A familiar combination of ingredients proved to be the winning recipe for the Vikings on Sunday, as they used their stout defense as a base and sprinkled in plenty of Adrian Peterson for good measure along the way to a 21-14 victory at Mall of America Field. The win was the Vikings 5th of the season and their 4th at home.
The Vikings defense continually repelled Arizona’s offense despite the Cardinals frequently obtaining favorable field position. The Cardinals began a series in Vikings territory 4 times during the 1st half, but came away with just 7 points in those drives. The Cardinals had 7 possessions in the 2nd half and scored a TD on the final one to move the score to 21-14, but the Vikings defense dominated in the first 6 possessions, forcing drives to end in a turnover once, downs twice and a punt 3 times.
CB Antoine Winfield had another outstanding performance, leading the team in tackles for the second consecutive week with 11 stops. He also had a sack on a key 4th-down play. DE Brian Robison registered a standout performance as well, dominating his matchup up and down the field while tallying 3.0 sacks and a forced fumble. The Vikings leading tackler for the season – Chad Greenway – had a solid outing with 7 tackles and 1 tackle for loss (TFL). As he usually is, DE Jared Allen was a factor in the game, adding 2.0 more sacks to his season total, which has risen to 6.0 after he had no sacks in the opening two games of the season.
The key play of the game came early in the 3rd quarter, when Vikings rookie S Harrison Smith stepped in front of a John Skelton pass and intercepted it. Smith, a running back in high school, used good vision, some nifty maneuvering and then finally straight-line speed to weave around and then out-sprint Cardinals offensive players all the way to the end zone for a 31-yard TD, giving the Vikings a 21-7 lead.
After the Smith TD, both the Vikings and Cardinals defenses dominated the game. Arizona held the Vikings to just 58 net yards in the 2nd half and Arizona, while able to rack up yardage, was unable to penetrate the Vikings defense and score. It wasn’t until a late 7-play, 79 drive that Arizona reached the end zone again. That made it a one-score game at 21-14, but the Vikings were able to run out the clock on 4 Peterson carries after recovering the ensuing onside kick.
Speaking of Peterson, he turned in another signature performance. He carried the ball 23 times and churned out 153 yards, placing him in a 1st-place tie with Robert Smith for career 100-yard rushing games in Vikings history. Peterson showed no signs of being nagged by an ankle injury that has limited his practice time the past two weeks, as he dashed through the Cardinals defense several times and carried multiple Cardinals defenders for extra yardage on multiple occasions as well.
Percy Harvin scored the offense’s other TD on a 3-yard pass from QB Christian Ponder in which the diminutive playmaker came out of the backfield to catch the pass in the right flat before making a defender miss and finding a seam to reach the ball into the end zone. Harvin finished the day with 4 receptions for 37 yards and the TD. Harvin actually returned the opening kickoff the game 103 yards for a TD, but an illegal block in the back penalty nullified the return and forced the Vikings to begin on their own 8.
Outside of the running game – 27 carries for 166 yards (6.1 yards per carry) – the Vikings offense failed to generate much of a rhythm, especially in the 2nd half. Ponder was 8 of 17 on the day for 58 yards with the TD toss to Harvin and 2 INTs. He was sacked 3 times and under duress for much of the day.
But Peterson was good enough and the defense was dominant enough to take care of the Cardinals on Sunday. It should also be noted that the Vikings special teams group did well in their goal of limiting the Cardinals explosive punt returner – Patrick Peterson. The 5th overall pick in 2011, Peterson had 4 punt return TDs a season ago. But in his meeting with the Vikings last season, he was held to zero return yards on 4 punts. On Sunday against the Vikings, he was once again limited. Peterson had just 7 total return yards on 4 opportunities and was forced to call 1 fair catch.
In analyzing the overall offensive performance, the late TD allowed by the defense and the 7 penalties for 35 yards called against them, this isn’t the most impressive win of the season. But in the NFL, you never apologize for winning a game. There are too many times when a team plays well but still winds up on the losing end of the scoreboard.
A win is a win, and the Vikings found their 5th of the 2012 season, moving them to 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the NFC.
“A good win for our football team,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. “It’s tough to get wins in the National Football League. We played a good football team today, one that I’m sure in December will be battling for a spot in the playoffs. They’ve got some good players. Our guys battled and battled, and found a way to get a win at home.”
Depending on what happens on Monday night in Chicago, where the Bears are slated to host the Detroit Lions, the Vikings could finish the week atop the NFC North standings. The Bears currently sit at 4-1, meaning a loss would drop them below the Vikings in the standings at 4-2, while a win would put them in 1st place.
The Vikings must turn around quickly this week and prepare for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Vikings and Buccaneers, former NFC Central rivals from 1977-2001, will battle at Mall of America Field on NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Antoine Winfield, Brian Robison, Chad Greenway, Christian Ponder, Harrison Smith, Jared Allen, Leslie Frazier
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