Okay. . .so who had the Minnesota Vikings at 2-1 after three weeks?
watches hands go up
sees a few hands still raised
Seriously, put your hands down. You're not fooling anybody.
Yes, the Minnesota Vikings pulled off one of the biggest upsets of this young NFL season a little more than 24 hours ago, and shocked a whole lot of people. . .yours truly included. I know that the phrase "that's why they play the games" is completely cliched, but it really applies in the case of yesterday's events. Think about it. . .in the first two weeks of the season, the Niners had handled both of the consensus top teams in the NFC North by beating the Green Bay Packers (handily) at Lambeau Field and the Detroit Lions (just as handily) at Candlestick Park. Two high-flying offenses that were almost completely shut down by the San Francisco defense. So, how did the Vikings do it?
By playing Vikings football. . .or what Vikings football should look like with the way this roster is currently constructed.
It was modern-day American philosopher Mike Tyson who once opined that everybody has a plan. . .until they get punched in the mouth. This appears to be a big part of the 49ers philosophy, as everything they do is predicated on being more physical than their opponents. San Francisco won the coin toss on Sunday afternoon, but deferred to the second half, allowing the Vikings to have the football first. This gave the Vikings the chance to throw the first punch, and they landed a haymaker.
The Vikings showed that they weren't afraid to do something that many teams are unable to do against the 49ers, that being run the football. Of the 16 plays on Minnesota's opening drive, eight of them were handoffs to Adrian Peterson. Now, those eight carries only gained 20 yards, but it was enough to keep the San Francisco defense honest and force them to respect the fact that the Vikings were going to run the football. Overall, the Vikings ran the ball 41 times, and gained 146 yards on the ground against a team that had given up a total of 127 yards on the ground in their first two games combined.
That strategy also gave Christian Ponder the opportunity to do what he's been doing through the first three games. . .he took what the 49ers were giving him, and the Vikings kept moving the ball down the field. By the time Ponder found Kyle Rudolph in the back-left corner of the end zone on the drive's 16th play, over half of the first quarter was gone and the Vikings had a 7-0 lead. Ponder completed six of his eight pass attempts on the drive, four of them to Kyle Rudolph, and the longest play of the Minnesota drive covered just 16 yards.
Dan Wiederer said it on Twitter during the game, and I mentioned it in the Game Threads, but it bears repeating here. . .anybody that's not impressed with the play of Christian Ponder at this point is simply looking for a reason or an excuse not to be. Yes, he still doesn't have a completion of longer than 29 yards on the season. . .but he hasn't really needed them. What he's done is led the Minnesota Vikings to within a last-second Andrew Luck drive of 3-0. . .after he had led the Vikings from 14 points down with five minutes remaining to get things tied in the first place.
As it stands now, Ponder is second in the NFL in completion percentage (behind Matt Ryan). He's fifth in quarterback rating going into tonight's action (behind Ryan, Kevin Kolb, Ben Roethlisberger, and Andy Dalton), for those of you who are into that kind of thing. And through the first three weeks, there are only three quarterbacks that have taken the majority of their team's snaps that have yet to throw an interception. . .Kevin Kolb, Blaine Gabbert, and Christian Ponder. That's a big part of the reason why the Vikings are currently 2-1 and are, in many cases, exceeding expectations.
To say nothing of the defensive performance from yesterday's game. Chad Greenway was everywhere, and played one of the best games we've seen from him in a long time. The entire Vikings' defense was aggressive, making Alex Smith run around all day and hitting him more than it appeared he was used to. The physical play on defense paid off, as the Vikings managed to get San Francisco to turn the ball over three times. Keep in mind, that Alex Smith hadn't thrown an interception since the Niners' Thanksgiving eve game against Baltimore in Week 12 of last season, and the Niners as a whole only had ten turnovers in the entire 2011 regular season (and only one in their first two games this year). To get three turnovers from a team like the Niners that hasn't shown a propensity for turning the ball over is huge (even if Toby Gerhart tried to give all of them back in the span of two minutes in the fourth quarter).
More importantly, the defense stood up when they had to. With all the momentum going into the locker room at halftime, the Vikings allowed a 94-yard kickoff return to Kyle Williams to start the third quarter of play. The momentum was starting to swing towards San Francisco, but the Vikings defense only allowed the Niners to run three plays before they settled for a David Akers field goal rather than a touchdown. Minnesota did allow a touchdown on the next drive to allow San Francisco to get with 17-13, but after that the Niners didn't get on the scoreboard again.
This past Sunday, we saw what this Minnesota Vikings team was capable of doing when they maintain their focus and played disciplined football. (Oh, did I mention that for the entire game on Sunday, the Vikings were only penalized one time for ten yards? If I didn't, I should have, because that's sort of important.) I don't know if they can sustain it for any length of time, but if they can go out on the field and beat a team like the San Francisco 49ers with the roll that they were on, it's not crazy to think that they can hang with any team on their schedule.
They just need to keep punching people in the mouth when they get the chance.