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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Here's a small example of Dwayne Haskins' leadership, as told by Matthew Berry

Here's a small example of Dwayne Haskins' leadership, as told by Matthew Berry

ESPN Fantasy Football expert Matthew Berry was at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere last weekend in Los Angeles, where he got the chance to interview the three Redskins rookies in attendance: Dwayne Haskins, Terry McLaurin, and Bryce Love. 

Berry, who was a guest of JP Finlay's on the Redskins Talk podcast on Thursday, has been a fan of the Burgundy and Gold since he was a kid, so he was eager to talk to three of the team's newest players and learn more about them.

It was during those interviews where Berry got a quick glimpse of a side of Haskins that now has Berry really excited.

"I thought what was really cool was... When I was interviewing McLaurin, Dwayne Haskins came in and interrupted the interview to give him some crap," he told Finlay. "It was really a wonderful moment to see. Obviously, they know each other very well from Ohio State, but just the fact that they felt comfortable enough and he wanted to come over and mess with him a little bit and have some fun, I was impressed with that."

Once Haskins left, Berry explained how he asked McLaurin about the interaction. Redskins fans will like McLaurin's answer.

"That's Dwayne, Dwayne is being a leader," McLaurin said, per Berry. 

Haskins did something similar to Love during Love's interview as well. Berry even caught up with Colts receiver Parris Campbell, who also played with the QB at Ohio State, to inquire about the 15th overall pick. 

"I asked him, 'Listen, I'm a diehard Redskins fan, what am I getting?'" Berry said. "He couldn't have been more effusive. 'You're not only getting a guy who puts the ball where you want it, but you're getting a leader. You're getting a guy who makes sure everyone in the huddle is included.'"

You can be skeptical of how much these little moments mean, and that's fair. Ultimately, how quickly Haskins picks up Jay Gruden's playbook and how accurate his arm turns out to be will factor more into his success in the NFL than being able to joke around a bit with some of his guys.

But you can also hope that these little moments are hints of a bigger personality and approach, a look into an athlete who can get a football team to buy into him. That's the side Berry is on.

"I thought that was really cool, and just showed somebody who's very comfortable in the leadership position and who's trying to be inclusive of everyone," he said. "It's early in the process, but I have yet to hear somebody on or off the record say something bad about Dwayne Haskins."


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WNBA Finals loss only more fuel for Elena Delle Donne, Mystics heading into 2019 season

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WNBA Finals loss only more fuel for Elena Delle Donne, Mystics heading into 2019 season

For Elena Delle Donne and the Mystics, last season's heartbreak in the WNBA Finals is only fuel for another potential postseason run in 2019. 

"That's something I don't think I'll ever let go," Washington's star forward told Chris Miller on the latest episode of the Wizards Talk podcast. "It's always tough when you get to that Finals and you can't finish it off. But I think it's something that can fuel you. You don't want to let it just bring you down and depress you and make it so you can't get over that hump."

"If you use it as fuel and motivation, it can help you get better. I think that's what we're all gonna do."

The Mystics reached their first WNBA Finals in franchise history in 2018 but ultimately lost to the Seattle Storm. Delle Donne, recently named in's GM survey as the favorite to win league MVP, is back for her third season in Washington and headlines a strong team that has the talent to compete for the title again.

Her status for Saturday's season opener against the Connecticut Sun is up in the air due to a left knee injury, but Delle Donne believes the Mystics will have another great season given the continuity on the roster from last season and the return of All-Star forward Emma Meesseman. 

"We feel great. We've got our core back," said Delle Donne. "And to be able to add a superstar like Emma to that roster is pretty scary. Especially with her style of play and the way that our team started playing last season, where it was such positionless basketball. Spreading the floor, just spreading it, making it easy for one another to attack, get some threes. She's just gonna add so much to that."

NBC Sports Washington will be broadcasting 10 Mystics home games during the 2019 WNBA season. For the full regular season schedule, click here.