Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times editor-sports editor Gary Larson, reporter Luther Dorr and former Times intern Logan Marxhausen. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.
•Question: The Minnesota Vikings lost to Tampa Bay 36-17 last Thursday and slipped to a 5-3 record. What are your thoughts on that game and the upcoming game Sunday at Seattle?
-Dorr: I was in the stands for that game and one thing’s for sure – the NFL should move the kicker back on kickoffs. There were 12 kickoffs and only one return, Percy Harvin running one out of the end zone and others being touchbacks. An exciting part of the NFL game has become a boring one. The Vikings have now lost to two rookie quarterbacks and one rookie running back (from Tampa Bay). It was a horrible performance and many fans left early. But if you had said two months ago the Vikings would be 5-3, most Vikings fans would have taken that. On the way home I listened to the radio color man, former Viking linebacker Pete Bercich, as he tried to blame the offense for the overrated defense getting shoved all over the field. The Vikings were still in the game and then Tampa Bay kept the ball for nine minutes and put the game out of reach with a score. Minnesota went 5-3 against teams that have a combined won-lost percentage of .448, the three losses coming to teams that are 10-12. The next eight games are against teams with a .633 percentage. Seattle (4-4) is a team the Vikings have to beat to entertain playoff hopes and St. Louis (3-5) and Detroit (3-4) are other winnable games. The other five games are against Green Bay (5-3), Chicago (6-1) and Houston (6-1). Maybe there will be an upset in there someplace. By the way, the editor labeled me a homer for picking the Vikings last week. Let it be known that I picked the Lynx not to repeat, while my colleagues picked them to win. Who are the real homers?
-Marxhausen: The Vikings gave the win to the Buccaneers as they couldn’t stop the run, couldn’t pressure the quarterback and couldn’t answer on offense. Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin put on a very impressive game with 135 yards on the ground and a touchdown and was also Tampa Bay’s leading receiver with 79 yards and a touchdown. Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman didn’t have a stellar game throwing the ball, completing barely over half of his passes (19-for-36), but connected for three touchdowns with three different receivers. The Vikings offense fell short with three turnovers and inability to stay with Tampa Bay’s offensive pace. Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin had good individual performances, but that is not the recipe for a team victory. Seattle is a winnable game by all means. They have a strong defense and a strong running game in Marshawn Lynch, but if they can limit the mistakes and keep them from making any big plays, the Vikings could turn that match-up into a needed win.
-Larson: Last Thursday’s loss was disappointing, but hardly surprising. The Vikings have a history of laying eggs on national television. The defense took a step backwards and faces another young quarterback Sunday in rookie Russell Wilson, who had a great career at Wisconsin and has had some good games for the Seahawks. Minnesota’s defense didn’t fare well against the rookies at Indianapolis (Andrew Luck) and Washington (Robert Griffin III). Right now the Viking offense is dependant on quarterback Christian Ponder, who looked sharp a few weeks ago but hasn’t been very sharp recently. Here’s a thought – with the trading deadline being extended to today (Thursday) because of Hurricane Sandy, how about a last-minute pitch by the Vikings to obtain Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald? I’d offer next year’s No. 1 pick, along with some lower-round picks for the sterling receiver who’s from Minnesota and was once the a Vikings ball boy. A Harvin-Fitzgerald combo would be just what Ponder needs. This week, it’s Seahawks 24, Vikings 20.
•Question: The University of Minnesota football team trimmed Purdue 44-28 Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium to score its first Big Ten victory after three losses. Freshman quarterback Philip Nelson led the victory as he completed 15 of 22 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns while not throwing an interception. What did you think of the performance by the Gophers and Nelson and does Minnesota have a shot at home against Michigan this Saturday?
-Dorr: One person I was sitting next to termed the first half “surreal” as Nelson went 12 for 17 for 246 yards, and the team had 356 yards while scoring 34 unanswered points after Purdue scored only three minutes into the game. I agreed with him. Was the game a fluke? The Gophers had 11 yards in the third quarter but still won handily in what can only be labeled a surprise performance. I thought the Minnesota coaches had a great game plan against a porous Purdue pass defense that was ripe for the picking. Nelson completed 12 passes in a row and looked like a veteran quarterback as he showed some of the promise we have heard about. I said at halftime, sort of jokingly, that now people will be criticizing Jerry Kill for not playing Nelson sooner. Sure enough, StarTribune columnist Jim Souhan did just that in Sunday’s paper. Funny, the week before when Nelson threw two interceptions against Wisconsin and the offense had its lowest yardage total of the year, nothing like that was written. One game does not a quarterback make, nor does one bad game mean he’s not a quarterback. Nelson does look like he knows what he’s doing. If quarterback Denard Robinson is healthy enough to play for Michigan Saturday, and that’s likely, I can’t imagine the Gophers winning that game. But the Big Ten has been so up and down that I guess an upset is a slight possibility. Wouldn’t that be fun?
-Marxhausen: The Gophers finally had the offensive explosion they needed to not only beat a Big Ten team, but to dominate and control the entire game. New quarterback Nelson put up some amazing numbers for only his second career start. Running back Donnell Kirkwood also had a stellar game on the ground, controlling the ball and the clock in the Gophers’ favor. The sad thing about this victory is that Purdue has only won three nonconference games and hasn’t proved to be legit competition. Michigan has lost three games so this season and all three have been to top 25 teams. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson left last week’s game with an arm injury that looks to be only a scare, but if the Gophers can catch a break like Nebraska did last week when he left the game, the Gophers will have a fighting chance.
-Larson: The Gophers won their first Big Ten game this season in front of the smallest crowd in the three-year history of TCF Bank Stadium. Nelson’s performance and Minnesota’s victory should mean a larger turnout for the Michigan game. Credit coach Jerry Kill for having his team well prepared for a Boilermaker team that had given Ohio State a run for its money a week earlier, losing 29-22 in overtime to the Buckeyes. This week it’s the battle (?) for the Little Brown Jug when Michigan comes to Minnesota. You’re forgiven if you don’t remember what the jug looks like or the fact Michigan-Minnesota is a “rivalry” game that dates back to 1903. That first meeting in college football’s oldest rivalry ended in a 6-6 tie, but it’s been all Maize and Blue ever since, with the Wolverines holding a 67-22 edge. Michigan has won 52 of the last 63 meetings and 20 of the last 21, including a 58-0 mauling last year at Michigan. So, maybe it shouldn’t really be called a rivalry game. Whether or not Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson is healthy won’t matter. The Wolverines will top Minnesota one more time.
•Question: San Francisco swept Detroit in four games to win the World Series, capping the sweep with a 4-3 victory Sunday night in Detroit. What are your thoughts on the Series?
-Dorr: Who knew that Delmon Young (.357, and a game-tying homer Sunday) would lead the Tigers in hitting and that only one other Tiger would be over .300? Prince Fielder (.071) absolutely disappeared and Miguel Cabrera (.231) had only one hit of consequence, the home run Sunday night. Did the layoff hurt the Tigers? We’ll never know. For instance, the Detroit starter on Sunday hadn’t pitched for nine days. I don’t think anybody foresaw a sweep by the Giants. Heck, the Giants were nearly out of things in the first round of National League playoffs, wiping out a 2-0 lead by the Reds and winning three on the road, something that had never been done before. I’m surprised that the Giants won and really surprised that they won it in four. Young, who the Twins got absolutely nothing for when they traded him last year, hit .313 in 48 post-season at-bats this year, had 3 homers and drove in 9 runs. He has 8 post-season homers in two years at Detroit, the most ever for that franchise. And, he hit .333 (4 for 12) against the Yankees for the Twins in 2010. What a terrible trade by the Twins!
-Marxhausen: Either that long break for Detroit between the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees and the World Series with the Giants was going to hurt them or help them. In this case, it hurt the Tigers chances of riding the momentum to the World Series. The Tigers couldn’t get anything going to start out the Series, receiving a lackluster performance from pitching ace Justin Verlander. Many baseball viewers were writing off the Giants in game one because they were facing Verlander but they came up with an offensive explosion that opened the floodgates for the Giants to pour it on. The following two games were great pitching displays by Giants starting pitchers Madison Bumgarner in game two and Ryan Vogelsong in game three. By the time game four came around, the Tigers were beaten and nearly defeated. The San Francisco starting pitching staff was clearly the reason the Giants made it as far as they did and it was just too dominant to allow any offensive action from the Tigers.
-Larson: Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera taking a called strike on a pitch that was right in his power zone for the final out of the World Series in front of Tigers fans Sunday night summed up San Francisco’s sweep. The Giants proved they were the best team. Their pitching was better, their hitting was better and their defense was better. San Francisco won its second World Series title in three years and, with a roster of good, young players, will be favored to repeat in 2013.
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