Notebook: Percy Harvin plays a big role in Vikings' overtime victory
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MINNEAPOLIS --Wide receiver Percy Harvin, who returned only 16 kickoffs last season after having 40 returns the previous year, averaged 29.3 yards on three returns for the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday and was on the field for all seven kickoffs from Jacksonville's Josh Scobee.
Matt Asiata averaged 20 yards on two kickoffs that did not go to Harvin.
Harvin also led the Vikings with six receptions for 84 yards -- he was targeted a team-high eight times -- and had five rushing attempts for 20 yards in a 26-23 overtime victory at the Metrodome.
Harvin's 192 combined net yards set a franchise record for a season opener. He also now has 101 kickoff returns, making him the fifth player in franchise history to reach that mark.
"That's what I'm here to do," Harvin said Sunday when asked about being used in a variety of roles. "My job is to move around the slot and receiver, things like that. Like I said before, anything this team needs me to do, I'll do."
Harvin, who was upset for unknown reasons during the Vikings minicamp last June and demanded a trade before calming down, was used on only 57.9 percent of the Vikings' offensive snaps in 2011.
That shouldn't be an issue in 2012.
"I don't know if there's another guy who can line up in all of the places that he lines up and make the plays that he makes," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "He puts a lot of pressure on defenses. I told the story a few times where defensive coordinators were coming up to me at the Combine and even the Senior Bowl and just telling me how difficult a matchup he would provide for teams.
"As I heard that, I made a note to myself, I have to find a way to keep him on the field more and that's what we've been trying to do. He works so hard at times that you want to take him off the field and let him get his breath. But we're finding ways to keep him on the field because it changes how defensive coordinators call games when he is on the field."
Harvin's success on kickoff returns in 2009 led to him being named to the NFC Pro Bowl team that season, but Frazier wanted to reduce his workload in that area last year to keep him healthy.
Nonetheless, the reality for the Vikings is the more they get the ball in Harvin's hands the more explosive their offense becomes. Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder found that out simply by hitting Harvin on a couple screen passes Sunday.
On the Vikings' first touchdown drive near the end of the opening half, Ponder hit Harvin on three consecutive passes that went for 16, 5 and 11 yards. Early in the third quarter, on another scoring drive, Ponder found Harvin on a 19-yard strike that put the ball at the Jaguars 6.
"It makes my job a lot easier when I can throw a short little screen pass and Percy can turn it into 20 or 30 yards," Ponder said. "He's so dynamic. I think it's important for us to get completions because once you get completions, you get into a rhythm."
A maturing QB
It appeared the Vikings' hopes of winning their home opener Sunday disappeared when Cecil Shorts caught Blaine Gabbert's 39-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds left to give the Jaguars a 23-20 lead.
But Ponder refused to give up.
"Even before we had to go out there, I was telling guys that we're going to be a two-minute offense," Ponder said. "I don't know if they believed me, but I told them that we have to stay in it. Fortunately, they did."
On first-and-10 from his own 31-yard line, Ponder completed a 26-yard pass to Devin Aromashodu. On the next play, Ponder found tight end Kyle Rudolph for a 6-yard gain that put the ball at the Jaguars 37-yard line and set up Walsh's 55-yard field goal.
"We had one time out left and we needed a completion," said Ponder, who looked shaky early but finished 20-of-27 for 270 yards with a 105.5 passer rating. "If we can score, then score. If not, then get down. We're fortunate that Devin got open, caught the ball and got down. We called a time out and made flat quick (to Rudolph) to get some extra yards."
It was Ponder's work under pressure that gives Frazier confidence about the future of his second-year quarterback.
"Christian has grown so much and we felt that was true when we had him in the offseason and watching him in the preseason and some of the things we were doing in practice," Frazier said.
"But you also want to see it in game situations, and I just thought he did a terrific job throughout of managing the game and then making plays for us when we needed some big plays.
"None (were) any bigger than that last drive with 20 seconds to go. He's growing up right before our eyes and we really feel like he's the guy who can lead us to big places and today was a big step towards seeing that happen."
Getting the calls
Outside linebacker Erin Henderson received the defensive signals via the communication system in his helmet, taking the job that had belonged to his brother E.J. Henderson. E.J. is no longer with the Vikings.
E.J. was a middle linebacker and he has been replaced by Jasper Brinkley. Brinkley, however, comes out in the nickel defense when three cornerbacks come on the field.
"I love it," said Erin Henderson, who finished with 10 tackles and a sack on Sunday. "It makes you feel like you're in control. Everybody is kind of looking at you for the play, you're the quarterback of the defense almost. It's a little extra pressure, a little something added to me, but I kind of need that. It kind of keeps me focused and makes sure I stay where I'm supposed to be."
Block that kick
Left tackle Matt Kalil, the fourth-overall choice in last April's draft, made an early contribution on special teams by blocking Scobee's extra-point attempt in the second quarter after the Jaguars had taken a 9-0 lead.
It turns out blocking kicks is nothing new for Kalil.
"I had nothing but confidence I was going to block one," he said. "I've been telling them since I got here that I want to be on that field-goal block team. It's something I was successful at at USC. I blocked about seven over there. I didn't hesitate. They put me in there this week."
Kalil said he blocked four kicks last season in college.
"Just getting depth and jumping up and my God-given height kind of helps me," the 6-foot-7 Kalil said when asked how he goes about blocking kicks. "There's a little technique to it but it's just about getting up there."
• While Pro Bowl right end Jared Allen had a quiet day for the Vikings, left end Brian Robison made several plays. Robison was credited with three tackles, a tackle for a loss, two quarterback hurries and broke up a pass. Robison was replaced for the first three plays of Jaguars' second series on offense by Everson Griffen at left end. However, a fresh Robison returned on third down and applied pressure on quarterback Blaine Gabbert, forcing an incompletion and a Jacksonville punt.
• Rookie Josh Robinson, a third-round pick by the Vikings, played an outside corner in the nickel defense. Antoine Winfield moved inside and Chris Cook played opposite Robinson when the Vikings employed three corners. Brandon Burton saw a few reps in the nickel as well.
• Cook left the game briefly in the second quarter because of an injury to his left arm but was able to return. Cook had an icepack on the arm afterward. Other than that, the Vikings appeared to come out of the game healthy. Linebacker Marvin Mitchell, safety Andrew Sendejo and wide receiver Jarius Wright all did not suit up Sunday because of ankle injuries.
• Cook said his sack of Gabbert in the fourth quarter was his first ever, adding, "and I've been playing since I was 6." Perhaps that's why Cook had no real celebration ready. "I definitely didn't have a sack dance prepared," he said. "I just jumped up and did the first thing that came to my mind. Maybe I'll have one for the next game."
• The Vikings' victory over the Jaguars was the first regular-season game to end under the new overtime rules. Previously, Blair Walsh's overtime field goal would have given the Vikings the victory but because they had won the toss and drove down for a field goal, the Jaguars got an opportunity to either tie it or win with a touchdown. That rule has been in place for the postseason but was just adopted for the regular season. The postseason rule was adopted after the Saints won the toss against the Vikings in the 2009 NFC title game and drove down for a field goal to win it.
• Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who held out for all of training camp and reported to the Jaguars a week ago Sunday, rushed for 77 yards on 19 carries. He had 11 more rushing attempts than teammate Rashad Jennings, despite the fact coach Mike Mularkey initially said Jones-Drew's role would be limited. "There was one point where it was a little tough," Jones-Drew said when asked about his conditioning. "But I've worked myself this offseason during the holdout to be ready for anything."
• The Vikings improved to 29-22-1 in season openers and have won 18 of their past 25 openers at home.