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Updated: December 4th, 2011 10:00pm
Pelissero: Depleted Vikings secondary proves incompetent versus Tebow

Pelissero: Depleted Vikings secondary proves incompetent versus Tebow

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- Leslie Frazier was as mad at the podium as he's been all season.

He ripped the Minnesota Vikings' patchwork secondary and suggested some players may lose their jobs for letting Tim Tebow wind up (and wind up some more) and rack up chunk after chunk through the air in the second half of the Denver Broncos' 35-32 win on Sunday at the Metrodome.

"Can't make any excuses about it," Frazier said. "Just a poor job, and we've got to identify somebody who can come back there and make a play for us when the ball's in the air."

In the first half, Tebow threw for 29 yards on 4-of-6 passing and took two sacks, looking every bit like the young quarterback with a round-the-world delivery who might be in over his head as an NFL passer.

In the second half, Tebow was 6-of-9 for 173 yards and two touchdowns, repeatedly exploiting the caverns that opened in the Vikings' Cover-2 zones as the Broncos scored five times in their last seven possessions.

"We were just playing a basic coverage with a lead," Frazier said. "To not be able to execute that is a bad thing, because it means you can't play any coverage. ...

"The fact that we've got new guys and we're rotating guys because we've had some injuries -- that happens. But when you're out there as a professional athlete, you have to find a way to do your job, and we did not find a way to do our job."

This was far from the first time an opposing quarterback has torched the Vikings' predictable pass defense, which was in no position to employ more man-to-man concepts without its top three cornerbacks and two of its top three safeties.

But this was Tebow and the NFL's 31st-ranked passing offense airing it out like a seven-on-seven drill and providing the latest confirmation the scheme, personnel and staff all must go under the microscope come January.

"I would have bet my paycheck that he would not have beat us passing the ball," end Jared Allen said of Tebow, who finished with a career-high 149.3 passer rating.

Had the Vikings played anything close to competent NFL defense over the final 30 minutes, this would have been remembered as the day Christian Ponder threw for 381 yards and three touchdowns, not two damaging interceptions.

Had the secondary not made Demaryius Thomas look like Calvin Johnson, Frazier wouldn't have been in a position to foolishly bet on blocking a 23-yard field goal, rather than letting the Broncos score with a minute to go and giving Ponder one more shot.

"We have to get used to winning," Allen said. "We are so used to losing. I don't know what happens."

Others were complicit in the Vikings' most determined loss yet -- their fourth in a row and 10th this season, bringing them a step closer to the ignominy of 2-14 and the worst finish in the franchise's 51-year history.

Ponder gifted a pick-six to backup linebacker Mario Haggan, lost a fumble in the red zone and set up Denver's winning field goal by staring down Percy Harvin on a corner route Andre Goodman undercut.

The protection unit scuffled again. The kickoff team gave up a 63-yard return. The run defense crumbled in the second half, too, allowing 117 yards on 20 carries (5.9 average) before Tebow's dive for minus-2 took the preferred hash for Matt Prater's 23-yard winner as time expired.

"Same old business," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "We fall into the trap where the team just figures out a way to win, and it's frustrating."

Allen beat Daniel Fells off the ball for a safety on the Broncos' first play and stripped Tebow to set up a field goal before the half. Rookie Kyle Rudolph capped a 12-play, 96-yard drive by snatching a 19-yard touchdown over safety Quinton Carter's head.

In Adrian Peterson's absence, Harvin had perhaps the finest game of his young career, catching eight passes for 156 yards, including 52- and 48-yard touchdowns -- the latter extending the Vikings' lead to 29-21 with 9:41 to go. Yet each score seemingly was followed with a fundamental collapse.

Thomas got off Cedric Griffin's jam and ran a go route for a 42-yard gain in front of safety Jamarca Sanford, who missed a tackle on the next play as Willis McGahee took an inside run for a 24-yard touchdown.

"That's hard to swallow," Sanford said. "I didn't play my best."

After Tebow's run for a two-point conversion knotted the score, Ponder led a 13-play drive for a go-ahead field goal with 3:06 to play.

But the Broncos answered rapidly, with Tebow hitting Matthew Willis on a drag for 12, then going back to Thomas for 40 between rookie Brandon Burton and Sanford.

"It should not be that type of gap," Frazier said. "We've been playing that coverage forever, and to see it played the way it was played (Sunday) was just bad."

Prater's 46-yard field goal knotted the score at 32 with 1:33 to play, and Tebow didn't have to throw again. Goodrum picked off Ponder to set up the winner by sinking in the same Cover-2 defense the Vikings couldn't figure out how to play the whole second half.

Thomas also caught a 21-yard touchdown when Sanford jumped the post, plus a 41-yard touchdown when everyone lost track of him on a scramble play and Sanford missed the tackle.

"Cover-2 is a great defense," cornerback Benny Sapp said. "You've just got to play it right, and everybody got to do their job. If everybody do their job, then we don't have a problem."

The Vikings have a lot of problems, though, and trying to piece together without Antoine Winfield, Chris Cook, Asher Allen, Husain Abdullah and Tyrell Johnson doesn't help.

Of the five players who figured prominently in the secondary on Sunday, only rookie safety Mistral Raymond is likely to contend for a starting job in 2012. Griffin's knees are shot, Burton's a subpackage guy, Sanford looks like a career special teamer and Sapp probably has four games left in his career.

But all of that didn't mean much on Sunday to Frazier or veterans who could only shake their heads at just how bad things have gotten on the back end.

"Shoot, you guys might have been able to hit those (receivers)," defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. "You can't explain it. You've just got to do better."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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