 2-4 on the road this season, 4-2 at home.

Minnesota has now lost two more games than the NFC North Division leading Lions (7-4). The Vikings have dropped six of their last seven and, with or without Zimmer, they are scrambling to defend last year’s division title.

The Lions’ remaining games are against the Saints (5-6), Giants (8-3) and Cowboys (11-1) on the road, and at home with the Packers and Bears. The cumulative record of those clubs is 31-25. Past performances and records certainly indicate the Lions’ remaining schedule is more difficult than Minnesota’s.

But even if the Vikings somehow manage to finish in a tie with the Lions (perhaps both having 9-7 records), Detroit will have the tiebreaker for the playoffs because of two regular season wins over Minnesota.

Six teams from the NFC will qualify for the postseason, the four division champions and two wildcard entries. Right now there are seven teams with better records than the Vikings, so Zimmer’s bunch still has a chance at the playoffs but last night’s performance didn’t create momentum or optimism.

The Vikings’ defense was impressive against perhaps the best offense in the NFC. The Cowboys scored two touchdowns but one was a gift because Vikings punt returner Adam Thielen fumbled near the goal line. His miscue was part of a difficult special teams evening for the Vikings that also included anemic punting giving the Cowboys preferred field position.

As usual, the Vikings offense struggled with minimal rushing success and point production. The Vikings got three field goals from Kai Forbath but scored only one touchdown. Bradford, also as expected, took a physical beating from pass rushers and absorbed a crushing blow late in the second quarter that knocked him out of the game. The offensive line has had so many injuries the Vikings are now using overmatched personnel as they struggle to put momentum back into a season that started 5-0.

Vikings fans can hardly be cocky about the coming weeks. The lowly Bears defeated the Vikings 20-10 in Chicago earlier this season. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are always a pain-in-the-you-know-what, the Colts have a top quarterback also in Andrew Luck and the Jaguars—well, they get the Vikings on their home field a week from Sunday.

But perhaps somehow the Vikings will find a way to win games down the stretch. Hard to know what tomorrow brings. Zimmer received a reminder this week.

Worth Noting

The Twins announced this morning that James Rowson, 40, will be the team’s new hitting coach. The last three seasons Rowson has been the minor league hitting coordinator for the Yankees. He was the Cubs hitting coach from June of 2012 through 2013.

St. Thomas plays at home tomorrow (noon start) in a Division III quarterfinal national championship football game against UW-Oshkosh. In the last 12 years, St. Thomas’ 30 teams in nine different sports have qualified for NCAA tournaments and advanced to at least the national quarterfinals. Ten of the teams went on to place first or second nationally. The Tommies’ football team played in the national title game last season.

Glenn Caruso (photo courtesy of University of St. Thomas)

Glenn Caruso (photo courtesy of University of St. Thomas)

In nine seasons under football coach Glenn Caruso, 19 different players have been named All-America or Academic All-America. In the 66 previous St. Thomas football seasons, 29 other Tommies were honored. At least one other player is expected to be added to that 48 member list when All-America teams are announced this month, because senior cornerback Michael Alada leads all four NCAA levels in interceptions with 11.

Senior wide receiver Nick Waldvogel made the 2016 Division III CoSIDA Academic All-America team this week, joining his older brother Fritz who was honored in 2011. Only one other set of brothers have made Academic All-America for St. Thomas: Greg Kaiser (1997) and Andy Kaiser (2001).

If the Gophers play Washington State in the Music City Bowl, Minnesota will have another look at Mike Leach. The famous passing game authority has revived the Cougars’ program as head coach, just like he did at Texas Tech. In the 2006 Insight Bowl Leach’s Raiders trailed the Gophers 35-7 at halftime but scored 31 second half points to force overtime. The Raiders passed the Gophers dizzy and eventually won 44-41 in Glen Mason’s last game as Minnesota’s head coach.

The 8-4 Gophers will learn their bowl destination Sunday night.

The Gophers will have four players returning next year who received All-Big Ten honors this week. The four are first team kicker Emmit Carpenter, defensive tackle Steven Richardson and running back Rodney Smith, both third teamers, and linebacker Jonathan Celestin who received honorable mention.

James Johannesson, the redshirt running back from Fargo who was one of the stars of the Gophers spring game, never played a minute this season. Minnesota’s top three running backs who played this fall all return in 2017. Johannesson ran for 6,158 yards and 81 touchdowns in high school.

A sympathy card might be appropriate for former Gophers basketball coach Dan Monson. His Long Beach State team is 1-8 with losses that include road games at Kansas, Louisville, North Carolina, Washington, Wichita State and UCLA.

Tubby Smith, who succeeded Monson at Minnesota, is 6-1 in his first season at Memphis. The most notable teams on the Tigers’ schedule so far are Iowa (Memphis 100, Hawkeyes 92) and Providence (Friars won 60-51).

Anyone else notice the Timberwolves have one of the worst records in the NBA, while the pro franchise that first played in Minneapolis is the surprise of the league? With a nucleus of promising young players, the Wolves were favorites before the season to emerge as the NBA’s most improved team. Instead, it’s the Los Angeles Lakers—who most everyone thought would be awful—that are playing .500 basketball after the first month of the season. Luke Walton is turning heads in L.A. and across the NBA in his first head coaching job, while the Wolves are off to a 5-15 start.

The Wild is at Calgary tonight and is 0-1 this season against the Flames. Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk stopped 26 of 27 shots in a 1-0 loss November 5 at Xcel Energy Center.

The Gophers volleyball team has its highest NCAA Tournament seed in program history at No. 2. Minnesota is hosting opening regional rounds at the Sports Pavilion tonight and tomorrow evening. The Gophers had top 25 RPI wins against 10 teams this season and nine of the 18 players on the roster are Minnesotans.

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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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