Sunday, December 17, 2017
Sports

More than Adrian Peterson

Minnesota's offense has a simple focus: Adrian Peterson. It isn't going to surprise opponents by throwing 50 passes per game.

That doesn't mean offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave doesn't have plenty to work on.

Coaches and players have credited Musgrave for his ingenuity, particularly over the past month as the Vikings won four straight to make the playoffs and force a rematch with Green Bay in tonight's wild-card game. In Sunday's regular-season finale against the Packers, Musgrave unveiled several wrinkles.

In the second quarter, receiver Jarius Wright lined up as a fullback in front of Peterson. He ran to the flat and snagged an 8-yard touchdown pass. In the third, fullback Jerome Felton, who had two catches and no carries over the first 15 games, lined up as a receiver and was wide open for a 17-yard catch that helped set up a touchdown.

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

And in the fourth, a play-action led to Wright's 65-yard catch that led to a touchdown.

The Vikings accumulated a season-high 444 yards against the Packers.

"He's so intelligent and so creative," Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder said of the 45-year-old Musgrave. "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. In the passing game, he's 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."

Musgrave's system hasn't always worked so smoothly. The Vikings netted 120 or fewer passing yards six times this season, though they won four of those games. And after a 36-17 home loss to the Bucs on Oct. 25, one agitated fan started yelling toward the coaches' box, "Hey, Musgrave! Three and out! Three and out! Three and out!" (Musgrave stands on the sideline, so the complaint was misdirected.)

One reason coach Leslie Frazier hired Musgrave in 2011 was the work he did in Atlanta with quarterback Matt Ryan. But Ponder regressed at midseason and looked lost until a recovery last month.

After a 23-14 loss at Green Bay, when the former FSU standout threw two interceptions deep in Packers territory, Musgrave tried to take some of the pressure off him, asking him to make throws during the next two games that were even safer than usual. After wins over the Bears and Rams helped 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," Vikings center John Sullivan said. "But you need coaches to put you in positions to be successful.

"I think Bill's done a great job of that."

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