After four weeks of frustration and disappointment, the Minnesota Vikings were bound to win one. When they hosted the slumping Arizona Cardinals this past Sunday, that much-needed first victory finally found the entrance to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.
Heading into the matchup, the Cardinals knew that their biggest concerns would be Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and the threat that he poses to any NFL defense. Unfortunately, they still weren’t prepared for what Peterson had in store for them. With four heavy losses hanging around his neck, he unloaded the burden on any defender who dared stand in his way.
When the clock had struck zero, the Cardinals defense was bruised and battered from the punishment that Peterson served up. On 29 carries, he racked up 122 yards while finding the endzone three times. For 60 minutes, he pummeled the defense into submission en route to the Vikings 34-10 victory.
Although his numbers weren’t exactly worthy of a benching, they don’t tell the real story of how poor quarterback Donovan McNabb looked out on the field. Despite playing against the Cardinals’ susceptible secondary, he managed to complete only 10 of his 21 pass attempts for 169 yards. His passes continuously hit the ground at receivers’ feet as boos echoed across Mall of America Field. If it wasn’t for a few big plays during garbage time, McNabb might not have hit the 100-yard mark by game’s end.
Regardless of the defensive struggles that the Cardinals had with containing Peterson, the backbreaker for them was their horrid showing on the offensive side of the ball.
The four Cardinals’ turnovers really summed up what was a performance that the Arizona offense wishes they could wipe from their memories. It got so bad that the Cardinals decided to bench starting quarterback Kevin Kolb and brought in backup Richard Bartel to finish out the game. Kolb had completed only half of his passes for 232 yards while blemishing any positive components of the performance with two interceptions and one lost fumble. To make matters worse, Bartel threw an interception of his own on the Cardinals’ final drive that put the lid on the Vikings’ victory.
A big part of the Cardinals’ woes can be attributed to the phenomenal play of the Vikings defensive line. Defensive end Jared Allen, who now leads the NFL in sacks with 8.5 on the season, was a nightmare for the Cardinals’ hog mollies all game long. Even after having one of his eyes temporarily put out of order, he came back in and wreaked havoc in the Arizona backfield. To go along with his two sacks on the day, fellow defensive end Brian Robison added a pair of his own.
The pressure that they poured onto the Cardinals’ gunslingers also influenced the three interceptions that the Vikings secondary hauled in. Starting safety Jamarca Sanford snagged two of those interceptions, including the one that gave the Vikings offense the ball back with less than two minutes to play. They were the first two interceptions of his NFL career and they came at the best of times.
Apart from the ferocious running of Peterson and the dominant defensive display, the other aspect of the Vikings’ performance that caught my attention was their decline in penalties. Through the first four weeks, the Vikings have been one of the worst teams in the NFL in the way of penalties and penalty yardage. Against the Cardinals, however, they were only called for five penalties that resulted in 35 penalty yards. For the Vikings, that’s something that deserves a pat on the back.
The fact that the Vikings managed to maintain a sizeable halftime lead is also commendable, but we all know the story about the first three games so there’s no need to delve any deeper into that.
There’s still plenty of ground that needs to be covered if the Vikings hope to follow in the footsteps of the 1992 San Diego Chargers, the only team in NFL history to ever make the playoffs after starting 0-4. As the upcoming week unfolds, the lobbying for rookie quarterback Christian Ponder to get his NFL baptism will undoubtedly intensify. Whether or not the Vikings coaching staff sees what the fans see in McNabb is a whole other story.
With their first win of the season and proof that they can actually hold a halftime lead, the Vikings might have brought their 2011 campaign back from the dead. Let’s keep in mind, though, that this first victory came against a now 1-4 Cardinals team that has more problems than they can wrap their own heads around. Next week’s game against the Chicago Bears will be a more legitimate opportunity for the Vikings to prove that they shouldn’t be considered frontrunners in the “Suck for Luck” sweepstakes just yet.
Stay tuned as the Vikings try to travel back to 1992 and harness some of that magic that got the Chargers to the playoffs despite seemingly insurmountable odds.