Sputtering Vikings search for passing solutions


Sputtering Vikings search for passing solutions

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) The Minnesota Vikings are trying to figure out how to get off the ground.

They struggled through another poor performance by Christian Ponder in Sunday's loss at Seattle, wasting 182 yards and two touchdowns rushing by Adrian Peterson. As the toughest part of their schedule comes into view, the Vikings are searching for solutions to their sputtering passing attack.

Sound familiar?

``We've seen what the passing game can do in the early season. We just have to get back to that. We're good at throwing the ball. We've got good receivers. We have good blocking up front,'' Ponder said after the 30-20 defeat. ``I just have to keep doing a better job of getting the ball in their hands. This team isn't one-dimensional. This offense isn't one-dimensional.''

Coach Leslie Frazier said Monday he hasn't thought about pulling Ponder from a game or even a series. The second-year quarterback, who has thrown for 23 touchdowns and 21 interceptions in 19 career starts, has been bothered by a minor injury to his right knee. He got up slowly a couple of times on Sunday, enough to prompt the coaches to tell backup Joe Webb to be ready.

Frazier said Ponder hasn't complained about the knee and doesn't believe it's a problem. The coach did, however, acknowledge Ponder's footwork as a factor in his incompletion to Percy Harvin on a simple bubble screen throw in the second quarter against the Seahawks.

``He's completed that with high accuracy throughout the season. For whatever reason, that ball sailed on him. Got to get his feet set. Got to make that throw,'' Frazier said.

Harvin, who badly sprained his left ankle and might not be able to play this Sunday against Detroit, was frustrated enough to scream at Frazier on the sideline after that miss. The Vikings were at the Seattle 11 in a tied game at the time, and Ponder was sacked on the next play to force them to settle for a field goal.

``It was just a frustrating point in the heat of the battle,'' Harvin said, lamenting the missed opportunity for a touchdown. ``But it was nothing more than that.''

Harvin has been one of the NFL's most productive players this season, but when defenses have ganged up to try to take him away the Vikings have infrequently been able to produce an effective response.

``It's very frustrating. I would be lying if I told you different. We've got a lot of work to do. We're all still confident we can turn this thing around,'' Harvin said.

Whether it's calling the right plays at the right times, the receivers getting open or Ponder having enough confidence and accuracy to deliver a completion in those situations, the Vikings have not shown they can consistently use the deep ball to move up and down the field.

When they were winning, their defense was good enough that didn't matter. Lately, that group has been shaky, too. Peterson is often capable of covering up that deficiency all by himself, but he couldn't make that happen on Sunday. He took only five handoffs after halftime, but the Vikings ran only 19 plays.

The bubble screens and other creative ways offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has used to put the ball in the multi-talented Harvin's hands haven't been working as much, either. Harvin said he's hearing the defense call out the bubble screen before the snap a lot more than in the past. He said other teams have also sent safeties and linebackers out to cover the play, making the blocks for Harvin's teammates more difficult than if they were trying to get in the way of a cornerback.

``We'll have to dial some different things up, see if we can get something else going,'' Harvin said.

In Seattle, Ponder produced his third game of 100 yards passing or less. That's one-third of the season. The Vikings got away with it beating Detroit and Arizona, but there has to be more balance for them to be able to get back on track. Frazier said in his conversations with Ponder he's come away with the same belief in Ponder's confidence that he had earlier in the year when the Vikings started 4-1. But Ponder was sacked four more times by the Seahawks, and his body language in the pocket and the accuracy of his throws have suggested he's lost a little of his moxie.

``.He knows there are some things that he needs to improve on, but there are also some things throughout our passing game that we have to get corrected in order to help him be successful,'' Frazier said. ``That will be the challenge for all of us.''


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What winning the Stanley Cup would actually mean, a fan's perspective

What winning the Stanley Cup would actually mean, a fan's perspective

Just four more wins. It hardly seems possible.

For only the second time ever and for the first time in 20 years, the Capitals will be playing in the Stanley Cup Final. And they could actually win it.

They’re not there yet. The Vegas Golden Knights have cruised through the playoffs thus far and continue to shock the hockey community with their postseason run. Washington’s players need to think about how to beat Vegas, not what happens after.

But while the players cannot and should not look ahead, for fans, it’s hard not to. It’s hard not to dream about that moment when Gary Bettman hands the Stanley Cup over to Alex Ovechkin.

Winning the conference is always a huge achievement that should be celebrated, but this year is different than 1998’s run. Back in 1998, the Caps played against a Detroit Red Wings team that is one of the greatest teams in NHL history. They were the defending champions after sweeping the Philadelphia Flyers the year before. Washington suffered the same fate as the Flyers, losing in just four games.

This year is a battle between two more evenly matched teams. Picking the Caps to win this series is not outlandish or crazy at all. This year, they could actually do it.

So before the puck drops for Game 1 and all dreams are pushed aside for the realities of what may happen, allow a fan a chance to think about what seeing the Washington Capitals actually hoist the Stanley Cup would actually mean.

Breaking news: Washington is not Canada and the Capitals are not an original six team. Hockey is not ingrained in the culture of D.C. the way it is in Canadian cities or in places like Boston and Detroit. Unlike in Vegas where the success of the team in its inaugural season has caught the city by storm, the Capitals won only eight games in their first year. Eight wins doesn’t exactly help a team grow roots in the community.

If you’ve been a fan of the Capitals long enough, chances are you’ve seen some pretty tough times. There have been plenty of playoff disappointments in this team’s history even before the current era. There was also the rebuild that began before the lockout that saw a very bad team play in front of a half empty stadium for several years. And they would not have even gotten to that point without the “Save the Caps” campaign in 1982.

But through it all, that small group of hardcore fans kept coming back. Some may have wavered from time to time, but they came back because being a hockey fan is different than other sports.

It’s hard to be a sports fan in any city with an NFL team and not follow football. Football may not even be your sport, but there is almost on obligation to following it because coverage and interest in football is so prevalent. It’s hard to avoid.

You have to seek out hockey

Hockey at times has been viewed as more of a niche sport than mainstream. Before the age of Alex Ovechkin, if you were from Washington and you were following the Caps, it was because you loved both.

So why did those Caps fans keep coming back after so much heartbreak? Because despite all of the disappointing seasons we always walked away telling ourselves, this will just make it that much sweeter when they do win.

One day, it will all be worth it.

That’s why we watch sports, isn’t it? We watch with the knowledge that sometimes, our hearts will be broken but it’s OK because the good will always outweigh the bad. And the worse the bad times are, the better the good times will feel afterward.

We kept telling ourselves that for a long time, but admittedly some years were tougher to get past than others. It’s hard to keep believing when you’ve seen your rival beat you nine times out of 10 in the playoffs heading into this year’s postseason. It’s hard when a team cannot seem to overcome its playoff history despite having one of the best players of all-time on its roster.

When Ovechkin was drafted, the question we all asked ourselves was not whether he would bring a Cup to Washington, but how many? He brought new fans with him, he brought excitement with him, he brought validation with him…at least initially.

But with every passing year, doubt began to creep into our minds. The upset loss to Montreal in 2010 stung, but Ovechkin was still 24. There was still hope that one day, he would still win the Cup.

Now at 32 years old, many did not know what to expect from the Great 8 this year. When would decline start to show in his game?

Ovechkin is part of why we want the Cup so badly. We want to see the best player in this franchise’s history honored. We want to see the player who transformed hockey in Washington from niche sport to mainstream take his proper place in the sport’s history. No one wants to hear him described as one of the best players to never win a Cup because he should be remembered as one of the best players, period.

But that’s not all of it.

This is about all those times we told ourselves this would all be worth it someday. This is about how we used to cope with the sting of another postseason heartbreak by thinking about what it would feel like when it was finally our year. This is about how we stuck with the team when the stadium was half empty. This is about the blue jersey in our closet with the eagle on the front and the black one hanging next to it with the capitol building on the front. This is about all the 5, 12, 32 and 37 jerseys. This is about replacing Esa Tikkanen as our lasting Stanley Cup memory.

When the Washington Redskins have a rough year, those fans who can remember them think about those three Super Bowl wins. When the Washington Wizards fall short, those fans who can remember it think about the championship in 1978. Even if you’re too young to remember the Super Bowls or NBA championship, those banners still give your team a sense of validation. They have their little piece of history to be proud of.

That’s what this would mean. A Stanley Cup would be not just for the players, it would be for the fans who stuck it out through thick and thin, those fans who despite everything still supported their team. This win would be about the Capitals forever earning their spot in the heart of Washington sports alongside the Redskins and Wizards.

This would be about never having to tell ourselves again that someday all the love we pour into this team will pay off.

A Stanley Cup would mean finally getting to experience a championship and realizing, yeah, it was all worth it.

Let’s go Caps!


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Capital One Bank just made a Caps-themed update to its logo and we're here for it

Capital One Bank just made a Caps-themed update to its logo and we're here for it

Capital One is repping the district in a big way: by changing their logo to incorporate the Capitals' font and name. 

The new Capital One logo appears on the bank's websites and social media ahead of the Caps' Stanley Cup Final games, which begin on Memorial Day Monday in Vegas.

The McLean, Virginia, based bank recently purchased the naming rights to the Capitals' home arena, formerly known as "Verizon Center." And in the first year of its renaming, the Capitals have advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years. Coincidence? 

We've seen a small, Northern Virginia town change its name to "Capitalsville," and now Capital One Bank is all-in for the Caps.