- Don't sleep on people with something to prove. – (SportsNetwork.com) - Don't sleep on people with something to prove.
The Dallas Cowboys were probably seething when they saw the Minnesota Vikings' inactive list on Sunday.
As expected running backs Adrian Peterson (sprained foot) and Toby Gerhart (hamstring) were shelved against Philadelphia -- the 'Boys competition for the NFC East crown -- as were four other starters, tight end John Carlson (concussion), right guard Brandon Fusco (knee) and cornerbacks Chris Cook (knee) and Xavier Rhodes (ankle).
All the injuries were legitimate but the Vikings were hardly pushing players to get back because draft positioning is more important for the brass in Minnesota than wins at this stage of the season.
Players don't think that way, however, and a number of guys who rarely get an opportunity to play for the Vikings seized their chance during Minnesota's surprising 48-30 win over the Eagles, none more so than running back Matt Asiata, who recorded three rushing touchdowns.
"Matt Asiata did a tremendous job today," said Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel, who completed 26-of-35 passes for 382 yards and two touchdowns. "He is a guy that works tremendously hard each and every day when he gets out there."
It's been a tough year for Asiata, a former college star at the University of Utah who had to endure the tragic death of his father, a bus driver who was impaled by a drilling device when his vehicle crashed into a utility truck near the Utah-Nevada border in late October.
"My dream was to make it to the NFL and I wish my dad was here to witness it," Asiata said.
Already hopelessly blocked on the Vikings' depth chart behind a guy who is one of the greatest pure runners of all-time (Peterson) and perhaps one of the best caddies in football who was once the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy (Gerhart), few noticed the time Asiata took to mourn.
"He's been through a lot with his family and the circumstances there and to see him rewarded like this and to get this opportunity, so grateful for him, grateful for his family," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "I'm sure it was a great day for them and something he'll be able to cherish for the rest of his life."
Asiata had all of three career NFL carries before Sunday's game and his work for Minnesota -- on offense at least -- usually wraps up in late August when he handles the bulk of the work in preseason games.
That doesn't mean Asiata didn't have a resume, though. The 5-foot-11, 240- pound wrecking ball was the leading rusher on Utah's 2008 team which finished 13-0 and beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
The Vikings needed Asiata to carry the load for the first time on Sunday and he answered the bell. He was hardly spectacular against the Birds, toting it 30 times for 51 yards, but his lunch-bucket performance and sure handle helped the Vikings play keepaway from Chip Kelly's explosive offense.
"I look at it as a blessing, just getting the opportunity to show the coaches what I can do and help this offense out," Asiata said.
He was especially effective during short-yardage situations and at the goal line where his bruising style reminded me of a great Leroy Hoard quote. Hoard, who was a premier short-yardage back in Minnesota after starring in Cleveland summed up his acumen with this gem: "If you need one yard, I'll get you three. If you need four yards, I'll get you three."
Asiata did that again and again against the Eagles.
In fact he was a lot like a great baseball pitcher who was handed a 6-0 lead in the first inning. Asiata played it safe, didn't take chances and helped drag his team to the finish line, becoming the first player in his inaugural start to record a hat trick rushing the ball since former Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper did it in September of 2000.
"To be honest I woke up pretty early this morning. I had a lot of butterflies and came ready to work," Asiata said. "I came in with the same mentality as if (Peterson and Gerhart) were playing. Come out and execute the plays, and play hard."
Asiata was also hardly the only nondescript Minnesota player to come up big against the Eagles.
With Cook, Rhodes and fellow cornerback Josh Robinson, who was placed on injured reserve earlier in the week, all unavailable, Shaun Prater, a second- year player who was picked up on waivers from Philadelphia on Oct. 22, was pressed into action.
The University of Iowa product not only held his own on the right side, he became just the second player this season to intercept Nick Foles, when he interrupted a deep ball to Riley Cooper near the end zone.
Meanwhile, fourth-string tight end Chase Ford, a player who spent some time on the Eagles' practice squad in 2012 and was getting repetitions due to the injuries to Kyle Rudolph and Carlson, hauled in a huge 37-yard pass in the third quarter as the Eagles were rallying. The grab set up Asiata's second TD and restored order in the game.
"Coach Frazier always talks about the next man up. When you get your opportunities to make a play, you have to make it. I just made the play," said Ford.
"You know what, we had a lot of guys step up today that were called into action," Cassel added. "I think everyone took it as a great challenge today to step up and I think that everybody rose to the occasion against a good football team. We knew we had our work cut out for us, but I thought the way these guys played today, the effort that they gave was outstanding. It was fun to get a great win against a good football team."
The moral of the story?
Players with something to prove or a chip on their shoulder rarely buy in on any tanking narrative being supported by the front office or peddled by the media. They would rather play the role of spoiler.
Kelly and the Eagles found that out the hard way in Minneapolis, a tough lesson somewhat eased by Dallas' stunning collapse against Green Bay later in the day.
"We didn't play well enough to win today but we need to stick together and that's what we did when we were 3-5 and that's what we will continue to do," Kelly said. "We're going to be able to finish this thing off the right way."