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. This edition was written Monday, Dec. 17.
•Question: The Minnesota Vikings kept their playoff hopes alive Sunday, Dec. 16, by defeating the St. Louis Rams 36-22 in St. Louis, winning once again behind the running of Adrian Peterson. What are your thoughts on the game and what are the chances of the Vikings gaining at least a split in their final two games (at Houston, home against Green Bay)?
-Dorr: I didn’t see one minute of the St. Louis game and don’t feel qualified to comment too much, although I, like everyone else, have seen countless replays of Peterson’s two long runs, as well as the run by Christian Ponder for the first touchdown after it appeared he was going to be tackled for a loss. And I did see Ponder’s run on fourth down for a first down that preceded that first touchdown. Give the team credit for beating St. Louis, a team that had been playing much better of late. I think there’s hardly a soul alive, including the most ardent of Viking fans, who would have predicted the Vikings would be 8-6 at this point. I looked back this weekend on my own prediction and I had them down for six wins, with a possibility of eight. Minnesota probably has a better chance to beat Green Bay than it does Houston, although both – division winners each – will be playing to better their chances of home games in the playoffs. A 9-7 record would be quite a feat but it won’t get the team into the playoffs.
-Marxhausen: The victory in St. Louis was fun to watch, with the Vikings having nearly complete control the entire game. The Vikings did all they could against the Rams. In addition to Adrian Peterson running for over 200 yards, quarterback Christian Ponder was steady and completed some important passes. The Vikings played well defensively, putting pressure on quarterback Sam Bradford, who was sacked four times.. The defense did allow Bradford to complete too many long passes near the end of the game, exposing the Viking secondary. Peterson busted out multiple long runs, with his longest an 82-yard touchdown burst. Through 14 games, Peterson is closing in on Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards set in 1984. Peterson needs 294 yards in the final two games against Houston and Green Bay to match the record. With a playoff berth at stake Peterson is going to pull out all that he can to win these two games with a good chance of breaking the record in the process. Houston and Green Bay have already made the playoffs and are only fighting for home-field advantage. They are not going to let up but the Vikings have something bigger to fight for at the moment. I think the Vikings will at least split the two games, if not win both.
-Larson: I expected the Vikings to have a tougher time against an improving St. Louis team. It was disappointing to see the Rams drive 80 yards and 88 yards for touchdowns in the fourth quarter but we’ve seen that kind of fourth-quarter letdown by the Minnesota defense many times before. Quarterback Ponder had his best game in several week, completing 17 of 24 passes, with no interceptions. Peterson continued to be amazing. Houston will slow him down a little this week and top the Vikings but the Vikings and Peterson will bounce back and top Green Bay.
•Question: Santa Claus has determined that once again Dorr, Marxhausen and Larson have been good boys the past year and he wants to reward their good behavior by presenting each with tickets, airfare and lodging to several of the upcoming bowl games. Each is receiving a trip to view the Minnesota Gophers play Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care Bowl Dec. 28 in Houston Dec. 28 and the BCS title game between Notre Dame and Alabama Jan. 7 in Miami. As a bonus the boys can each pick out three other bowl games. Santa will use his magic to take care of any conflicting dates. So boys, which three games are each of you going to choose?
-Dorr: The Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1 in Orlando featuring Georgia (ranked No. 7) and Nebraska (16), the Rose Bowl featuring Wisconsin and Stanford (6), and the Fiesta Bowl Jan. 4 in Glendale, Ariz,, featuring Oregon (4) and Kansas State (5). If Santa would let me have one more it would be the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas, on Jan. 4 with Texas A&M (9) and Oklahoma (11), so I can see the Heisman Trophy winner play for the first time.
-Marxhausen: The first game that I would choose is the Texas A&M battle against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. Heisman winner quarterback Johnny Manziel has huge expectations as the first freshman Heisman winner and he will be fired up to push the Aggies against Oklahoma’s high-octane offense. Senior Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones will try to keep up with Manziel’s impressive numbers with impressive numbers of his own as he finished the season with 3,989 passing yards and 29 touchdowns. The second game I would like to see is Oregon against Kansas State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Both teams fell short of the No. 2-ranked spot to finish the season and arguably could have been considered. The third game I would like to see would be Stanford against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. No. 6-ranked Stanford will take on the first five-loss team to make it to the Rose Bowl. Wisconsin also lost its head coach Bret Bielema to the vacant Arkansas head coaching position, so to see how they will play against a superior team without their head coach will be intriguing.
-Larson: How closely was Santa watching Dorr and Marxhausen? The three games I’d pick would be the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, where Oregon’s speed may be too much for Kansas State, the Cotton Bowl, where Johnny Manziel’s magical season may come to an end against Oklahoma, and the Rose Bowl, where Wisconsin just might surprise favored Stanford.
•Question: Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio is back from knee surgery and returned to the lineup Saturday, Dec. 15, to help the Timberwolves top the Dallas Mavericks 114-106 in overtime at Target Center. The team is 12-10 and did pretty well in the absence of Rubio and Kevin Love. What are your thoughts on the team and will it remain in playoff contention the rest of the season?
-Dorr: I think the pieces are in place for the Wolves to remain in playoff contention. Rubio will add a spark, as well as selling tickets because he is so fun to watch. What’s overlooked because of all his fancy passes is his defensive ability. He defends very well. I do think his contribution is a bit over-hyped, or at least it was in his first game Saturday. In the 10 minutes he played in the second half, the Wolves were outscored by six and eventually lost a substantial lead. And then Minnesota, without Rubio, outscored Dallas by eight in the overtime and handily won the game. I know it was only his second game but on Monday night he had no points, 3 turnovers and 4 assists in a loss to Orlando. But I enjoy watching him play and hope that Rubio and Love can get back to where they were last year, as well as seeing improved play from Derrick Williams. If all of that happens I think you’ll see the Wolves in the playoffs.
-Marxhausen: With Rubio and Love in Minnesota’s starting lineup, the Timberwolves are one of the deepest teams in the league. If the team was facing zero injuries (Chase Budinger and Brandon Roy), it would be able to play anyone on their team at any given point. I like the team and what the Timberwolves have put together to bring the team back into playoff contention. Sure, it is really early in the season to be able to predict a playoff berth, but the Timberwolves were on track last year before Rubio tore his ACL. Now, with the depth they attained this year, I see playoffs in the future for the Timberwolves. The big concern for head coach Rick Adelman is trying to find playing time for everybody and playing the right players at the right time.
-Larson: I’m looking up the time and channel so I can watch Timberwolves games this season, something I haven’t done much in the last several years. And, when I can, I’m watching most, if not all, of the game. Credit coach Rick Adelman and management for putting together a roster that’s entertaining and was able to win games without its two stars. If players stay healthy the Timberwolves could compete for as high as a fifth or sixth seed in the playoffs.
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