MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — This wasn’t the start to the season that Larry Fitzgerald or Adrian Peterson envisioned when they put their signatures on those big new contracts that could pay them each nine figures over the length of their deals.
After agreeing with the Arizona Cardinals on an eight-year deal with guarantees near $50 million, Fitzgerald and new quarterback Kevin Kolb have had the ball at the end of three straight games with a chance to go ahead, but they lost each time — by a total of eight points — after winning the opener.
“It’s extremely frustrating, but there’s no one to blame but ourselves,” Fitzgerald said.
Peterson, who got $36 million in guaranteed money on a contract that can keep him in Minnesota through the 2017 season, has watched the Vikings be outscored 80-16 in the second half on their way to 0-4. They’ve been defeated, cumulatively, by only 19 points.
“I didn’t see a reason why we would take a step backward. There’s so much talent in this locker room. It’s all over the board,” Peterson said. “To take a step backward is as far from the west is to the east in my mind. We’ve just got to get some things straightened out, and we’ll be OK.”
Kolb was Donovan McNabb’s backup in Philadelphia for three years, and they’ll go against each other on Sunday afternoon. McNabb, who spent last season in Washington, has been trying to revive his career this season in Minnesota, which traded for the 13-year veteran to stay competitive in Leslie Frazier’s first full season as coach. But close games haven’t led to any victories yet.
“What we need to do is take care of what we’re doing here, as a team, and not worry about anybody else,” McNabb said.
That’s been the message repeated over and over by Frazier and his players over the last month. While the reaction from these losses has gone from angered to bewildered, the Vikings, despite their obvious problems passing, have the attitude they can still be successful.
Despite McNabb’s experience, the attention that Peterson draws from the defense, the versatility and explosive ability of Percy Harvin, a couple of pass-catching tight ends and the sure hands of wide receiver Michael Jenkins, the Vikings have gained fewer yards through the air this year than every other NFL team but the Jacksonville Jaguars.
McNabb has accumulated the least yards among the 30 quarterbacks in the league who’ve attempted 100 passes or more. Part of the problem could be eroded skills — McNabb’s inaccuracy has been glaring on several throws this season — but the Vikings certainly weren’t helped by the NFL lockout. McNabb didn’t start practicing with the team until early August, when new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave was busy installing his system.
The lack of deep completions has allowed defenses to keep moving their safeties closer to the line of scrimmage to help stop Peterson.
“We are not really coaching conservatism. We want to take shots,” Frazier said. “We just haven’t connected enough.”
Kolb, who was acquired in a trade with the Eagles, has had his struggles, too, with four interceptions through four games and only five touchdown passes. Fitzgerald’s impact is big enough to keep Arizona’s air attack in tact, and Beanie Wells, now healthy, has been pulling off a realistic Peterson impression. But, like the Vikings, the Cardinals were hurt by the offseason of inactivity.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt estimated minicamps and organized team activities give a quarterback about 1,000 snaps before training camp even begins.
“We’ve had the ball in our hands with a chance to tie it or win it the last three games, and we haven’t been able to be successful,” Whisenhunt said.
“That’s a process that you go through when you have a new quarterback and new guys. You’d like for it to be smoother, but a lot of those situations that we’ve faced are things that you haven’t had time to work on.”
So the Vikings will try to avoid their first 0-5 start since 1962, perhaps by taking advantage of the pair of young cornerbacks on the Cardinals. They’ve been vulnerable to long gains so far this year.
Peterson has been doing his part to take on more of a leadership role, defiant and determined to avoid another defeat.
“Talking to guys more. Telling them things that I see that maybe they can improve on and telling them I expect the same from them, whether it’s practice or in a game,” he said.
On the other side, Fitzgerald, who’s coming back to his hometown, the place where he was once a ball boy for the Vikings, is practicing patience with Kolb as they continue to develop their connection.
“I think he’s getting more and more comfortable with me. I’m getting more and more comfortable with him, and I think that’s the key. I just have to make sure he knows that I’m going to go out there and make plays for him and do everything I can to help him make his job easier,” Fitzgerald said.
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