Prior to last Sunday’s win over the Detroit Lions, there was a lot of pressure steeped on quarterback Christian Ponder. He was clearly struggling and his lack of production translated directly with the drop in production of tight end Kyle Rudolph. One of Ponder’s favorite targets, in the three games prior to Sunday, which coincided with Ponder’s fall from grace, Rudolph caught just two passes. In two of those three games, he was held without a reception.
In Sunday’s game, Rudolph caught a career-high seven passes for 64 yards and a touchdown. Rudolph, who was on the field for every play against Seattle despite not catching pass, said that his job wasn’t just about catching passes. It was about keeping Ponder focused on the positives and not the negatives. While the previous three weeks had been disappointing, they had built months of trust and progression that couldn’t be shut down by a lack of completions and touchdowns.
“It’s just about keeping his confidence,” Rudolph said. “He’s a great player. He got here last year and the strides he made this offseason – April 23 when we got here, we saw the great quarterback Christian is. We kept reminding him, ‘You’re a great player. Have confidence in yourself and you will make plays.”
Rudolph didn’t get frustrated by his lack of offensive contribution in terms of catching passes. As he saw it, if he didn’t catch a pass, it didn’t matter as long as he was doing the other requisite duties that would help the team succeed.
“It’s tough, but when we’re not being targeted or not making catches, we can still contribute to this offense,” Rudolph said. “Whether it’s blocking in the run game or pass protection, we can’t let receptions be what defines who we are. Those are things we can’t control. What we can control is helping the offense be successful, whether it’s catching passes or making blocks that help get other people opened up. Whether it’s opening a hole for Adrian (Peterson) or keeping Christian upright, we have to control those things that we can control.”
Without coming right out and saying it, Rudolph is becoming a team leader. When others might grouse about not getting passes thrown their way (Bernard Berrian and some guy named Randy come immediately to mind), Rudolph has found a way to uplift his teammates rather than question his own role in the offense. He may not get the accolades afforded to Peterson, Ponder, Percy Harvin, Jared Allen, Chad Greenway, Kevin Williams or Antoine Winfield, but Rudolph is quietly taking his place in their class in terms of being a foundation point for the franchise moving forward.
Peterson leads the NFL with 1,128 rushing yards – a total that is better than 22 of the other 31 NFL teams.
Harvin is fifth in the NFL with 62 receptions, dropping from the league lead prior to missing last Sunday’s game. With the Vikings on bye this week, he is likely to drop a little further on the list.
Speaking of Harvin, he has caught at least one pass in every game he has ever played in the NFL – a streak that has reached 56 games.
Last Sunday, Blair Walsh set the franchise record for touchbacks in a season with 41. Seeing as he has six more games to go, the only competition he may have for the next decade is himself.
Not to be outdone, the Vikings defense has had its share of stellar performances as well. Greenway leads the NFL in tackles with 100. Winfield leads all cornerbacks in tackles with 74.
When the Vikings return to action Nov. 25, Kevin Williams will make his 151st career start at defensive tackle, moving him into second place all-time on the franchise starts list at defensive tackle. If he starts all six games to finish the season, he will end 2012 one behind franchise leader Alan Page, who started 157 games for the Vikings in his Hall of Fame career.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.