EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings were consistently conservative under Brad Childress, and his firing sparked assumptions the offense would become more animated and give Brett Favre more freedom to call his favorite plays.
In their first game under interim head coach Leslie Frazier, the Vikings actually took the safe approach even further.
In beating Washington to stop their road-game losing streak at nine, the Vikings (4-7) ran the ball a season-high 38 times. For the first time all year, they didn’t turn it over.
“The number one statistic that, in my 20 years, everyone puts up is the turnover ratio, which I’ve never been a big fan of because I’m usually the one that’s involved in the ratio,” Favre said after Sunday’s 17-13 victory.
Protecting the ball was so important to Childress he sharply and publicly criticized Favre for his three interceptions after the loss at Green Bay last month. So Frazier’s message last week wasn’t new, but during his first time supervising the offensive game plan the result was a simplified, low-risk strategy.
This was precisely how almost everyone envisioned the Vikings playing last year when Favre first showed up, until he started flinging the ball around like he was still in his twenties on his way to a career-best passer rating and a mere seven interceptions.
Favre went 15 for 23 for 172 yards and, for just the second game this season, wasn’t picked off at all.
“I didn’t approach it with him as being conservative. I just let him know along with our offensive staff what I thought we needed to do to win,” Frazier said. “Brett wants to win as much as anyone in that room, and all our players want to win. He’s been very supportive of some of the changes that we’ve made and some of the changes we’ve talked about making going forward.”
One of those changes was streamlining the playbook, as Favre had wanted, but the broader shift was a return to the philosophy that Childress tried to shape when he was hired in 2006: a team that would own the line of scrimmage and be just as difficult to run against as it would be to stop on the ground.
“I think that’s who we are. We kind of lost our identity along the way, but we should be able to run the football on anybody,” Frazier said.
Even Favre got in on the action against the Redskins, rolling out for a 10-yard run late on third-and-8 right before the two-minute warning. When Percy Harvin was covered, Favre — who suggested the play — tucked the ball away and took off to seal the game. Rookie Toby Gerhart ably filled in when All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson sprained his ankle in the second quarter, too.
“It’s unfortunate that Adrian got hurt at the time that he did, but Toby was very capable of taking over the workload at that point,” said right guard Ryan Cook, who stepped in as the starter for the injured Anthony Herrera.
On the other side, linebackers coach Fred Pagac — who has taken over the defensive calls as the de facto coordinator after Frazier’s promotion — ordered more blitzes.
Brian Robison had extended playing time at defensive end after Ray Edwards sprained his ankle in the second quarter. Edwards didn’t return. Robison said the message from coaches to the front seven was that the blitzes had to be earned.
Peterson’s status was the only negative development. Frazier said the Vikings were still trying to determine the severity of Peterson’s injury, declining to speculate on his ability to practice this week and play against Buffalo.
“I’ll defer to our trainers. They’ll tell me when he’s ready to go,” Frazier said.
Frazier also said All-Pro left guard Steve Hutchinson sprained his left thumb and was getting an MRI test and that rookie cornerback Chris Cook was inactive Sunday because of swelling in his knees.
The move-forward, must-focus, ultra-competitive environment in the NFL rarely yields public revelry in victory for more than a few hours, but it was clear Monday that Frazier was trying to savor at least a little of his first career win. He said Sunday the players seemed emotionally engaged, and the post-game reviews from players were predictably positive.
“It feels like it’s a new season here,” tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said.
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