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Updated: November 21st, 2011 5:48pm
Zulgad: After quiet season, the Vikings' 'Big Ticket' makes his return

Zulgad: After quiet season, the Vikings' 'Big Ticket' makes his return

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - The Minnesota Vikings' 2-8 record makes it easy to find the negatives with each loss. But after watching film of his team's 27-21 defeat on Sunday against Oakland, Leslie Frazier was able to identify at least one big positive.

The Vikings coach said "without question" defensive tackle Kevin Williams had, "his best game of the season."

The statistics backed that up.

Williams was third on the Vikings with eight tackles, including three for a loss, and had his first sack since Week 2 of the 2010 season.

"He was dominant," Frazier said Monday. "I told him earlier this morning, I wish we could have finished that game off just for him because he deserved a game ball for his performance. It was just a dominant performance from the Kevin we've all grown accustomed to seeing. (Sunday) it was on display.

"He couldn't be blocked one-on-one, destroyed their guard when he was rushing the passer. He was very disruptive and just a great example for the rest of our guys. And I think that had a lot to do with why our defense played as well as they did in the second half."

Williams, 31, has been selected to the Pro Bowl six times in eight seasons and long ago established himself as one of the NFL's best defensive tackles.

All of this helped earn him the nickname "Big Ticket."

But this season Williams has often been far too quiet and that nickname rarely has been uttered.

One reason is because Williams wasn't on the field at the start of the year.

He missed the first two games serving an NFL suspension that resulted from the long-running StarCaps case and he wasn't paid for the first four games. That meant Williams lost $1,411,764, or 4/17ths of his $6 million base salary for 2011.

As if that wasn't painful enough, Williams also was bothered by plantar fasciitis in his left foot during training camp and it was unclear how long that injury continued to bother him.

Williams often draws double-teams, which makes his life more difficult, but it was still surprising he wasn't credited with more than three tackles in a game before Sunday. In fairness, he did have six hits on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler on Oct. 16 in Chicago.

On Sunday, Williams admitted there was still some lingering pain in his foot but said it was actually worse when he wasn't playing.

Williams has had to make some adjustments this season that have nothing to do with managing pain.

He has been playing alongside Remi Ayodele, Fred Evans and rookie Christian Ballard at nose tackle. This comes after Williams spent six seasons paired with Pat Williams in what at one point was one of the NFL's best tandems of defensive tackles.

Pat Williams was not brought back by the Vikings after his contract expired following the 2010 season.

"That's been huge," Kevin Williams said of losing Pat as a teammate. "When you get used to a guy for six years and know what he's going to do. The other guys, we'll get comfortable with each other and it will be a lot easier."

Williams said he began to feel more at ease with the nose tackles when the Vikings returned from their bye earlier this month.

After Sunday's loss, Williams spoke of making the game fun again. What he didn't mention was that at halftime he had decided it was time to say something to his teammates. The Vikings trailed 24-7 and the Raiders had scored two touchdowns late in the second quarter.

Frazier would not reveal what Williams said, but the defense gave up only three points in the second half.

Defensive end Jared Allen said that Williams simply expressed that, "everybody has got to do their job."

Williams then backed up his words with his play on the field. His sack of Carson Palmer came in the fourth quarter, two plays before Sebastian Janikowski had a 49-yard field-goal attempt blocked.

"He's unbelievable when he's playing. He's awesome," linebacker Chad 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."

One couldn't help but wonder if Frazier didn't deserve a bit of credit for Williams' big day. It was Frazier who last week said the defensive tackles needed to improve at pushing the pocket and thus increasing pressure on quarterbacks.

Frazier was tired of seeing Allen doing all the work and getting the majority of the sacks.

"It doesn't take me saying things to get him motivated," Frazier said. "He and I have talked all throughout the season about what we need from him, his leadership as well as his play.

"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 and we count on him so much. The most important thing, the thing I continue to emphasize to him, is just do your job, Kevin, and let other guys handle what they're supposed to handle."

Williams' dismissed the possibility that Frazier's words provided necessary motivation.

"It went in one ear and out the other," he said. "I really didn't think anything about it after I saw it really. I joked with him about it and we went on. I know what I'm doing on the front and if he has a problem he can just talk to me. It doesn't have to be aired out in the media." 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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