EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — Kevin Williams went 21 games without a sack, something once considered unthinkable for one of the best interior pass rushers of his generation.
The combination of a painful foot injury, a suspension for taking a banned diuretic and the loss of running mate Pat Williams has contributed to a steep decline in production from the veteran defensive tackle, one of many reasons the Vikings have plummeted to the bottom of their division over the last year and a half.
So when Kevin Williams hauled down Oakland Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer last weekend, what once was a common occurrence turned into an event. The play was one of many highlights in the game for the guy they call the “Big Ticket,” so coach Leslie Frazier is hoping that better days are ahead for his defensive captain.
Williams had eight tackles, including three for loss, and a quarterback hurry in the 27-21 loss.
“Without question, his best game of the season,” Frazier said. “Was dominant. I told him, I said I wish we could have finished that game off just for him because he deserved a game ball for his performance yesterday.”
Williams’ reaction? It’s about time.
“I know it’s been that long and you say you don’t think about it, but you’d be lying,” Williams said. “It’s definitely in the back of your head. You can’t totally just block it out, but it was good to get that going. Hopefully I can get three, four, five more before the season’s over and end on a good note.”
At 2-8, that’s all the Vikings have left — little goals that can give them a better feeling as they turn the page from this season to next.
“I think it’s getting back where I need to be,” he said.
Williams made six Pro Bowls in his first eight seasons. He led all defensive tackles with 11½ sacks in 2004 and had 10½ as a rookie in 2003. He had 8½ in 2008 and 6.0 in 2009 to help the Vikings reach the NFC championship, but managed just one last year.
He was suspended for the first two games this season after a long-running case for taking a banned diuretic, then was shutout in the next seven games before finally getting to Palmer on Sunday. He was dealing with a painful case of plantar fasciitis in his left foot, a condition that he says has gradually improved as the season has worn on, leaving him and the Vikings optimistic that better days are on the way.
“I’ve played at a high level for so long that I know what’s expected of me,” he said.
Those expectations, in part, have contributed to his recent struggles. As the team slid further and further over the last 20 games or so, Williams found himself trying to do more and more to make up for it.
His close friend and double-team swallowing teammate Pat Williams was not brought back this season, with replacement Remi Ayodele not coming close to filling those shoes and youngsters LeTroy Guion and Christian Ballard are still learning the game.
“I think sometimes when you’re struggling like we have as a team and you’re a great player, you tend to try to help over here, try to help over there,” Frazier said. “We count on him so much that the most important thing, the thing I try to emphasize to him, just do your job Kevin, and let the other guys handle what they are supposed to handle.”
That worked in the second half on Sunday. With the Vikings down 24-7, the quiet Williams spoke up, telling his teammates that if they weren’t ready to step it up, they might as well stay in the locker room. Williams led the way, dominating the interior to help linebacker Chad Greenway have his best game as well with 15 tackles and a sack.
“He’s unbelievable when he’s playing. He’s awesome,” Greenway said. “So, we want that Ticket every weekend and he’s going to give it to us, we know that. We hope he has a great finish to the season the next six games. We just need to cut him loose and let him go play.”
For Williams, the sacks have always come in bunches. Defensive end Jared Allen had an 11-game sack streak end against the Raiders, so maybe it’s the big guy’s turn to go on a run.
“Jared had a good streak end,” Williams said. “Hey, maybe mine started on Sunday.”
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