Top Ten Vikings Of 2013 (6-4)

#6 - Kyle Rudolph

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On pace for a career high for catches in a season, Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph had his season cut short after only 8 games in 2013. Rudolph suffered a broken leg during a touchdown catch against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 9. The injury forced the Vikings to place Rudolph on Injured Reserve and be lost without their Pro Bowl tight end for the remainder of the season.

Rudolph was one of the few bright spots for Minnesota during their first 8 games of 2013 in which they went 1-7. Before his injury, the Vikings tight end was on pace 60 catches, over 600 yards receiving, and more than 10 yards per catch. Those statistics would have all been career highs for Rudolph and would have ranked him as one of the NFL’s top 15 tight ends statistically in 2013.

His best game of 2013 came in Week 6 against the Carolina Panthers. Although the Vikings lost, Rudolph caught a season high 9 passes for 97 yards and a TD. In the 4 previous games, he had a total of 11 catches and only one TD. 

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Rudolph was also on pace for 6 touchdowns in 2013, which would have been tied for 8th best among the NFL’s tight ends. Although his season was cut short, 2014 may be a career year for the 4th year tight end with the Vikings offense now under the control of new offensive coordinator Norv Turner.

Turner’s previous seasons as an offensive coordinator/head coach have produced very favorable stats for the tight ends in his offense. In his previous 3 seasons (1 with Cleveland, 2 with San Diego) his team’s top tight end has averaged 64 catches, over 740 yards receiving, and 7 TDs. Rudolph is more than capable of achieving those types of numbers and could be poised for a career year in 2014.

#5 - Matt Cassel

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Imagine if the Minnesota Vikings started quarterback Matt Cassel for the entire 2013 season. The team might have snuck into the playoffs if the coaching staff stuck with Cassel at QB all season long however, they didn’t and instead the Vikings missed the playoffs and most of the coaching staff was fired at the season’s end.

On the field for the last offensive possession in each of Minnesota’s 5 wins in last season, Cassel’s year could have been much better if he didn’t get caught up in the Vikings QB circus of 2013. Even after leading Minnesota to their first win of the season in Week 4 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cassel was still benched in favor of QBs Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman.

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In 2013, when Cassel sat the entire game on the bench, the Vikings went 0-6-1 and Minnesota QBs threw for an average of 214 yards, 0.5 TDs, and 1 interception per game. In the 7 games in which Cassel saw the field for more than 3 quarters, he averaged 240 yards passing and 1.4 TDs, and the Vikings won 4 of those 7 games.

2013 was by far not one of the best seasons of Cassel’s career, but he did have his moments. During a 3 game stretch from Week 13 to Week 15 (against Chicago, Baltimore, and Philadelphia), he averaged 296 YDs passing per game while throwing 5 TDs and only 2 INTs. In Week 15, he was named the FedEx Air Player Of The Week after he threw for 382 YDs and 3 TDs against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Without Cassel, the 2013 Vikings could have been much worse. If Minnesota’s coaching staff had stuck with Cassel as the team’s starting QB all season long, they probably would have remained on the sidelines for the upcoming 2014 season.

#4 - Gregg Jennings

Wide receiver Greg Jennings has the previously ranked player to thank for much of his success in his first season as a member of the Minnesota Vikings. Once quarterback Matt Cassel was put under center, Jennings turned into the player that Vikings were hoping for before the start of the 2013 season.

Jennings got off to a rough start in 2013 and much of that can be attributed to Minnesota starting Christian Ponder at QB. In the first 3 games of the season, Jennings caught 11 passes for zero touchdowns and averaged 53 yards receiving per game.

Once Ponder went out with an “injury” in Week 4 and Cassel was named the starting QB against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jennings play dramatically improved. He exploded for 2 TD catches against the Steelers including a season long 67 yard TD catch.

His best game of 2013 came in Week 15 against the Philadelphia Eagles. Jennings caught 11 passes for 163 YDs and 1 TD. Can anyone guess who was playing QB for the Vikings during that game? Here’s a hint, his name rhymes with Catt Massel.

In the 7 games where Ponder or Josh Freeman played QB for more than 3 quarters, Jennings caught 27 passes for 313 YDs and zero TDs. In the 7 games in which Cassel played for more than 3 quarters, Jennings caught 41 passes for 491 yards and 3 TDs.

Based on these numbers, Jennings would have had 94 catches for 1,120 yards and 7 TDs if Cassel had started all 16 games at QB for Minnesota in 2013. Those are the kind of numbers the Vikings were hoping for when they signed Jennings to 5 year, $45 million contract in 2013 offseason.

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The Vikings And The Number 12: Not A Good Mix

The numbers 80, 84,10, 93, 88, 28, 26 are all numbers that have provided the Minnesota Vikings with a lot of good during their time in the NFL. However, there is one number that is associated with some of the worst moments in Vikings history, the number 12.

It all began in January of 1999 when Minnesota faced the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship game. The Vikings were having their best season ever with a 15-1 record (including 8-0 at home) in the regular season and an offense that scored an NFL record 556 points. 

The Falcons were not even supposed to make the game much of a competition as oddsmakers had Minnesota favored by 11 points. But, of all the games where things could go wrong, the result of the NFC Championship game was not one the Vikings had envisioned.

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Atlanta was led by their quarterback, NUMBER 12 Chris Chandler. Chandler had his best game of the season against the Vikings, throwing for 340 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. 

After Vikings kicker Gary Anderson missed his first field goal of the season the score remained 27- 20 in favor of Minnesota with 2:07 left in the game. All Minnesota had to do was stop Atlanta from scoring one more time and they would be Super Bowl bound.

Chris Chandler had other ideas. His 16 yard TD pass to Falcons receiver Terrence Mathis tied the game at 27 with 49 seconds left in regulation. He then led Atlanta on a 70 yard drive in overtime that eventually led to a game winning FG by Falcons kicker Morten Andersen and therefore crushing Minnesota’s Super Bowl dreams.

By 2003, most Vikings players and fans had moved on from the agony caused by the loss to the Falcons in 1998. The fans were ready to cheer on a different group of players led by 2nd year head coach Mike Tice.

Minnesota got off to a fast start in 2003 winning their first 6 games of the season. However, by week 17 they had lost 6 of their last 9 games and needed one more win to clinch a a playoff berth.

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A win against the 3 win Arizona Cardinals was all the Vikings needed to seal their playoff fate. Losers of 7 in a row, the Cardinals should have been an easy win for the Vikings right?

Apparently Minnesota did not know what they were getting themselves into when they came to Arizona. The number 12 was back again, but this time it was in the form of 2nd year Cardinals quarterback Josh McCown.

Coming into the game against the Vikings, McCown’s season totals of 3 TDs and 5 INTs in 2 starts did not exactly impose fear in his opponent. He surely couldn’t lead Arizona to a victory over the playoff hungry Vikings, wrong.

Minnesota was up 17- 6 with just under 7 minutes to play in regulation and everything was looking up. That was until the number 12 decided to strike again.

Josh McCown had done nothing all game against the Vikings, but his next two drives would be his best of 2003. McCown lead the Cardinals on a 14 play, 60 yard drive that resulted in a 2 yard TD pass from McCown to journeyman tight end Steve Bush.

Minnesota was now leading 17-12 with 1:54 left in the game. Arizona could not afford to kick the ball back to the Vikings, so instead they attempted an onside kick. Of course the Cardinals recovered it and gave themselves one last chance to knock Minnesota out of the playoffs.

McCown drove Arizona all the way down to the Vikings 9 yard line with 39 seconds to go (much of the yardage gained was due to a 30 YD pass interference call on Vikings cornerback Denard Walker). After two consecutive Minnesota sacks, McCown and the Cardinals were now faced with a 4th and 25 from the Vikings 28 yard line.

McCown took the snap and threw it 28 yards to the right side of the endzone where Arizona wide receiver Nate Poole hauled it in for the game winning TD. Hearts broke and stomaches dropped all over the state of Minnesota. Once again, the Vikings hopes and dreams had been ruined by the number 12.

If you were to ask a current Vikings fan what their favorite season of the last 10 years has been, many would most likely say the 2009 season. It was a season that resulted in a division title, a rookie of the year, and an opportunity to play in the Super Bowl. All Minnesota had to do was beat the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship game.

The Vikings began 2009 by winning 10 of their first 11 games which eventually led berth in the playoffs with a first round bye. Led by QB Brett Favre’s 4 TDs, Minnesota defeated the Dallas Cowboys 34-3 in the Divisional round of the 2009 playoffs.

Next up for the Vikings was a trip to New Orleans to face of with the NFC’s top ranked Saints. One win was all Minnesota needed to punch their ticket to the Super Bowl.

The game would prove to be one of the best NFC Championship games in NFL history (it was also historical for many other unnamed reasons in relation to the Saints). The Vikings and Saints went back and forth trading scoring drives throughout the entirety of the game. 

After forcing New Orleans to punt, the Vikings got the ball with 2:37 left to go in the 4th quarter. Favre helped Minnesota drive all the way to the Saints 33 yard line and everything was pointing in the direction of a Vikings win. However, with 19 seconds to go Minnesota was flagged for a penalty.

The ref came on to the loudspeaker and announced the the Vikings had been flagged for,”12 men in the huddle”. Once again, the number 12 had struck down on the Minnesota Vikings franchise.

This penalty moved Minnesota back 5 yards and the Vikings were now faced with a 3rd and 15. It seems as though Favre felt that Minnesota was just a little too far out of FG range and he decided to take matters into his own hands. 

Favre hiked the ball, rolled out to his right and threw the ball right into the hands of Saints cornerback Tracy Porter. New Orleans never looked back after that, receiving the ball first in overtime and kicking a FG on their first drive to win the game 30-27.

Perhaps a pass play would not have been called had it not been for the “12 Men” penalty but that is something that will never be known. All we know is that the Vikings and the number 12 do not get along.

You would think that the number 12 has already caused enough heartbreak and sadness for the Vikings and their fans. But that was not the case when it came time for the 2011 NFL Draft.

The Vikings had one first round pick in 2011, of course it was none other than the 12th selection. So with the 12th pick in the 2011 Draft, as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell likes to say, the Minnesota Vikings selected Florida State QB Christian Ponder.

Selected to be the the future of the franchise, Ponder has done little in his career to prove that he was worth of his draft spot. With career numbers such as 38 TDs, 34 INTs, and a record of 14-20-1, Ponder is not exactly what the Vikings were hoping for when they drafted him.

Who knows if it is just coincidence or an act by a higher power, but history has proven that when the Minnesota Vikings and the number 12 are mixed together, the ending result is not good. Hopefully, new head coach Mike Zimmer can curse the number 12 out of the building and provide Vikings fans with some sort of happiness.

Honorable Mentions: The Percy Harvin fallout, the Josh Freeman saga, 3 of the 4 Vikings Super Bowl losses to QBs wearing the Number 12 (Griese, Bradshaw, Stabler)

(P.S.- When the Vikings open their new stadium in 2016, it will be the 12TH YEAR that the Wilf’s have owned the franchise. Let’s just hope the stadium stays in one piece that season.)

Top Ten Vikings Of 2013 (8-7)

#8 - Marcus Sherels

At 5’10”, 175 lbs, Vikings cornerback Marcus Sherels does not exactly impose fear in opposing receivers when lining up across from them. However, it was Sherels play on special teams in 2013 that landed him on this list.

In his 3rd season in the NFL, Sherels emerged and established himself as one of the top punt returners in the league. His 15.2 yard average per punt return was 2nd in the league among the 31 players who returned a punt in at least 9 games in 2013.

The highlight of Sherels’ season came in Week 8 against the New York Giants. He returned for punts for a total of 119 yards including an 86 yard return for a touchdown, which later proved to be the Vikings only points scored that evening.

Sherels not only improved in his return game in 2013, but his play on the defensive side vastly improved as well. He recorded career highs in tackles (40), passes defensed (7), forced fumbles (3), and fumbles recovered (2). He also recorded his first career interception during the Week 14 game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Opposing receivers also found out that lining up against Sherels in 2013 was more difficult than it had been in his previous 2 seasons. Of the passes thrown into Sherels’ area of coverage, 64 percent of them were completed. Rookie Xavier Rhodes was the only Vikings cornerback to finish with a lower percentage (56.6) in 2013.

Sherels has improved in almost every aspect of his game since coming in to the league in 2011. With new Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer specializing in defensive back play, Sherels can be sure to improve on his numbers in 2014.

#7 - Brian Robison

Minnesota Vikings defensive end Brian Robison did not waste any time making an impact in 2013. In the Week 2 matchup against the Chicago Bears, Robison scooped up a fumble and ran it in for his first career touchdown.

This was one of many plays the Robison made for the Vikings during the 2013 season. He finished the season with 9 sacks, a career high, including 2 sacks in each game against the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles.

Although Robison’s stats have improved in each season he has played in the NFL, it is what is not measured in the box score that had the greatest impact on the Vikings in 2013. Robison ranked number one in quarterback hurries last season with 27. His hurries ranked ahead of such players as Tamba Hali, Robert Quinn, Mario Williams, and J.J. Watt.

With new Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, the team’s defense will likely be more aggressive than in the recent past. This means more opportunities for players like Robison to turn those QB hurries into QB sacks.

With the departure of defensive end Jared Allen, Robison’s ability will be depended on more than anytime in his career. As an avid fisherman, Robison could take advantage of increased opportunities and reel in more QBs than ever before.