Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times editor-sports editor Gary Larson, reporter Luther Dorr, former Times intern Logan Marxhausen and sports fan Ben Johnson. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.
•Question: The Carolina Panthers throttled the Minnesota Vikings 35-10 Sunday at Mall of America Field, dropping the Vikings to a 1-4 record. What are your thoughts on the game and the team’s season going forward, starting with a Monday night game in New York against the 0-6 Giants?
-Dorr: As Carolina was marching up and down the field Sunday against a defense that came into the game 29th in pass defense yardage, and 30th in overall yardage, I kept waiting for Matt Cassel to make a crunching tackle or perhaps pick off a Cam Newton pass. Then it hit me – Cassel, just like Christian Ponder, doesn’t play defense, something many Ponder detractors have overlooked. Cassel, as he did against a horrible Pittsburgh team, handed Carolina its first touchdown, although a Viking defensive back dropped what should have been an easy interception after Cassel’s interception. Another thought is that I thought it weird that some were saying Adrian Peterson would have a great game (he didn’t) just because of the tragic death of his son. (And then there was the radio announcer trying to make an excuse for the Vikings’ poor performance because of that tragic situation.) There were a couple costly penalties on the Viking defense. All in all, it was a horrible game, one of the worst in recent years, the nine-and-a-half minute drive by Carolina in the first quarter giving us a hint of things to come. The team looked to be in disarray and I’m still wondering about the head coach. Cassel was not the difference in the win over that bad Pittsburgh team but many people couldn’t figure that out. A decent defense would have given Minnesota at least two wins in the first three games. Monday night against Eli Manning (two Super Bowl wins) and the 0-6 Giants? Not a good game to right a season that is potentially horrific.
-Marxhausen: As an attendee of the game, there was nothing to say about Carolina other than it was efficient. The Panthers made the Vikings look like an unprepared, show-up to work for the paycheck kind of team. Minnesota had two turnovers while Carolina had none. Carolina rushed the ball a total of 39 times with 26 total pass attempts. In other words it controlled the game, clocking 36:27 in ball possession compared to Minnesota’s 23:33. Matt Cassel looked no different than Christian Ponder in the game, with some small chants of Josh Freeman emerging from the crowd near the end. The Giants are in worse shape than the Vikings right now, with instability on the offensive line and an erratic quarterback in Eli Manning. The Vikings should win this game, but with the play they have been producing, it looks like the Giants will finally notching their first victory.
-Larson: I’ve harped about a coaching change for weeks but it appears the Wilfs and general manager Rick Spielman are going to ride the season out with Leslie Frazier. Frazier is regarded as a “player’s coach” but his players aren’t putting forth much effort for him. Are they taking advantage of Frazier or, as a team, are they just not very good? ESPN can’t be too thrilled about the Vikings-Giants game which shapes up as one of the worst Monday Night Football match-ups ever.
-Johnson: Sunday’s game was the worst game I have seen the Vikings play in a long time. The defense gave up big drives and big plays all game long. The little time the offense had the ball, it was stopped in just a matter of plays. The offensive line looked like sand running through your fingers trying to stop Carolina’s defense. The Vikings made a 1-3 Panthers team with a weak schedule and with a terrible offense look awesome. At this point in the season, I think it is best to start Josh Freeman’s audition at quarterback. It doesn’t matter who the quarterback is when the defense plays like it did on Sunday but why not start him? The 0-6 Giants are in search of their first victory of the season and sadly, I think it may happen Monday night.
•Question: The Minnesota Lynx went unbeaten in the WNBA Playoffs as they breezed to their second title in three years. What are your thoughts on the team and is it currently Minnesota’s best pro franchise?
-Dorr: There’s little doubt that it’s the best pro franchise in Minnesota. They probably had the best team in the WNBA last year also but didn’t play well in the finals. And it looks as though they’re set to be very good for another year or two, at the least. They have five solid starters and don’t seem to care who scores or gets the glory. And believe me, that last point is important. I’ve seen so many teams through the years that weren’t as good as they should have been – high school, college and pro – because someone was worried about who got the headlines.
The players truly seem not to worry about that. It’s been fun to watch Lindsay Whalen be such a leader. When she left the Gophers after a great career I wasn’t sure she would continue that stardom in the pros. But she’s become one of the best players in the league and really, really is a true team player. She’s one of the best all-time sports stories in Minnesota.
-Marxhausen: It may not be the most profitable franchise in Minnesota, but it certainly is the most successful. The Lynx make the Twins, Wild, Vikings and the Timberwolves look pretty bland and they may win more titles before the other pro teams in the state even reach the playoffs. The Lynx are clearly Minnesota’s prize possession when it comes to professional sports. They have been to the WNBA finals each of the last three years. The Lynx have the second-youngest roster in the WNBA, so as long as they keep their core together, no one will beat them.
-Larson: Adding former Gopher Janel McCarville to a roster that already included Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore was a key move by Lynx management. Not only did the Lynx appear to be focused on winning the title, they looked like they were having great fun destroying Atlanta. The Lynx have a wonderful cast of players young girls, and boys, can look up to. And, don’t you wish Vikings Coach Leslie Frazier showed half the fire Lynx Coach Cheryl Reeve does?
-Johnson: It’s nice to know that Minnesota sports fans can hang their hat on a winning franchise like the Lynx. It’s frustrating that the Lynx do not get more publicity than they do. The WNBA finals weren’t even on national TV. I think this is because their season is throughout the summer and early fall when fans are into baseball and into the start of the football season. I would love to watch the Lynx more but it is hard to get hyped up over basketball during that time of the year. I have to question why the WNBA can’t mirror the NBA season which starts later in the fall. Maybe the publicity of each sport would feed off of each other and more fans would watch both.
•Question: Last week University of Minnesota Football Coach Jerry Kill took a leave of absence from the team to focus on treatment and management of his epilepsy. No date has been set for Kill’s return and defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys will fill in as acting head coach. Kill has had five game-day seizures in his two-plus seasons at Minnesota. University President Eric Kaler and athletic director Norwood Teague have stood firmly behind Kill, stating that it’s just a matter of Kill finding a way to manage his illness. What do you think of the situation?
-Dorr: It’s probably where it should be right now. Kill is doing what he should be doing and, for now, the U of M is doing what it has an obligation to do. It looks as though the situation will be taken care of, one way or another, before this season is over. It’s a tough call for the school and for Kill, a good guy caught in a difficult situation. Let’s hope it works out his way. If it doesn’t, it’s time for the university to move on.
-Marxhausen: If Kill and his doctors believe that they can set a treatment program for the head coach’s epilepsy and get it under control so he can help the Gophers compete on game days, then they should waste no time in getting it under control. The concern will never leave when he is on the sidelines, but if he wants to be on the sidelines and the University backs him, then he should be there. From what I’ve picked up on about Kill, he is doing whatever he can to get back to the sidelines to fight on with his Gophers.
-Larson: What a sad situation for coach Kill and the Minnesota football program. I guess the only course is to soldier through the season and evalulate the situation at the end. The Gophers won’t be favored in any of their final six games and could finish winless in the Big Ten. If, so the season could hardly be called a step forward. I’m amused by those who say Kill’s situation won’t hurt recruiting. Former Gopher standout Justin Conzemius even stated in a Star Tribune story last week that Kill’s battle with epilepsy could be an “advantage” in recruiting. Wow.
-Johnson: It’s such a controversial topic as to whether Kill should be the coach of the Gophers when he has been so limited because of the seizures. My competitive nature suggests that if a team is losing, first look at the coaching. In this case, you would have to consider it a lack of coaching simply because he hasn’t been with the team. I don’t think you can blame Kill’s absence for the recent Big Ten losses to Michigan and Iowa, but how does a team get better without their head coach? Likewise, my competitive nature also reminds me that if I were Jerry Kill, there is no way I would give up my passion for coaching football because of the disease. I’m curious to know at what point the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) couldn’t litigate the firing of a coach who continues to miss practices and games while the performance of the team continues to deteriorate. Perhaps it is still too early in the season and in Kill’s tenure to determine if the seizures are affecting the team to the point where either he needs to step down or in some way is conveniently reassigned a position in the athletic department (which is a common alternative to firing a coach).
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