Vikings' 3-1 start encouragingHallelujah! The streak is over.
By: Casey Johnson, The Jamestown Sun
Hallelujah! The streak is over.
After 11 straight divisional losses, the Vikings finally bested an NFC North foe on Sunday by beating the Detroit Lions 20-13.
Now, most often, a team doesn’t win a football game when their offense only scores 6 points and their defense gives up 13. However, the new and improved 2012 Minnesota Vikings found a way to pull off that feat on Sunday by returning both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns. The return touchdowns made for a pretty relaxed, responsibility-free day for the Vikings’ offense.
Right out of the gate, the monster that is Percy Harvin returned Jason Hanson’s opening kickoff to the house. It was Percy’s fifth career kickoff return for a touchdown, and it further validates his status as the game’s premier kick returner. More than that, it shines a light on the fact that Harvin might be the game’s most versatile and electrifying player. It seems that, every time he touches the ball, he has a legitimate.
Thanks, in part, to two dropped touchdown passes on the same possession by the Lions, Minnesota allowed just six first half points. The Vikings started the second half strong defensively, as well. Minnesota forced a punt on the Lions’ first possession of the half, and Marcus Sherels took that opportunity to extend the Vikings’ lead to 14 points. It was Sherels’ 25th birthday on Sunday, so what better day to score his first NFL touchdown. Sherels is known more for his sure-handedness as a returner than he is for his actual return skills with the ball in his hands. But, apparently, that all goes out the window on your birthday when even Sherels can momentarily channel his inner Dante Hall and return a punt for a touchdown. Oh, the power of a birthday wish.
It was Sherels’ punt return touchdown that provided the Vikings with all the cushion that they needed against the normally high-scoring Motor City Kitties. For the second straight week, the Vikings put forth a very solid defensive performance. Minnesota held the Lions 16 points and 95 yards below their season averages. They did give up 319 yards through the air, but it took 51 Matthew Stafford attempts. The Vikings were also able to limit Calvin Johnson, the NFL’s best receiver, to just 5 catches for 54 yards, although he did drop a couple of passes. Furthermore, the Vikings shut down the Lions feeble attempt at mounting a rushing attack by holding them to just 55 yards on 20 carries. Detroit scored a touchdown late in the game to make it 20-13, but the Vikings’ defense, as they had done for most of the day, held the Lions on their final possession of the game to preserve the win.
Offensively, the Vikings sputtered. Despite Adrian Peterson’s 102 rushing yards, the Vikings managed just 227 yards of offense. The passing attack should bare the brunt of the blame, though, as Ponder frequently looked uncomfortable in the pocket and completed just 16 of 26 passes for 111 yards. In fact, the biggest plays in the passing game were defensive pass interference penalties called while Ponder was trying to find the newly reinstated Jerome Simpson on deep passes. To be certain, it definitely wasn’t the most exciting game to watch from an offensive standpoint, but Ponder and the Vikings’ offense did enough to preserve the lead that they were given.
The Vikings were able to employ the same winning formula as last week by getting an early lead and, then, playing smart, physical, turnover-free football for the remainder of the game. If the Vikings’ defense can continue to play as well as it has the last two weeks, that can be a sustainable winning formula. It doesn’t matter if the offense is exciting or not, and it doesn’t matter if the offense isn’t capable of scoring 30-plus points. Minnesota’s offense is predicated around short passes, running the football, and not turning the ball over. Ponder doesn’t have to be Brett Favre. He just has to manage the game. He has to continue to be smart and secure with the ball (zero interceptions this year), and he has to take the opportunities that are available to him. That doesn’t mean that the Vikings won’t have to make plays through the passing game to win games, but it means that Ponder doesn’t have to be a gunslinger.
Again, as mentioned last week, this is the same philosophy adopted by the San Francisco 49ers last year, and it’s the kind of philosophy that, if carried out effectively, can deliver a team to the playoffs just a year after being terrible. I know that the Vikings have a long ways to go to make the playoffs (like 7 more wins), but this team, for the first time in a couple of years, is starting to form an identity that can actually enable them to win games.
And to be completely frank, even though we’re only four weeks into the season, it’s an exciting time to be a Vikings fan. It’s probably sad that winning three games can make us this excited, but after being predicted to be a bottom-feeder again, a 3-1 start looks pretty darn good. Seriously, the Vikings have already won as many games this season as they did all last year. What’s not to be excited about?
There’s hope right now, and that’s all a Viking fan can ask for. Bring on the Titans.
Casey Johnson is a 2007 Jamestown High School graduate and frequent contributor to the Opinion Corner