EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — For about 17 minutes of Sunday’s game, the Minnesota Vikings were boosted by the reigning MVP, running back Adrian Peterson, and the Detroit Lions were the mistake-filled team they’ve become known for.
But mistakes ultimately doomed Minnesota and the newest player on Detroit, running back Reggie Bush, changed the Lions’ fate. The Vikings had four turnovers and Bush had 191 total yards as Minnesota lost the season-opener 34-24 on the road.
Here’s five takeaways from the Vikings’ loss:
1. Ponder didn’t look more comfortable
Christian Ponder is entering his third season as Minnesota’s starting quarterback. The offseason talk was Ponder’s continued development and his progression as a leader. Ponder spoke about his confidence on Wednesday in his weekly press conference. Saying it, and Ponder translating it to the field are two different things.
Ponder may be in his third season, but he still hasn’t proven himself as an NFL quarterback. Consistency has been needed and the bad Ponder showed up Sunday. He was responsible for all four of the Vikings’ turnovers. He threw three interceptions, which ties his career high. His last three interception game was at Detroit on Dec. 11, 2011. A botched exchange between Ponder and Peterson — coming after Ponder was tripped by guard Brandon Fusco — resulted in a lost fumble, which gets charged to Ponder.
Ponder, who finished 18 of 28 for 236 yards and a touchdown, was inaccurate and also felt pressure in the pocket and the questions about his viability as a starter remain.
2. Peterson can make guys miss, but needs help
Peterson again proved he didn’t need the preseason. On his first carry of the season, preseason included, Peterson went 78 yards for a touchdown. Peterson had an opening on the left side opened up by tight end Rhett Ellison on a lead block and then made a vicious cut, leaving Detroit rookie cornerback Darius Slay falling down, and then was off to the races to give Minnesota a lead.
But Peterson was bottled up often by the Lions and their stout defensive line. Peterson had 15 yards rushing on his final 18 carries, finishing with 93 yards on 18 carries. He had two rushing touchdowns and added four catches for 18 yards and another touchdown. Peterson didn’t see much daylight after his first carry and was often hit quickly after getting the handoff. Minnesota’s offensive line struggled to provide many holes for Peterson and he didn’t have much room to create on his own.
3. The missing piece
Bush was electric in his first regular-season game with the Lions and seems a perfect fit for their wide-open, pass-heavy style. Detroit hoped it was getting a game-changing back when it drafted Jahvid Best in the first round in 2010. Concussions kept Best from making the impact Bush provided Sunday.
Bush, a quick, versatile player, had 21 carries for 90 yards and the Lions attacked Minnesota with a short, quick passing game with Bush getting five catches for 101 yards. He took a quick screen 77 yards for a touchdown, showing off his speed by running straight up the middle of the Vikings’ defense untouched. Minnesota handled Calvin Johnson for the most part — he nearly had two touchdowns, one overruled on a review and one in which he stepped on the end line. Johnson had just four catches for 37 yards. But Bush, backup running back Joique Bell (five catches, 67 yards) and receiver Nate Burleson (six catches, 78 yards) did the damage working underneath the defense.
4. Missing the big ticket
Sunday demonstrated how much Kevin Williams still means to Minnesota’s defense. Detroit, was able to have success running inside with Bush and Bell. The Lions ended up with 33 rushes for 117 yards and often went at Williams’ usual spot inside. The big defensive tackle missed Sunday’s game with a knee injury. He said he expects to play next week and the Vikings’ will need him against Matt Forte and the Chicago Bears.
Minnesota filled in with a mix of Fred Evans and rookie Sharrif Floyd and were too often pushed out of the play by the Lions’ offensive line and new middle linebacker Erin Henderson wasn’t in position to plug the hole. Williams should return, and Evans can go back to his natural rotation with Letroy Guion at the other tackle spot, but the Vikings were exploited in the middle on Sunday without Williams.
5. Mistakes reign
The Lions, even in victory, proved they are still the Lions. Minnesota, meanwhile, made even more mistakes. Detroit routinely hurt itself early in the game. A botched field goal attempt meant no points on the first possession, despite a 58-yard drive. Johnson’s dropped touchdown happened on the second drive. On the next possession, the Lions converted a fourth-and-1 in the red zone, but were called for holding and had to settle for a field goal. Ndamukong Suh’s penalty for a low block negated a touchdown on an interception return later. Detroit had 11 penalties for 88 yards.
But Minnesota couldn’t capitalize on all of the Lions’ mistakes. The Vikings had four turnovers to Detroit’s two. They had five penalties for 52 yards. On the Lions’ final scoring drive, Evans was called for roughing the passer and Xavier Rhodes was given a pass interference penalty, both coming on failed third-down pass and extended the drive for Detroit, allowing the Lions to score for the winning 34-24 margin.