MINNEAPOLIS — Quarterback Christian Ponder was struggling and the Minnesota Vikings were going into Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions without league leading receiver Percy Harvin.
Enter little-known fourth-round draft pick Jarius Wright.
Previously compared to Harvin because of their similar stature and speed, Wright stepped in and helped fill Harvin’s role, providing the big play Minnesota’s offense has been seeking most of the year in Sunday’s 30-20 win against Detroit.
On the fifth offensive play for the Vikings, Ponder stepped up in the pocket with plenty of time and found Wright streaking down the field for a 54-yard reception, the longest catch of the season for any Minnesota receiver. Two plays later, Ponder found Wright for his first NFL touchdown to put the Vikings up 7-0.
“I’m not going to lie, I think I enjoyed catching that long pass more (than the touchdown) because it kind of got the team going early,” Wright said. “Of course, the TD does too, but I think the long pass got us going early. I know it got the fans going early too.”
Wright was the team’s first of three fourth-round draft picks in April out of Arkansas, where he set several school records. But after a breakout performance in the final preseason game, Wright was waiting for his turn to be active in a regular season contest.
He suffered a badly sprained ankle in that final preseason game which caused him to miss time and coaches have been keeping an eye on him and trying to decide when he’d be ready to be active for a game. Without Harvin, Sunday provided the opportunity.
“It’s been hard,” Wright said. “It would be hard on anybody that liked to play the game of football and wanted to get out here and help their team. Not saying I hadn’t been helping at practice and everything, but just the opportunity to get out there and help your team on Sunday, I got that chance today and just tried to make the most of it.”
His big catch helped Ponder settled into an early groove, but it was Wright that might have been more relieved with the reception.
“He actually, I think it was Friday, he dropped that in practice and he was really down thinking that we might not call it in the game,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “We all had confidence that he would make that play and Christian delivered a great throw and he did a great job of catching it.”
Frazier said he felt Friday it was unlikely that Harvin was going to make from his sprained ankle in time to play this week, but he wanted to give him a chance to see if the injury improved by Saturday. Frazier said he expects Harvin back for the road game at Chicago following next week’s bye.
No loafing: Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams made comments this week that he thought the team had suffered some “loafs” during last week’s loss at Seattle and the defensive players took issue with the public statements.
“I think a lot of us were upset with that because we didn’t see the loafs,” defensive end Brian Robison said.
“And, you know, I think we’ve all kind of shown our frustrations with him a little bit about that comment because bottom line for us is, we were playing hard, we were playing physical, we were playing fast. Bottom line was, we were just missing tackles and not making the plays we needed to make. To me, it came down to not executing and missing tackles. So, for him to call us out on loafs, that pissed off a lot of people. Bottom line is, we came out today and gave him what he wanted.”
Minnesota’s defense responded, holding Detroit to 60 yards rushing and 1 of 9 on third downs. Much of the Lions’ 308 yards passing came in the fourth quarter after the Vikings had established a lead and were able to keep the lead with the running of Adrian Peterson.
Robison said the players’ made Williams aware they were displeased with the earlier comments.
“I think I made a few comments about it, a little smart-butt comments to him and stuff like that,” Robison said. “That’s the thing with our team. We’re so competitive that if he says things to us, it kind of ticks us off and we want to play better for him. At the same time, we might say some things to him and it might tick him off. So, it’s a love-hate relationship.”
Greenway makes a splash: Linebacker Chad Greenway held on for his first interception since Jan. 3, 2010, coming up with the type of “splash” play that had been missing from the Pro Bowl linebacker. Greenway is annually one of the team’s tackling leaders, but he had gone two-plus seasons without an interception.
Minnesota had two takeaways Sunday and didn’t have a turnover.
“I think it was tipped because it was wobbling when it got to me, so maybe his arm was hit or something,” Greenway said. “But I don’t give a (expletive).
“Felt good. Honestly, I’ve been in positions to make plays and dropped the ball. As a player I put a lot of pressure on myself to go make those plays, that’s what I get paid to. I’m so happy, you guys have no idea. I hope they come in bunches now.”
A good feeling heading into the bye: Minnesota snapped consecutive losses and losses in three of the past four games and entering next week’s bye with some positivity and a clear shot at staying in the playoff picture thanks to the win.
The Vikings (6-4) still have four games remaining in the NFC North, with the home and road contests still remaining against the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers. But they can take solace in heading into the break on a win and feeling good.
“It’s huge,” Robison said. “If we would have lost today it’s one of those things where you have to dwell on it for two weeks. You never want to do that. For us, it’s about getting away, being able to actually relax, rest and not have to worry about things. We’re sitting at 6-4. We’re in a good position. Hopefully we can go at least 4-2 in these last weeks be 10-6 and get into the playoffs.”