Vikes try to forget bad game; tough stretch looms


Vikes try to forget bad game; tough stretch looms

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) Based on the consensus outside view of the Minnesota Vikings, a 5-3 record halfway through the season is a real accomplishment.

Given the way they started the year and finished the first half, the Vikings felt they missed out on an opportunity for more.

``This set up perfectly for us to put an exclamation point on these first eight and have some days before Seattle and try to eke out a tough one on the road,'' linebacker Chad Greenway said after the 36-17 loss to Tampa Bay on Thursday. ``Now, it definitely changes your mentality.''

With two games apiece against NFC North rivals Chicago (5-1) and Green Bay (4-3) and a trip to Houston (6-1), the last eight games are going to be quite a challenge even if the Vikings can fix some of the flaws exposed by the Buccaneers. They have three extra days to rest before traveling to Seattle (4-3), always a tough place to play.

``Obviously we're frustrated that our record could be better than 5-3. That's a frustrating thing, but looking back you've got to be proud of it,'' quarterback Christian Ponder said.

There wasn't much at all to take pride in on Thursday.

``The bottom line is they did a good job of pretty much beating our brains in,'' defensive end Brian Robison said.

In the process, the Vikings lost starting cornerback Chris Cook to a broken right arm, meaning one of their most important defensive players will be absent for perhaps the remainder of the year. The biggest concern on that side of the ball of late has been the inability to finish tackles and keep opposing running backs in check. Tampa Bay's Doug Martin was the latest to find room, tallying 214 total yards.

The player under the most scrutiny, naturally, is Ponder, who has been out of sync a lot the last month and turning the ball over far too much. He didn't turn the ball over Thursday until a meaningless pass on the last drive with the outcome already decided, but he hasn't been poised lately under pressure or able to stretch the field with downfield throws.

``It's going to be hard for us to achieve our goals if we're not able to improve our passing game,'' coach Leslie Frazier said.

Whether it's a matter of accuracy for Ponder, protection by the offensive line, separation by the receivers or game planning by the coaching staff, the Vikings have been too easy to stop over the last month, even with Adrian Peterson's continued prowess.

Frazier reiterated Ponder's hold on the starting job, barring injury, and insisted he hasn't seen a loss of confidence in him.

``No, I think he's begun to understand the nature of the business and the nature of the quarterback position,'' Frazier said, adding: ``You have to be mentally tough, and we think he is and he's shown that he is. I think he can handle some of the things that are dished out, but he's going to have big days for us. We know that, he's done that, and he'll lead our team to success.''

Peterson, whose impact on the offense was in question before the season because of the typical recovery timeline for an anterior cruciate ligament tear, has sure put those concerns to rest. He's on pace for more than 1,500 yards rushing, and he declared in the locker room on Friday he's ``over 100 percent'' and ``trying to get to 200 percent.''

But even Peterson showed he's not infallible, losing his first fumble of the year during a spin move in the second quarter that set the Buccaneers up for a touchdown. That's the kind of mistake that the Vikings can't overcome if they don't develop the passing game, a consistency that creates the balance that's been lacking this month.

``We have a great potential offensively. The confidence is there,'' Peterson said. ``We have to start fast. We haven't been able to do that.''


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Bradley Beal thoroughly impressed by LeBron James after being his teammate at All-Star Game

Bradley Beal thoroughly impressed by LeBron James after being his teammate at All-Star Game

As a member of the Washington Wizards, Bradley Beal has had many battles with LeBron James over the years, first with the Miami Heat and now with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Over the weekend, Beal got to experience having James as a teammate for the first time at the All-Star Game in Los Angeles.

It was an eye-opening endeavor. Beal got to see up close and personal James' abilities and his routine to maximize them. In a group of the best players on the planet, James stood out.

"It was surreal at first, just being around all the guys," Beal said. "Even just being on his team for two days, that was an unbelievable experience."


Beal, 24, is six seasons in to his NBA career and from experience has learned how to train for the rigors of an 82-game regular season. What James does at 33 years old to stay in peak form, however, is next level.

"To see his preparation, his focus and his mentality and what he does to take care of his body before and after games," Beal said. "That's the true testament to a Hall of Famer and one of the best to ever play the game."

James actually assisted Beal's first points in the All-Star Game, a two-handed dunk in the first quarter. James attacked the rim on a fastbreak to draw attention, then found Beal with a dump-off pass for an easy bucket.


It was an example of James' tricks of the trade. He is not just the most athletic player on the court, he is also the smartest when it comes to the game of basketball.

"His approach and his leadership and everything, it's top notch. It's crazy because you always play against him and to play with him, you get experience the other side of it," Beal said.

Beal, however, did note that much of what he gleaned from James was by watching him. At the end of the day, they are competitors and James isn't going to give away all of his secrets.

"He's not disclosing that information," Beal joked.

The Wizards happen to play James and the Cavs in their first game back from the All-Star break on Thursday night. Once again, Beal will be on the other side. 


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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Walt Williams talks Wizards, his NBA career and life after basketball

NBC Sports Washington

Wizards Tipoff podcast: Walt Williams talks Wizards, his NBA career and life after basketball

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chase Hughes was joined by former NBA player Walt Williams for a wide-ranging discussion. Williams talked about the Wizards, his show on NBC Sports Washington and his playing career.

Williams also projected the NBA prospects of Maryland Terrapins stars Bruno Fernando and Kevin Huerter.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!