Watching Adrian Peterson perform for the Vikings was like seeing a thoroughbred racehorse on display at a petting zoo. It was fun to watch, but it made you feel kind of sad. On Sunday, the Vikings squandered a Peterson performance for the ages and lost an eminently winnable game 23-14 to the Packers at Lambeau Field.
Peterson put the team on his back and raced for 210 yards on 21 carries. This is an amazing feat for any running back, but becomes almost superhuman when you consider that the Packers dared the Vikings to pass with single coverage and stacked the line with 9 or 10 defenders. His jaw-dropping 82-yard touchdown run was the longest of his career, and Sundayís game marked the third time that he has gained over 200 yards. He had runs of 48 and 23 yards that put the Vikings in position for potential touchdowns, and now has 1,446 yards for the season. Thatís 300 yards more than any other back in the league.
This is only the third time since 1990 that an NFL running back has gained over 200 yards in a loss. How could this happen? The blame should ride squarely on the shoulders of Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, and the teamís head coach Leslie Frazier. Ponderís performance was so putrid that he had fans longing for the return of Sage Rosenfels. He didnít complete a pass to a wide receiver until there was less than three minutes left in the game. Itís true that the Vikingsí receivers had difficulty achieving separation, but under further review, Ponder was consistently late getting to receivers when they did manage to get open, and continually tried to feather the ball into coverage. Remember, because the Packers were so concerned with Peterson, Ponder was throwing into single coverage. With a display of enormously bad judgement, and incredibly poor fundamentals, he served up two interceptions that killed Vikingsí drives in the red zone, and sucked the soul out of the teamís momentum.
Ponder plays stubborn and scared at quarterback. He is afraid of contact, will bolt the pocket at the first sign of a pass rush, and tends to force the ball into receivers whom he has predetermined should get the ball. It is particularly troubling to watch how he has regressed as the season has progressed, while rookie quarterbacks like Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, get better with each game. Sundayís loss should have been a stunning upset for the Vikings. All we needed was an average performance from our quarterback, and an ability to make adjustments from our head coach.
As for Leslie Frazier, there are two possible reasons why he left Ponder in the game despite his playoff-killing performance. Either Ponder has compromising photos of his coach, or Frazier has major aversion to change issues. He has obviously hitched his career to Ponderís star, and that could
be bad news when Frazierís contract is up at the end of the 2013 season. The silence on a contract extension from the Vikingsí front office has been deafening. Like Ponder, Frazierís performance has regressed since the San Francisco game. He has not been able to make positive halftime changes to make his team competitive, and committed the mortal coaching sin of having the Vikings come out flat and uninspired after the bye week.
The defense played well against an undermanned Packersí squad, but continued two disturbing tendencies. The defensive unit has a horrible time getting off the field on third down, and gives any quarterback who needs relief from the pass rush an easy out by scrambling towards the right sideline. Andrew Luck started the trend, and Josh Freeman, Russell Wilson, and now Aaron Rodgers found a time warp by scrambling to Brian Robisonís side of the line.
A lot of people thought the Vikings were going to go quietly into the night against the Packers at Lambeau Field. Adrian Peterson made some noise that will echo throughout Vikingsí history. He deserved a better supporting performance from his coach and quarterback.