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Updated: September 7th, 2013 3:22pm
Zulgad: Success in 2012 doesn't assure Vikings of anything this season

Zulgad: Success in 2012 doesn't assure Vikings of anything this season

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

The Minnesota Vikings trailed the Jacksonville Jaguars by three points with 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter of the 2012 opener when they got the ball at their own 31-yard line.

There was little reason for hope.

The Vikings, coming off a 3-13 season, looked to be a rebuilding team that was destined to lose games like this.

But these Vikings had other ideas.

Christian Ponder completed a 26-yard pass that moved the ball to the Jaguars 43. He then hit on another 6-yarder to put the Vikings at the Jacksonville 37 with four seconds remaining.

Rookie kicker Blair Walsh trotted on the field and nailed a 55-yard field goal to tie the score. Walsh followed that with a 38-yarder in overtime that proved to be the game-winner.

The victory helped propel the Vikings to a 4-1 start, en route to a 10-6 finish and a playoff berth.

Those in charge at Winter Park will never admit it, but that success caught everyone by surprise.

General manager Rick Spielman had spent the previous offseason turning over a roster that had gotten very old, very quickly. A realistic expectation - and something the Vikings should have been thrilled about -- would have been to finish around .500.

What made the Vikings' turnaround even more remarkable was they did not get consistent quarterback play from second-year starter Christian Ponder. Ponder exited the season with as many, or more, question marks attached to him as there had been entering the Jacksonville game.

But running back Adrian Peterson's brilliance, made all the more remarkable by the fact he was coming off reconstructive knee surgery; a solid year from the offensive line; a much-improved defense under first-year coordinator Alan Williams; and coach Leslie Frazier's ability to get the most from his team, made a huge difference.

That success also altered expectations for this season.

The Vikings will open play on Sunday at Detroit with many thinking they will be better than they were in 2012.

Is this realistic? Probably not.

A year ago, the Vikings played three of the first five at home and won all three. This included an upset victory over what was considered a far superior San Francisco team in Week 3. The Vikings finished 7-1 at the Metrodome, and the win over the 49ers provided a confidence that hadn't been seen around Winter Park for a couple of years.

This season, the Vikings will play three of their first four on the road and will have seven home games instead of eight. This is because the Sept. 29 game against Pittsburgh is considered a "home game" in name only and will be played in London. From a marketing standpoint, this is great for the Vikings and the NFL. If I'm Frazier, I'm livid about being asked to give up a home game.

The Vikings also have the disadvantage of having an early bye week that will follow the Steelers game. That means there will be no breaks in the final 12 weeks.

The Vikings will face a stretch of games after the bye that includes Carolina (home), the Giants (road), Green Bay (home), Dallas (road), Washington (home), Seattle (road) and Green Bay (road).

That will take them through November.

While the NFL always features teams that prove to be big surprises and major disappointments, it's safe to say none of the above seven games figures to be easy.

Throw in the fact that Ponder remains an unknown, the secondary no longer has its anchor in Antoine Winfield and a few things that went right for the Vikings in 2012 might not do so in 2013, and it's fair to say this club could be looking at an 8-8 record.

Here's what is important to keep in mind: A small step back in 2013 wouldn't be the end of the world and doesn't mean things are suddenly off course.

It just means that Spielman always had his eye on the future when he began trying to rebuild things and the goal remains to have this franchise be successful for the long haul.

If Spielman had suddenly altered that plan this past offseason by making moves that were intended to make a desperate run at the Super Bowl, that would have been far more reason to worry.

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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