MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings were expected to win Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, and followed through in convincing fashion.
Minnesota didn’t fall into any trap and continued the momentum from wins against the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions the past two weeks, and earned its first three-game win streak since the magical 2009 season. Aside from two turnovers and early penalties, the Vikings (4-1) dominated the Titans (1-4) in Sunday’s 30-7 win.
Here’s how Minnesota pulled through with one of its most impressive wins since 2009:
Pass offense: C
The Vikings finished with 433 yards of total offense and quarterback Christian Ponder passed for 258 yards. The big blows were the first interceptions of Ponder’s season. He went 144 passes to without an interception before throwing picks on back-to-back passes at the end of the first half and early in the second half. But maybe just as importantly was the way Ponder responded from the two interceptions. He ended up coming back with his two touchdowns passes after the interceptions, one a fantastic, short catch-and-run by receiver Percy Harvin and the other a strong grab by tight end Kyle Rudolph with two defenders draped on him. Ponder finished 25 of 35 for 258 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and an 87.6 quarterback rating. The interceptions, one coming in the red zone, were on Ponder, and he called them not “bad decisions. They were bad throws.” Ponder needs to find the balance of opening up the offense a bit, but also being careful with the ball as he has largely done this season.
There are few words to describe Harvin’s play anymore. He is now second in the league in catches after an 8-catch, 108-yard performance Sunday. He added two touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving, and is a threat every time he touches the ball. He showed his versatility by taking a handoff and going four yards up the middle breaking tackles for his touchdown run and then evaded several defenders with nifty moves and then powered through two tackles on his touchdown catch. His 45-yard catch early is the longest offensive play for the team this season. Rudolph had four catches for 23 yards and the touchdown. With receiver Jerome Simpson dealing with a leg injury, Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu came through with three catches a piece, with Jenkins tallying 35 yards and Aromashodu added 34 yards and made two very tough catches.
Even rookie tight end Rhett Ellison caught two passes for 35 yards. Run offense: B
When Minnesota was struggling against the Titans poor run-defense early on, it turns out Adrian Peterson was dealing with an ankle injury he suffered on the second play of the game. The usually focused Peterson said he was “out of whack.” But Peterson said he refocused at halftime and Minnesota’s running game followed. Peterson, who had 35 yards in the first half, 22 of which came on one of his final carries, finished with 88 rushing yards on 17 carries and opened the second half with a 34-yard run, his longest of the season. Backup Toby Gerhart came on and kept the offense rolling with six carries for 41 yards.
The Vikings ended up wearing down the Titans defense, finishing with 175 rushing yards on 31 carries, a 5.6 yards-per-carry average. With a significant lead, Minnesota turned to third-stringer Matt Asiata, who had two carries for eight yards. Harvin’s touchdown run also gives the rushing offense a score to its credit. Harvin had two carries for eight yards. Ponder had three carries for 31 yards.
Pass defense: A
Minnesota’s defense man-handled Tennessee’s offense and backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. The Titans finished with 267 total yards, but much of that came in the fourth quarter when the Vikings held a 23-0 lead. Tennessee entered the fourth quarter with just 96 total yards. In comparison, Harvin had 116 yards by himself through three quarters. The defense harassed Hasselbeck and his receivers all day. Hasselbeck was sacked twice, one each by ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison. Allen, Robison and Everson Griffen were also credited with quarterback hits.
One play after safety Jamarca Sanford nearly had an interception, cornerback Antoine Winfield pulled in the Vikings’ second interception of the season. Linebacker Chad Greenway also had an interception chance bounce off his hands as he stepped in front of the tight end. Tennessee’s late yardage totals came against a relaxed Minnesota defense, and much of the catches and yards came on slants against a Vikings’ defense designed to stop any big plays while nursing a big lead. Sunday was complete domination for Minnesota on defense.
Run defense: A
Chris Johnson came in to Sunday’s game off a 144-yard performance against the Houston Texans’ top-ranked run defense and Tennessee finally believed it had figured out its running game. The Vikings showed last week was a mirage and Johnson had a similar effort to his first three weeks. Johnson was bottled up continuously, finishing with 15 carries for 24 yards and a lost fumble. His long run of the day, nine yards, came with just over two minutes left in the game. In all, the Titans finished with 19 runs for just 52 yards, a 2.7 yards-per-carry average. Tennessee had four runs for losses. Greenway led Minnesota with nine tackles, one for a loss.
Special teams: B
Rookie kicker Blair Walsh was 3 of 3 on his field-goal attempts, converting from 42, 36, and 26 yards. He also had five touchbacks on his seven kickoffs. The Titans didn’t give Harvin the chance for a kick return and punt returner Marcus Sherels had two returns for minus-1 yard. Sherels did have a big return that was negated by a penalty.
Former Viking Darius Reynaud did average 12.5 yards-per-punt return and 30.5 yards-per-kick return. On his longest kick return, Reynaud slipped while trying to make a move.
Minnesota didn’t necessarily play its best game of the season, especially on offense, but there’s little to discriminate following a 23-point win. The Vikings had two turnovers, but caused two turnovers. They had five penalties for 60 yards, but only one penalty came in the second half. Minnesota did what it was supposed to do Sunday, beating a Tennessee team that is down this season. Last year, the Vikings were on the other end of that spectrum and they’ve now managed more wins than they had all of last season in just five weeks. Since the Week 2 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Minnesota has outscored opponents 74-33.