Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times sports editor Gary Larson, former Princeton Union-Eagle editor and sports columnist Luther Dorr, former Times intern Logan Marxhausen and sports fan Ben Johnson. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.
•Question: The Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers played to a 26-26 overtime tie Sunday in Green Bay. What are your thoughts on the game?
-Dorr: Use any word you want to describe another fouirth-quarter performance by the defense – horrendous, brutal or horrible. But perhaps the best words to describe another failure are “not surprising.” Handed a 16-point lead, with a Packer fourth-string quarterback playing who was waived by Seattle in 2012 and hapless Oakland this year, the Minnesota defense gave up scores on four straight possessions and a tie resulted. It was the 4th fourth-quarter collapse by the defense this year and the result is a 2-8-1 record in a division where 6-5 would be pretty good. You can also point to a drop of a long pass in the final quarter, and another that would have resulted in a first down in overtime at midfield. But it was mainly the defense that cost that game. Adrian Peterson, except for his fumble, played well, as did Toby Gerhart and Christian Ponder. And that means the offensive line was good. But the porous defense has ruined what could have been a decent season. Maybe all we need to know about this season and this team are the words of former Viking Greg Coleman, part of the Minnesota radio team. He CONGRATULATED the head coach for the tie when they talked after the game.
-Marxhausen: Well the last outcome I thought would happen was a tie. It is kind of satisfying to say that Green Bay without Aaron Rodgers is equal with the Vikings. So once the Vikings find their own “Aaron Rodgers” they will be NFC North contenders. Both teams played hard and ended with similar statistics. It was nice to see Adrian Peterson getting some good blocking in his 32 rushes for 146 yards, with a touchdown, and back-up Toby Gerhart broke some tackles in the fourth quarter to put up 91 yards on eight carries. In the end it was a battle for field goals and it resulted in a tie. That tie could come back to haunt/help the Green Bay Packers come playoff time and it could do the same for the Vikings in the draft order.
-Larson: My wife lost interest in the Vikings about a month ago but she knows the team’s history very well. When I told her the Vikings had a 20-7 lead heading into the fourth quarter she shrugged and quietly said, “they’ll lose,” before getting back to a cooking channel. Once again, the defense stunk and wasted a surprising performance by the offense.
And, when is the NFL going to scrap its stupid overtime format and adopt a format similar to what colleges and high schools use, where there are no ties and both teams get equal opportunities to win?
-Johnson: The parts of the game I watched Sunday made the game appear like a college game. With the frigid temperatures, everything looked much slower. Players were running slower, not making quick cuts, and the quarterbacks didn’t have much zip on their ball. Then again, I am talking about Christian Ponder and Matt Flynn. I can’t knock Ponder too much this week because he actually played fairly well. He protected the football and, with the help of Adrian Peterson, he managed the game well. Letting Green Bay back into the game in the fourth quarter was an embarrassment to the defense. It’s troubling the defense couldn’t come up with some big plays against the very “green” Green Bay quarterback Matt Flynn. I’ll be optimistic, noting that a tie is better than a loss.
•Question: The University of Minnesota football team lost to Wisconsin 20-7 Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium. What are your thoughts on the game?
-Dorr: I didn’t think Minnesota would beat Wisconsin. In fact, I thought there was a possibility the Gophers could lose by 30 points or more. But when the Gophers led 7-3 and had picked up three first downs to move to the Wisconsin 35 with about seven minutes left in the first half, there was actually hope for an upset. But a false-start penalty, much discussed by the officials, slowed that drive and three plays later Wisconsin recovered a Minnesota fumble when quarterback Philip Nelson was hit from behind. The game changed dramatically after that, the Badgers driving quickly for a touchdown and a 10-7 lead. The Gophers had a few chances on offense after that, dropping a couple passes and Nelson missing a wide-open Maxx Williams in the fourth quarter when there was still time for a comeback. But Wisconsin, despite a good performance by the Minnesota defense, stayed in control, its second-half touchdown helped by a pass interference call on a 83-yard drive that took the wind out of Minnesota’s sails. All in all, it was a decent performance by Minnesota against what might be an underrated Wisconsin team. A loss is still a loss but there were some bright spots.
-Marxhausen: The Gophers put up a valiant fight on defense, but the offense struggled as the Gophers fell to the No. 19-ranked Badgers. The Gopher defense put up fantastic numbers, including holding the Badger offense to 20 points when it was averaging 36.8 points a game. The defense also returned an interception for a touchdown and recorded the only Gopher touchdown. The Gophers couldn’t get the ground game moving more than an inch as a time and the passing game was even worse. No offense plus three fumbles will not win a game against a ranked team. If Minnesota does the same thing against Michigan State next week the result will be worse than the result against Wisconsin.
-Larson: Wisconsin won by about the point spread it was favored by. The Gophers didn’t embarrass themselves, as has often been the case during the Badgers’ 10-game winning streak in the series. The Minnesota defense held Wisconsin’s touted running game to 197 yards, its second lowest total of the season, but the Gopher offense didn’t manage a point. And points will be even harder to come by this week at Michigan State.
-Johnson: The Gophers had opportunities to win on Saturday. The defense played OK but the Gophers couldn’t get anything going on offense. The Badger defense completely shut down quarterback Philip Nelson and held running back David Cobb to just 68 yards. With the Badgers handling the time of possession, 35 minutes to the Gophers’ 25 minutes, along with the Gophers turning the ball over three times, the score could have been much worse. Even so, the Gophers had their opportunities in the fourth quarter to get back into the game. Miscues and poor throws prevented the Gophers from coming back. Although it’s been a successful season for the Gophers, it would be one of those seasons to remember if they can pull off an upset Saturday at Michigan State.
•Question: The Minnesota Timberwolves are 8-7 after losing to the Houston Rockets Saturday night in Houston. What are your thoughts on the Timberwolves’ season thus far and do you feel the team can notch a playoff spot this season?
-Dorr: If this question had been posed two weeks ago, the answer might have been different. The potential is still there to make the playoffs but the 8-7 record at this point is a couple wins away from where it should be. Kevin Love and Kevin Martin have been very good, while Ricky Rubio has been inconsistent. Is the team deep enough to win some of the games it has been losing? We’ll find out in the next couple weeks as the Wolves hit a tough part of the schedule. My guess is that the team will be a fun one to watch but also a frustrating team to watch.
-Marxhausen: Although the Timberwolves’ record does not look overly impressive for the start of the season, they are better than what it appears. In their first seven losses, five were by four points or less. They are in nearly every game, but lack the ability to finish games out. The addition of Kevin Martin has been very exciting, filling in the void of the pure shooter that they have needed for years. With everyone healthy, the Timberwolves can play with anyone, including the Miami Heat. Minnesota is ranked third in points per game and sixth in rebounds and assists per game. It will steadily improve and be a force this season.
-Larson: A season record of .500 or slightly above is where the Timberwolves are headed. Inconsistency is and likely will be the problem. Minnesota has looked great in victories over Oklahoma City (100-81) and Dallas (116-108) but average at best in losses to poor teams like Cleveland and Washington. The Timberwolves lost three of their last four games heading into last Monday’s game at Indiana. That game began what will be a telling stretch that continued at home against Denver Wednesday, followed by games at Dallas Saturday, at Oklahoma City Sunday, in Mexico City against San Antonio Dec. 4 and at home against Miami Dec. 7. The Timberwolves will get to show us what it’s got during that grueling schedule.
-Johnson: Once the NFL winds down in January and the sports scene diminishes, I’ll tune in to a few Timberwolves games. From the 10 minutes or so I have watched the Timberwolves this year I can see they have good team chemistry. Both Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love appear healthy and Nikola Pekovic seems to have a good feel for his role with the team. With the NBA finals still going on in June, I’m not going to get too excited about the NBA or Timberwolves just yet.
•Question: The Minnesota Wild is 15-5 and have 34 points after topping Winnipeg 3-2 in a shootout at Winnipeg Saturday. What are your thoughts on the team’s season thus far and do you feel the Wild can notch a playoff spot this season?
-Dorr: The Wild have more points than 26 of the NHL’s 30 teams at this point and that’s surprising, especially given the injury problems they’ve had with goaltenders. They’re in the middle of the pack among the 30 teams for goals against but still have a very good record. If injuries are held to a minimum, the Wild should have a good chance to make the playoffs now that there is scoring from a number of players.
-Marxhausen: Minnesota has done as well as a fan can hope for although it is only tied for third in the Central Division. Goalie Josh Harding has been tough to beat, with Ryan Suter and the defense helping by only allowing an average of 2.2 goals a game. The Wild has been improving on power plays, a problem in the past. Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Jason Pominville have accounted for 47 percent of the team’s goals. If Minnesota can find more sources on offense, it will be truly dangerous and it will squeak into the playoffs.
-Larson: It’s still early but so far, at 10 games over .500, Minnesota looks like a playoff contender. Coach Mike Yeo’s team has better balance than last season and looks improved offensively and defensively. The signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are paying dividends this season.
-Johnson: The Western Conference has found itself in a tight race in this young hockey season. The Wild is just two points out of first place. The best thing the NHL did just a few seasons ago was install the shootout in overtime, eliminating the possibility for ties. The shootout Saturday night in Winnipeg was fun to watch. I think the Wild will be a playoff contender. Minnesota has some explosive players like Zach Parise and Jason Pominville who could carry it this season. Its downfall may be its depth and consistency in its third and fourth lines. The better question in the NHL may be can anyone stop Chicago?
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