EDEN PRAIRIE —
Ponder has 558 attempts since he became the starter with 10 games left in the 2011 season, and 146 of them have gone to Harvin (26 percent), according to STATS LLC. But Rudolph is high on the list, tied with Devin Aromashodu for third with 71 targets in the last 19 games. Michael Jenkins is second with 72.
The team's first two draft picks last year, Ponder and Rudolph have become close friends and forged an obvious connection on the field. Five of Ponder's 10 touchdown throws have gone to Rudolph this season, despite the recent lag.
When guys like Tony Gonzalez, Rob Gronkowski and Jason Witten compile catches, yards and scores like they're wide receivers, Rudolph's lack of obvious impact lately has looked more critical than it might have before.
"All people care about is pass stats. It's all we talk about. How do you get to the Pro Bowl? Catch touchdowns. Catch passes," Rudolph said. "But as a tight end there's a whole lot more that goes into it than just that."
Coach Leslie Frazier credited Rudolph's blocking for helping free Adrian Peterson for his 182 yards rushing against the Seahawks.
"But we do want him included in our pass game. We had some things set up for him that didn't happen because of coverage, sometimes because of rush and sometimes we just didn't find him," Frazier said.
With Rudolph and free agent addition John Carlson, the Vikings envisioned a dual threat in the middle of the field to help distract defenses from Peterson and do-it-all slot receiver Percy Harvin and help open up the others for deep throws. Carlson, who returned to the field Wednesday after missing the last two weeks because of concussion-like symptoms, has been hurt a lot and has just three catches.