Christian Ponder and Percy Harvin went stride-for-stride with Tim Tebow and Co., but defensive miscues and a late-game INT by the short-handed Vikings were enough of an advantage for the Denver Broncos to escape Mall of America Field with a tightly-contested 35-32 decision on Sunday.
It was the defense that got the Vikings going early, as DE Jared Allen tackled Broncos RB Willis McGahee in the end zone for a safety on Denver’s first offensive play. Denver responded when LB Mario Haggan, starting for the injured Von Miller, intercepted a Ponder pass and returned it 16 yards for a TD. But that’s all the Broncos would get in the 1st half, as the Vikings defense limited Tebow to just 37 total yards. A highlight-caliber TD catch by Kyle Rudolph and a pair of Ryan Longwell FGs gave the Vikings a 15-7 lead at halftime.
Denver responded right out of the gates in the 3rd quarter, marching 78 yards in 9 plays to score on a Demaryius Thomas 21-yard reception. The team’s exchanged punts after that, and then Harvin took a short pass from Ponder and turned it into a thrilling 52-yard TD reception to extend the lead to 22-14 late in the 3rd quarter. But Thomas scored again on the Broncos first play of the ensuing drive – making the score 22-21 in favor of the Vikings – and it was apparent this game would go down to the wire with two young QBs – Ponder and Tebow – battling to the end.
The Vikings and Broncos combined for 24 points in the 4th quarter. The Vikings struck first when Harvin – clearly the best player on the field on Sunday – blew past the Broncos defense once again, this time for a 48-yard TD reception to extend the Vikings lead to 29-21. Once again, though, it didn’t take Denver long to respond. Tebow hit Thomas for 42 yards on the first play, then McGahee sprinted into the end zone from 24 yards out. Tebow ran in a 2-point conversion, and the game was tied at 29 midway through the 4th quarter.
Ponder, displaying the poise of a seasoned veteran, marched the Vikings down the field on a 13-play, 59 yard drive. Longwell came on to convert a 39-yard try to salvage points, and the Vikings held a late 32-29 lead. But Denver would not be denied, as Tebow guided the Broncos from their own 20 to the Minnesota 28, allowing K Matt Prater to tie the game at 29. Ponder threw an INT on the Vikings next offensive play, and that allowed the Broncos to position themselves for a game-winning 23-yard try by Prater, which the veteran kicker put through the uprights as time expired.
Sunday marked yet another loss for the Vikings, but it’s not hard to identify positives in the team’s effort. Ponder, Harvin and RB Toby Gerhart all registered career-high performances, as Ponder threw for 381 yards, Harvin tallied 156 receiving yards and Gerhart plowed ahead for 91 tough yards on 21 carries. At the end of the day, though, the Vikings couldn’t come up with a defensive stop when they needed it, and the Broncos made a play on defense – the Ponder INT late in regulation – to set up the game-winning FG.
The Broncos improve to 7-5 on the season and sit atop the AFC West; they’ve won 5 in a row and are 6-1 since Tebow took over as the starter in Week 7. The loss drops the Vikings to 2-10 on the season as they prepare to travel to Detroit for a date with the Lions next Sunday.
Tags: Christian Ponder, Jared Allen, Percy Harvin, Toby Gerhart
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 220 Comments »