TWTW: Home field key to Vikings salvaging season

Well, he did it again. Another Christian Ponder performance by Christian Ponder. A slow start, a catastrophic turnover, and then 35 minutes of pretty solid play.
It was an improvement over last week, as the pick-six was really his only big mistake, and he made several legitmately impressive throws and plays with his feet (he even trucked Lance Briggs!).
Still, the INT played a big role in the loss, so while blaming Ponder for the 31-30 loss to the Bears would be overly simplistic, he did play a role. This is right where we were last week, basically.
That said, I think there are slivers of bright spots for Ponder and the Vikings.
For starters, Ponder has averaged 231.5 yards passing in the first two games. That would put him on pace to throw for 3,704 yards. Last year, Ponder threw for only 2,935 yards, averaging 183 yards per game.
Through two games, Ponder is averaging 8.0 yards per attempt, and 13.6 yards per completion. Last year, Ponder averaged just 6.1 yards per attempt and 9.8 yards per completion.
What that tells me is that the additions the Vikings made to their passing game have already made a positive impact on the offense. The Vikings had little to no downfield threat last year. Granted, we’re only talking about two games, and the Vikings have been playing from behind a lot, too, but the significant jumps in yards per completion/attempt/game are positives. Turnovers by Ponder, obviously, have overshadowed that.

Though the failure to get a stop on the game’s final series was certainly deflating, the defense finally stiffened up a little bit in the second half, something they can hopefully build on. And while Adrian Peterson has been mostly quiet since busting his first run of the season for a TD, he’s averaging almost 100 yards per game, and he’s doing it without Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton, a fact that has been widely ignored.
The offensive line, like the defense, followed up last week’s stinker with a bad first half, but was much better in the second.

The schedule-makers really made it tough for the Vikings by sending them on the road for the first two games of the season, and losing both is no big surprise. And though they were definitively outplayed for most of both, they still had chances to win each. Had the Vikings escaped Chicago with a win yesteday it would’ve felt like they got away with stealing something they didn’t deserve, and their playoff hopes would be just fine at 1-1.
Now, obviously, at 0-2, they’re a longshot for the postseason (12 percent of NFL teams to go 0-2 make the playoffs, though the 2008 Vikings are one recent team that did).
For it to happen, the Vikings will most likely have to go at least 10-4 the rest of the way. They’re obviously not a good bet to do that, but it is possible.
Next week they host Cleveland, and the following week they play the Steelers in London. That sounds tougher than it is; the Steelers still have a reputation as being a formidable opponent, but there are strong indications that they’re a bad team this year.
The Vikings have six remaining road games, and they won’t be favored in any of them (at NYG, at Dallas, at Seattle, at Green Bay, at Baltimore, at Cincy).
They’ve typically played well against the Giants in New York, and the Cowboys are the Cowboys, but every other road game from there seems like a sure loss.
So can the Vikings run the table at home?
Let’s say they beat Cleveland and then get by the Steelers in London. From there they host Carolina, Green Bay, Washington, Chicago, Philly and the Lions.
Taken individually, the Vikings might be favored to win each of those except probably Green Bay, but even Packer fans go into each season prepared to lose the regular season meeting at the Dome.
But it does seem highly unlikely they’d be able to keep fending off that many quality opponents, home field or not.
Maybe when Felton comes back, Peterson will heat up. Maybe that will help Ponder stretch out the passing game a little more than he already has, and maybe he’ll finally drop the back-breaking turnovers.
If that happens, the Vikings might be able to run the table at home. That’s their best bet for getting back to the playoffs.

* Happy to see the Gophers off to a 3-0 start, but obviously sad to see Jerry Kill still can’t shake his seizures.
I’m not going to sit here and say he needs to resign, and some of the articles and columns I read in the last couple days that suggest as much seemed stunningly insensitive to me.
That said, Kill himself has said he would step down if he felt like the seizures were negatively affecting his ability to coach the team. On the one hand, the work Kill does during the off-season and in the week leading up to the game is probably more important than what happens on game day, so I can see why the team continues to downplay the seizures and insist they know how to play through them.
On the other, at what point does the uncertainty about Kill’s health affect recruiting itself?
And at what point does his family begin to worry that the stress of coaching in the Big 10 could cost him his life? Kill has now has as many gameday seizures on his record as Big 10 victories.

* I have long insisted that Nebraska’s ‘blackshirts’ tradition is one of the dumbest made-up things in sports. For the Huskers to actually wear black jerseys on gameday is almost as bad.
Perhaps after getting humiliated by UCLA on their home field Saturday they’ll stop pretending that ‘blackshirts’ has any meaning whatsoever and retire those XFL jerseys forever.

* If you missed it, the Twins won in fairly awesome fashion Sunday, rallying late and beating Tampa Bay on a three-run homer by rookie catcher Josmil Pinto.
The last time the Twins had a promising young catcher to pair with Joe Mauer they traded him for Matt Capps. So hopefully the Twins don’t ship Pinto to the Rangers for Joakim Soria or something.
Also, I’m starting to think more and more that Ron Gardenhire won’t be back next year, and it might end up being his decision.

* Can you believe Justin Morneau has already played 14 games for the Pirates? He has. He’s mostly been hitting singles so far, but had the game-winning RBI Sunday, in a game that saw Francisco Liriano take a no-hitter into the seventh inning.
Liriano is 16-7 with a 2.92 ERA and 148 Ks in 148 innings.

* I don’t get to watch too much major college football due to work duties, but with USF playing at night on Saturday I got to watch Texas A&M vs. Alabama.
Would’ve like to see an Aggies win, but even in defeat, Johnny Manziel was hella-fun to watch.

* Speaking of Saturday work duties, I’ll have more on USF’s win over Northern and Augie’s stunning loss to Minot tomorrow, both in the paper and on the blog.
Beating Northern was a very nice win for USF, and Luke Papilion looked, frankly, like Colin Kaepernick.
For Augie, that’s a bad loss. Minot is a competent team but they just don’t have the talent the Vikings do. I thought once Augie found a way to make it to overtime they’d manage to escape with an ugly win. The fact that they had three chances in OT and still got beat is hard to believe.