The Free Press, Mankato, MN

August 17, 2013

Should Vikings fans be worried?

The Associated Press
The Mankato Free Press

---- — ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The attacking style of defense Mike Pettine is introducing in Buffalo certainly has Bills center Eric Wood's attention.

"You can hear the hits from the sideline. That's something we haven't had," Wood said after the defense keyed a 20-16 preseason victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Friday night. "It's a lot of the same guys as last year.

"They're just playing with an attitude, and we love watching it. And that gives us a spark now."

Jerry Hughes had two sacks and a forced fumble, and backup linebacker Jamie Blatnick recovered a snap that sailed over backup quarterback Matt Cassel's head and into the end zone for a touchdown. The Bills improved to 2-0.

The Vikings (0-2) again sputtered on offense without their top threat, running back Adrian Peterson, who continues to be rested through the preseason.

Starter Christian Ponder went 5 of 12 for 53 yards passing through five series. Cassel wasn't much better in a first half in which the Vikings combined for 74 yards of offense and four first downs.

Though both teams have plenty still to work on, here are three things we learned from the game:

1. EJ IN THE DRIVER'S SEAT: Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel took yet another step toward securing the starting job.

After veteran Kevin Kolb struggled in playing the entire first half, Manuel took over and opened the second half with a 14-play, 80-yard drive capped by a 4-yard TD pass to Brad Smith. Manuel hit all six attempts for 44 yards passing on the drive, and combined to go 10 of 12 for 92 yards in three series.

The rookie first-round pick out of Florida State picked up where he left off after going 16 of 21 for 107 yards passing and a touchdown in a 44-20 win over Indianapolis last weekend.

Kolb showed plenty of rust in getting off to a slow start on Friday. He finished 13 of 21 for 111 yards passing and an interception. He returned to practice this past week since twisting his left knee while slipping on a wet rubber mat on Aug. 3. It was Kolb's first appearance since Oct. 14, when he with Arizona and sustained a season-ending rib injury in a 19-16 overtime loss to Buffalo.

2. STILL PONDERING: Following a preseason-opening 27-13 loss to Houston, Ponder opened the week by calling the Vikings' next two games crucial for the offense to find its groove.

That certainly didn't happen against Buffalo. Ponder was sacked by Hughes on the first play from scrimmage, and Minnesota's offense hardly recovered.

"If this was a game that counted, it'd be tough," Ponder said. "But it's more practice for us."

Coach Leslie Frazier chalked it up to being a preseason lesson, and that he wasn't anticipating the Bills to come at them with an exotic blitzing attack. And yet he did acknowledge having some concerns.

"We could've done some things better, no matter what they did," he said. "We didn't execute as well as we could have."

3. BAD SNAPS: The Vikings were undone by two bad snaps from center.

Taking over at the Bills 31 after Kolb threw an interception, Ponder was looking the other way when center John Sullivan snapped the ball. It led to a 14-yard loss. The drive ended with Blair Walsh missing a 49-yard field goal attempt wide right.

Backup center Joe Berger was then at fault for sailing his snap over Cassel's head on the play that led to Blatnick's TD.