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Vikings offensive coordinator showing creativity

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Vikings offensive coordinator showing creativity

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) Minnesota's offense has a simple focus: Adrian Peterson. The Vikings aren't scheming to surprise opponents by throwing 50 passes per game.

That doesn't mean offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave doesn't have plenty to work on. Just because the Vikings have a straight-forward, no-frills style doesn't mean Musgrave hasn't had to dig deep in the playbook to find combinations, alignments and calls that work to keep the attack balanced and the defense guessing at least some of the time.

Coaches and players have credited Musgrave for his ingenuity, particularly over the last month as the Vikings won four straight games to force a rematch this Saturday with Green Bay in the playoffs. In last Sunday's win over the Packers, Musgrave unveiled several wrinkles that proved effective.

In the second quarter, wide receiver Jarius Wright lined up as a fullback in front of Peterson before running to the flat and snagging an 8-yard touchdown pass. In the third quarter, fullback Jerome Felton, who had two receptions and no carries over the first 15 games, lined up as a receiver and was wide open for a 17-yard reception during a drive that reached the end zone.

``As the ball was in the air I was like, `Hold on, is that coming to me?''' Felton said.

The Vikings accumulated a season-high 444 yards against the Packers. Coach Leslie Frazier, without prompting, credited Musgrave and the other offensive assistants for the plan.

``He's so intelligent and so creative in what he does, and obviously with Adrian there are only so many runs you can create and do, but he still finds new ways to get him the ball and obviously that's working,'' quarterback Christian Ponder said. ``In the passing game, finding ways to get guys open and create different throws and play actions and all these different things. He has such a great understanding of defenses. I think that's the biggest thing that impresses me.''

Musgrave's system hasn't always worked so smoothly. The Vikings netted 120 or fewer yards passing six times this season, though they won four of those games. As the offense sputtered early in their worst loss of 2012 - a 36-17 setback at home against Tampa Bay - one agitated and inebriated fan in the crowd started yelling toward the coaches' box, ``Hey Musgrave! Three and out! Three and out! Three and out!'' (Musgrave stands on the sideline during games, so the complaint was misdirected.)

Wide receiver Percy Harvin acknowledged earlier this season that his frustration with the organization, expressed publicly during minicamp, stemmed from a lack of clarity about his role and said the communication from Musgrave last year wasn't consistent. One of the reasons Frazier hired Musgrave in 2011 was the work he did in Atlanta with quarterback Matt Ryan, the 2008 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, but Ponder regressed at midseason and looked lost until a recovery last month.

After that first game in Green Bay, when Ponder threw two costly interceptions deep in Packers territory, Musgrave tried to take some of the mounting pressure on the quarterback, asking him to make throws the next two games that were even safer than usual. With a couple of important victories to help Ponder's confidence recover, he played more assertively the last two weeks.

``As players we go out there and execute and actually make it happen, but you need coaches to put you in positions to be successful,'' center John Sullivan said. ``I think Bill's done a great job of that.''

Musgrave is a soft-spoken as coaches come, holding pleasant but unrevealing news conferences each week with reporters and rarely showing emotion on the sideline during games. Even so, he has a bit of the mad scientist in him. He wrote a quarterback's handbook years ago, with 100 rules to live by for those playing the position at all levels, based on his own insights, beliefs and experiences. Musgrave said earlier this season that Ryan memorized it his rookie year with the Falcons.

In training camp this year, after a lethargic practice, Musgrave tried to motivate his group by putting a bunch of leaves and sticks on a table during a meeting and lighting it on fire, visual evidence of the offense's responsibility to be the spark of the team. He had a garbage can of water nearby to safely extinguish the flames.

Five months later, and Musgrave is still finding ways to ignite the Vikings.

``He tries to put us in the best position possible to make plays,'' wide receiver Michael Jenkins said. ``You're pretty excited to see what's in the playbook when you come in for the next week. It's a fun offense to play in.''

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AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski contributed to this report.

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Lamar Jackson makes history with career day in win over the Bengals

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USA Today Sports Images

Lamar Jackson makes history with career day in win over the Bengals

BALTIMORE — Lamar Jackson set the tone for Sunday’s game on the Ravens' first drive of the afternoon. 

He rushed just twice, one of which went for a touchdown, but had 57 yards on the game-tying opening drive. 

Jackson finished with 152 yards on the ground — a career high — to carry the Ravens to a 23-17 win over the Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium. 

“I take advantage, like I said before, and I’m trying to win at the end of the day,” Jackson said after the game. “If I’ve got to run, I’ve got to do it and today that’s what it was. Sometimes I had to pass. Sometimes I had to run.”

He did throw for 236 yards and completed 21 of 33 passes, too. But the story was his legs, which kept the Bengals off-balance all day.

“Lamar was able to get out and run because of the way they were playing,” coach John Harbaugh said. “They were playing kind of spill defense. They really didn’t want us to run the ball up inside with our running backs, and that opened up some other things."

Jackson now has 460 rushing yards on the season and is on pace for over 1,200. He’s also on pace for just over 4,000 passing yards.

His dual-threat ability has flummoxed nearly every team the Ravens have played this season. Jackson has had over 300 scrimmage yards in all but one (last week in against the Steelers) of the Ravens' games. 

“That’s the most frustrating thing for a defense,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “You have a play covered, and he’s an elite athlete. We’ve played a couple of good athletes. He’s one of the rarest I’ve seen in person. Just one little crease and he’s got 30 yards on you.”

Cincinnati sold out to stop the interior run, and Jackson and the rest of the Baltimore running attack burned the Bengals on the outside. 

Jackson’s elusiveness was never more evident than on the Ravens' last full drive of the game. The Ravens received the ball with 13:32 left in the fourth quarter and a 20-10 lead. They didn’t give the ball back to the Bengals until there was just over three minutes to play.

“I catch myself on the sideline stretching because, you know, they’ll be holding the ball for a minute and we’ve got to stay warm,” Matthew Judon said. “He picks us up in crucial times and keeps getting first downs. It’s hard, man. You can’t cover everybody and keep a spy on him [at] all times.”

The nine minute, 46 second drive, highlighted by a 16-yard Jackson scramble on 3rd and 14, put away any realistic chance the Bengals had of pulling off an upset.

It capped off a historic day for Jackson and his place in the NFL record books. He became the first player in NFL history to rush for more than 150 yards and register at least 200 yards passing in a regular season game.

The Bengals sold out to stop interior rushes and mostly took away big passing plays from the Ravens. Jackson just made the Bengals pick their poison when it came to choosing what to stop. 

And Jackson made Cincinnati realized that whatever it chose was still poison.

“He was cutting it back, throwing outside and running around,” Bengals linebacker Preston Brown said. “He was just having fun on us, and that’s what you never want to have done.”

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From intelligence to 'work of art' route running, Terry McLaurin displayed it all in Miami

From intelligence to 'work of art' route running, Terry McLaurin displayed it all in Miami

Terry McLaurin's first touchdown against the Dolphins on Sunday wasn't just the result of one well-executed play.

Instead, it combined intelligent film study, superb route running and excellent speed, three of the qualities that McLaurin has shown off all season long as he's establishing himself as an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate and one of the best picks in the 2019 Draft.

Earlier in the week, the 24-year-old saw Amari Cooper run a similar route versus Miami — one that starts off looking like a crosser before a change of direction turns it into a dash to the corner — and he took note of how the defender tried to undercut it. So, he know if he sold the crosser well, he'd break free once he planted his foot in the ground.

It's one step to put in that work, though. It's a whole other step to actually carry it out on the field. But that's what McLaurin did in Week 6, and it ended up as one absolutely tremendous highlight in an overall impressive afternoon.

No. 17 would go on to find the end zone a second time in the contest, as well as secure an important, long catch late that got the Redskins off of their own goal line. After the win, the team's first in six tries as well as the first of McLaurin's pro career, he was asked if he's surprised by how effective he's been.

"Not really," he said. "I want to be a guy you can come to on third down, the clutch situations, press man. I want to develop into that."

While at the postgame podium, Bill Callahan described the way McLaurin gets open as a "work of art." Case Keenum was just as complimentary.

"He's friendly on the eyes as a QB," Keenum told reporters. "Just the body language he gives in and out of breaks, I know where he's going to be at all times."

In five contests for the Burgundy and Gold, the wideout has 23 catches for 408 yards. He's averaging 17.7 yards a grab and has nabbed five scores. He's beating guys deep, he's beating guys over the middle and he's beating the guys in contested situations.

Yet the trait everyone keeps coming back to, from coaches to teammates to analysts, fans, is his route running. Callahan comparing it to art wasn't a stretch, and Keenum calling him "friendly on the eyes" is deserved. It's top-notch already. 

It's something McLaurin takes a ton of pride in, too.

"I think that's what separates good receivers from great receivers," he said. 

Now, the Redskins' Week 6 victory over the Dolphins was far from flawless. In fact, if it weren't for a dropped ball on a two-point conversion attempt, it very well could've been another loss. 

But while fans of the franchise may not take much comfort in the final score, they should find time to appreciate what McLaurin is doing. 

He's not just an emerging star in the organization, he's an emerging star in the entire sport, and covering his rookie campaign has been a treat so far. Well, for everyone covering him except opposing defenders, of course.

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