Andy Clayton King
Had I told you earlier on in the day that not only would the Minnesota Vikings not have Percy Harvin for their game this afternoon against the Detroit Lions, but they would complement that by allowing Calvin Johnson to go over 200 yards receiving and to get just his second touchdown reception of the year (and his first from Matthew Stafford). . .how many points would you have told me the Vikings would lose by?
Well, it turns out that they didn't lose at all. In fact, they won the game by ten points, with the Lions getting a touchdown towards the end of the game for purely cosmetic purposes. Sure, Stafford got over 300 yards passing, and Johnson went berzerk as I mentioned. . .but in the end, it didn't matter. The Minnesota Vikings did what they had to do when they needed to do it, and they swept a divisional opponent for the first time since 2009 as a result. So how did it happen?
For starters, this week gave us the return of the Christian Ponder that we saw for the first four weeks of the 2012 season. Ponder moved around in the pocket, but he didn't look like he was panicking, as he did so often over the course of the past few weeks. Need proof? This play from the Vikings' first series should be all you require.
Yes, the mystery man catching that pass is rookie Jarius Wright (representing The Daily Norseman™). But Ponder did a fine job of avoiding the rush on that play, remaining calm, and keeping his eyes downfield. That play set the tone for the afternoon for Minnesota.
(Oh, and I also don't think we'll have to field any more "why isn't Jarius Wright active this week" questions. It doesn't appear that he's going to have that problem again.)
After struggling mightily over the course of the last three games, Ponder put together a very good game on Sunday. He hit eleven different receivers. . .including himself. . .while going 24-of-32 for 221 yards and two touchdowns and only taking one sack. More importantly, he didn't turn the ball over (and neither did the Vikings as a team), allowing the Vikings to win the turnover battle by a margin of 2-to-0.
Rest assured, nobody in the entire Vikings fan base is happier about this than I am. Why? Because if I would have had to listen to two straight weeks of people calling for Joe Webb, I probably would have thrown myself off of a building. Fortunately, it doesn't appear that I'm going to have to worry about that sort of thing.
Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the performance of everyone's favorite cyborg, Adrian Peterson. He carried the ball 27 times against the Lions for 171 yards, and a big 61-yard touchdown that basically put the game away for Minnesota. The score put the Vikings up 31-17, and the Vikings put it completely out of reach after a Calvin Johnson fumble on the next drive and Blair Walsh's fourth field goal of the day.
As Eric said on Twitter after the game had ended, forget "Comeback Player of the Year". . .if Adrian Peterson isn't careful, he's going to put himself into the Most Valuable Player discussion. Over the last four games, he's carried the ball 82 times for 629 yards (a cool 7.7 yards per carry) and five scores. He now has 1,128 yards rushing on the season. Oh, and he's still coming off of a reconstructed knee. . .not that anyone would be able to tell at this point.
The Minnesota defense also deserves plenty of kudos this afternoon, too. Forget Calvin Johnson's yardage total. . .he only had a couple big plays of consequence, and seriously, he's Megatron. That happens sometimes. (Does that make Adrian Peterson Optimus Prime? After all, Optimus Prime always beat Megatron.) But after getting gashed against the run over the past four games (they were allowing 166 yards/game on the ground in the last four games), they held the Lions to just 60 yards on 17 carries in this one.
In addition, after having plenty of issues getting off of the field on third downs, the Vikings didn't allow the Lions to convert a third down until there was about 3:30 left in the game. . .the only one Detroit converted on the afternoon, going 1-for-9 in that category. While Calvin Johnson had 12 catches for 207 yards and a score, the rest of the Lions combined for just 14 catches for 122 yards and
another score two scores. (Good catch, folks.)
So, the Minnesota Vikings now hit their bye week at 6-4. . .and, as far as this writer is concerned, they're basically playing with house money from here on out. After the bye, they have three straight games coming up against NFC North opponents, and those will either make or break Minnesota's season. Coming into today, not many people would have given the Vikings much of a chance in those games. Heck, they still might not give them much of a shot.
But if some of what we saw today from this team can continue. . .if Christian Ponder has really discovered that he can trust members of his receiving corps not named Percy Harvin, if the Vikings can get Percy Harvin healthy, if Adrian Peterson can continue being superhuman, and the defense can show more of the spark they showed on Sunday. . .well, stranger things have happened in the National Football League, haven't they?