Carlson finds redemption as Rudolph recovers

Without Kyle Rudolph in the lineup, John Carlson has had the second-most productive four-game stretch among NFL tight ends, according to the Vikings. Carlson talked about his resurgence in the passing game and the good feelings returning to his emotional state.

John Carlson accepted a pay cut to presumably avoid being cut during the offseason. Now, with Kyle Rudolph unavailable, Carlson is finding a groove in purple for the first time in two years.

Over the past four games, Carlson's 264 receiving yards is second among NFL tight ends to only Rob Gronkowski's 419 with the New England Patriots.

"It's been fun to feel like I'm contributing on the offensive side of the ball, or really in any way. Last year didn't go, obviously, the way I wanted it go," Carlson admitted Monday. "On a football team, or I guess on any team, everyone wants to feel like they're contributing, doing their part and helping the team win. Football is the ultimate team sport."

Carlson had four receptions for 61 yards Sunday against the Chicago Bears. That is half the receptions he had all of last year (eight) and more yards than he had in all of 2012 (43). After his first season with the Minnesota Vikings, he was labeled a waste of good free-agent money and was tiring of answering the same questions wondering where why he wasn't producing more.

Last year, his single-game highs were three receptions for 17 yards in December against St. Louis. This year, he hasn't had fewer than three receptions or less than 23 yards in any of the last five games.

Since Rudolph suffered a fractured foot against Dallas on Nov. 3 while being tackled as he went into the end zone, Carlson has 19 catches for 264 yards while Rudolph has been on the inactive list.

"I have more opportunities because Kyle is hurt. That's a big part," Carlson said.

"It's been fun. To have a chance to make some plays in the passing game and in the run game, we miss Kyle because Kyle is a Pro Bowl-type player. But I feel like Rhett (Ellison) and Chase (Ford) and I have had to step up and kind of seize control of the position at this point."

Among NFL tight ends, only Gronkowski, with 27 receptions for 419 yards, has been more productive in the passing game over the last four games.

Last year, Carlson suffered a medial collateral sprain his knee and missed more than three weeks of training camp and the preseason. Coaches repeatedly referenced that injury during a key time of offensive installation as a big reason for Carlson's down year. He was also inactive for two games because of a midseason concussion, and took a $1.4 million paycut down to $1.5 million for 2013.

This year, there have been no such injury concerns.

"I've felt healthy all season," Carlson said. "But Kyle was a Pro Bowler last year and we all know what he's capable of doing. I've felt good all season, but this is the first time I've done it in a game (with the Vikings)."

In his first game without Rudolph on Nov. 7, Carlson had a season-high seven receptions for 98 yards and his only touchdown of the year. Three of the four games without Rudolph have resulted in at least four catches for at least 60 yards.

So, what happens when Rudolph returns?

"It's hard to say. I don't know the extent of his injury and how that's going to impact the way he moves. I have no idea," Carlson said. "There's a lot of factors and we just take things a week at a time."

Rudolph is progressing. He is scheduled to be "pushed" in his rehabilitation on Tuesday and how he reacts to that will determine if he begins practicing on Wednesday. He got the boot off his foot a couple weeks ago and was on the field before Sunday's game walking routes and catching passes.

But until Rudolph returns to full health, expect the Vikings to continue to rely heavily on a resurgent Carlson.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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