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Vikings Explode in Second Half, Pull Away from Browns 34-20

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At halftime of today's game, there weren't a lot of reasons to think that 2009 was going to be any different than 2008.  Despite the presence of Brett Favre, the Vikings' passing game was limited to dinking and dunking down the field, Adrian Peterson was on the sidelines losing his lunch, and the punt coverage unit had given up another huge return for a touchdown to the highly dangerous Joshua Cribbs.  A lot of folks had come into the 2009 season opener with a great deal of confidence, almost overlooking the Cleveland Browns, and it was starting to look as though the Vikings players and coaches may have done the same thing.

Then the second half started, and we got the first installment of Season Three of The Adrian Peterson Show.

The single best player in the National Football League spent his halftime getting an IV after dealing with dehydration.  The weather in Cleveland was a bit warmer than anticipated, and the dehydration caused him to only gain one yard in the second quarter of play.and only 25 yards on 9 carries in the first half overall.  However, he came back in the second half with a vengeance, and on 16 second half carries he gained 155 yards.  His last carry was the most impressive, as he took a handoff and traveled left.  As he got to the sidelines, he broke one tackle, and then hit Browns' cornerback Eric Wright with a pie-face that Moe Howard would have been proud of, sending Wright about three yards into the sidelines.  After a very nice assist from Sidney Rice, Peterson soon found himself in the end zone celebrating a 64-yard touchdown run that pretty much iced the game for the Beloved Purple.

Honestly. . .#28 in purple is the single-best player in the National Football League, and you're going to have a hell of a time convincing me that it could possibly be anybody else.

So what else is there to say about today's game for the Vikings?  We'll discuss it further after the jump.

The Vikings' defense was, quite frankly, suffocating this afternoon.  While Jared Allen spent most of his afternoon being pretty well handled by Browns OT Joe Thomas, the rest of the front seven had Brady Quinn running for his life all day long.  The Vikings' defense brought Quinn down five times, with Kevin Williams, Ray Edwards, E.J. Henderson, and Letroy Guion marking the stat sheet in that category (one sack was classified as a "team" sack).  While the run defense was uncharacteristically soft, ultimately allowing 4.5 yards a carry to the Browns, the pass defense did a fine job. . .and don't worry about Jared Allen.  He doesn't have to go against Joe Thomas every week.

Cedric Griffin managed to notch an interception for the Vikings as well, as Brady Quinn hit him on a perfect fade route during the third quarter.  The third quarter was the real turning point of today's game, as the Vikings held the ball for 12:25 of the quarter's 15 minutes of play.

Oh, what about that Favre fellow, you say?  Well, he did what we want him to do. . .he completed a high percentage of passes (14/21 or 66.7%), he managed the game (zero turnovers), and he made plays when the Vikings needed him to.  The two best examples of that came in that aforementioned third quarter. The first came on the Vikings' opening drive after halftime, Facing a 3rd and 10 from the Cleveland 33 and facing a heavy blitz, Favre hung in. . .and hung in. . .until the very last second, where he released on a tight end screen to Visanthe Shiancoe, who picked up 11 yards and kept the drive going.  The drive ultimately concluded with Peterson's second TD run of the day and gave Minnesota a lead they'd never relinquish..

The other came on the Vikings' next drive, which came after the Cedric Griffin interception.  After a sack gave the Vikings a 2nd and 18 from the Minnesota 21, Favre took a shotgun snap from John Sullivan, calmly stood in the pocket, and absolutely drilled a pass to Percy Harvin that turned into a 21-yard play and a first down for Minnesota.  That drive concluded with Percy Harvin's first NFL touchdown, a six-yard pass from Favre to make the score 24-13.  We'll explore Harvin's game further as the week progresses.

It wasn't all sunshine and lollipops for the Beloved Purple, unfortunately.  The one sore thumb from today's game was the same one that stuck out for a better part of last year, and that was the special teams.  It started out with a call I absolutely hated, as Ryan Longwell unleashed an awful onside kick on the opening kickoff that gave the Browns the ball at midfield.  (Can you "unleash" an onside kick?  I couldn't come up with a better word there.)  If you have a defense like Minnesota's, just blast the ball deep and go for the field position.  The Browns' offense didn't do much today before garbage time, and giving an offense like that a short field is a recipe for disaster.

The other special teams failure can be largely pinned on punter Chris Kluwe, and it came towards the end of the first half.  Kluwe's punt towards the dangerous Josh Cribbs was a low line drive that Cribbs fielded, made one move to his left, and went basically untouched for 67 yards and a touchdown that put Cleveland ahead going into the locker room.  Not every team has a return man as dangerous as Josh Cribbs, to be sure, but I said in the Game Thread prior to the game that Kluwe needed to work on getting more air under his punts to prevent this sort of thing from happening.  Hopefully that play was more of a function of Cribbs being the NFL's most dangerous return man than it is of the Vikings' special teams relapsing from what they showed us last season.

All in all, it wasn't as smooth as most of us would have liked, I'm sure, but the VIkings went on the road and beat an opponent by 14 points. . .and it conceivably could have been 21, if not for the Vikings playing their second-string defense for most of the Browns' final drive.  And we expected it.  This is what the Vikings were supposed to do in this game.  They've gotten themselves off on the right foot for 2009, and can start preparing next week for a divisional tussle against their divisional rivals from Detroit.  Hopefully, with the rust having been shaken off, things will go more smoothly in Week 2 than they did in Week 1 and we won't have to sweat quite so much.  Of course, we remember what happened in our two meetings with Detroit last year. . .and if you've forgotten, I'm sure we'll be reminded of it on a few occasions over the next seven days.

The Vikings are 1-0, ladies and gentlemen.  Here's hoping that it's the start of something big.