This game surely won't go down as the brightest moment of the Vikings' 2009 season. Let's be blunt: This team's performance in the first half was a downright embarrassment. But hey, it's better to win ugly than lose pretty. And despite the tough goings in Detroit for the Vikings, they escaped with an ugly win.
About that first half. It was a disaster. If the Vikings once again have the best run defense in the NFL, you sure didn't see it today -- because Kevin Smith was essentially getting five and six yards at will. There's no getting around it: This is the worst performance from the defensive line and run defense that we've seen in quite some time.
Things hardly went better on the offensive side. Favre's early-game targets were confined to his running backs. The prospect of throwing the ball downfield was, for whatever reason, apparently out of the question. As was the case last week in Cleveland, Adrian Peterson was held under control early before blowing up later on.
What was to blame for the offensive woes? Two things: The playcalling and the performance by the offensive line. We've seen this before from the coaching staff: Bland, vanilla playcalling that a Pop Warner coach could predict. And on both sides of the ball, the Lions controlled the game in the trenches. While the coaching staff certainly wasn't helping this team make any plays through the air, Favre was under constant pressure and couldn't get comfortable.
It's remarkable the Lions only held a three-point lead at the half, given how thoroughly they controlled the first half. It was the same story as last week for the Vikings: A sluggish start followed by a strong finish. But this team looked more sluggish in the first half than it did in Cleveland, and it failed to dominate the second half like it did last week.
Still, Favre's range of targets expanded. Bernard Berrian, Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice got involved after being silenced in the first half. Some big plays from Adrian Peterson also facilitated the turnaround from a brutal first half.
So what gives? Why have we seen the same thing in two consecutive weeks -- a slow start and strong finish? Part of it has to do with the fact that AD becomes more explosive as the game goes along (in other words, he wears down the defense without wearing himself down). We've also seen Favre work the receiving corps with more frequency as the game drags along -- he started the game with a limited set of targets before bringing in Harvin, Berrian and others in the second half (his first completion to Harvin came with less than five minutes remaining in the first half, and Berrian's only first half reception came within the first few minutes of the game). The defensive line also managed to keep Smith under control in the second half, as Detroit only managed three points in the final two quarters.
The Vikings have had a healthy margin of error in these first two games, just based on the strength of the competition. They've been able to struggle early on before taking control in the second half. But as the schedule gets tougher, that luxury will disappear. Start slowly against the stronger teams in the league, and you're done.