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The Vikings put a victorious bow on the 2013 preseason Thursday night, battling with the Tennessee Titans into the final minute of the game to win it with a Blair Walsh 25-yard field goal. The Vikings drove 71 yards in eight plays, behind three consecutive completions from McLeod Bethel-Thompson, to put Walsh in position to hit the game-winner. The win moved the Vikings to 1-3 in the preseason, and it also marked the final preseason game in the history of Mall of America Field.
Winning and losing is virtually inconsequential in the preseason, but individual performances that contribute to those wins and losses are very consequential, especially in the preseason finale because final roster cuts are just two days away. With that in mind, here are several Vikings who put together a strong performance in Thursday’s game as they try to prove to scouts and coaches that they belong on a NFL roster.
RB Matt Asiata – It was Asiata who carried the load for much of the 1st quarter, rushing for 32 yards and a touchdown on 8 carries. More than the numbers, though, Asiata looked nifty and displayed good vision, cutting back when a lane was there and bulldozing forward when one wasn’t. Asiata is also a player the Vikings can use on special teams, and he’s a candidate to fulfill some fullback duties in Jerome Felton’s three-game absence to open the season.
QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson – With Christian Ponder not playing and Matt Cassel exiting early, Bethel-Thompson took the lion’s share of the work load on Thursday night. He finished going 19 of 26 for 187 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Most impressive may have been the game-winning drive, in which he hit Adam Thielen for 17 yards on the first snap, offensive tackle DeMarcus Love on a tipped pass for 10 yards and then Joe Webb for 21 yards on the third play. All of that put the Vikings in scoring range and set up the eventual game-winner by Walsh.
FB Zach Line – The undrafted rookie free agent had already impressed this preseason with a 61-yard touchdown in the preseason opener and another one-yard touchdown at Buffalo. But he continued to impress on Thursday night, looking nimble on a 12-yard rush. He finished with 18 yards on four carries in the 2nd half.
RB Joe Banyard – It was Banyard who carried the load once Asiata left the game, and he impressed. Banyard rushed for 62 yards on 13 carries, but more impressively had seven catches for 54 yards and a touchdown. He looked smooth catching the ball in the open field, was great in setting up screens and broke a few tackles.
LB Michael Mauti – It’s not about an impressive stat line for Mauti. It’s about the fact that he’s always around the ball, looks the part and has great instincts. When you think of what a NFL middle linebacker looks like, Mauti fits that description.
WR Rodney Smith – The big, physical undrafted rookie had just two catches, but they were both impressive. The first came from Matt Cassel on a deep route down the right sideline and was good for 28 yards. On the play, Smith turned his body toward the line of scrimmage as he was falling backwards and watched the ball into his hands with a defender in his face. His next reception was good for 24 yards and it was down the left alley on a pass that was on his hands just a split-second before he turned to look for the ball. It was a great concentration catch and put the Vikings in scoring position.
CB Marcus Sherels – For a short time in the 3rd quarter, it seemed like Marcus Sherels night at Mall of America Field. He opened up the 2nd half with a 109-yard kickoff return touchdown, and just moments later was playing man coverage and stepped in front of a Rusty Smith pass for the interception.
WR Joe Webb – Changing positions is no easy task at the NFL level, but Webb has taken the challenge of moving from quarterback to receiver in stride. He capped off the process quite well on Thursday night, hauling in five catches for 38 yards and looking good while doing so. The Vikings threw screens to Webb and they asked him to run routes across the middle.