MINNEAPOLIS — There will be no lingering frustration heading into the bye week for the Minnesota Vikings after Sunday’s 34-24 win.
Minnesota knew the importance of beating the Detroit Lions on Sunday. The Vikings wanted to end their two-game slide and be able to head into the off week with positive feelings. They wanted to put Detroit (4-5) squarely behind them. And after last year’s 3-13 debacle, Minnesota wanted, and did, stay right in the thick of the NFC playoff picture at 6-4.
Sunday’s victory was an all-around team effort. A dominating first-half defense combined with improvement in the passing game helped build the lead, and running back Adrian Peterson finished off the win.
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Here’s how each phase graded out for the Vikings on Sunday:
Pass offense: B
This was the game quarterback Christian Ponder needed. Ponder had received plenty of heat for underwhelming performances lately and took the brunt of the criticism for the lack of a passing attack to balance Peterson’s big games. Sunday, Ponder also looked more like the developing quarterback he showed earlier this season, such as the big win against the San Francisco 49ers. And it was all with leading receiver Percy Harvin sitting out with his ankle injury.
Ponder showed more awareness in the pocket, such as the way he stepped forward, kept his eyes downfield and found rookie receiver Jarius Wright for the momentum-building 54-yard pass on the fifth offensive play. Ponder made confident throws, often in tight spaces, that he had been missing, or reluctant to try in recent weeks. Ponder finished 24 of 32 for 221 yards and two touchdowns. He avoided turnovers and was sacked just once, with a better performance from the offensive line. He completed passes to 10 different receivers — including himself. Really, his yardage total would have been better if not for the tipped pass that he caught for a 15-yard loss. Peterson was again big, but for the Vikings into the bye, perhaps no aspect was more important than Ponder having a good, confidence-building game.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph got involved again. After two total catches over the last three games, Rudolph hauled in seven of his 9 targets for 64 yards and a touchdown. Wright, playing in his first NFL game, had three catches for 65 yards and a touchdown. And Jerome Simpson had three catches for 28 yards.
Run offense: A
What is left to say about Peterson and his amazing recovery from knee surgery? Peterson topped 100 yards for the fourth straight game. He had a run of over 60 yards for the third straight game. He’s totaled 629 yards the past four games with five touchdowns. Sunday, he had a season-high 27 carries for 171 yards. And he came through when Minnesota needed him, providing the ultimate closing element in the game with 120 yards rushing in the fourth quarter, including a 61-yard touchdown run that essentially finished off Detroit.
Peterson averaged 6.3 yards per carry and is averaging a career-high 5.8 yards per carry this season. Minnesota finished with 189 yards rushing with Ponder’s seven rushes for 15 yards. With the defense, passing and running game, the Vikings had a 34:24-25:36 lead in time of possession. And the balance helped sustain drives.
Pass defense: C
Detroit passed for 308 net yards and All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson finished with 12 catches for 207 yards and a touchdown. But those stats are misleading. Minnesota’s defense really held the Lions for much of the game, and Stafford was able to build up big numbers in the second half, and also when the Vikings had control of the game. In the first half, Detroit had just 76 yards passing and was 0 of 6 on third downs.
The Lions finished 1 of 9 on third downs. Stafford was sacked twice, once each by Kevin Williams and Everson Griffen, but he was also pressured several times causing him to miss several passes and sometimes revert to sidearm and off-balance throws. Detroit entered the week as the league’s top passing team, and aside from the late stat-building, Minnesota has to feel confident in how it was able to hold the Lions for most of the game.
Run defense: A
Vikings’ defenders are probably sighing with relief after shutting down Detroit’s running game. The Lions had run the ball well in recent weeks with second-year back Mikel Leshoure and backup Joique Bell. Minnesota had struggled the past four weeks containing opponents. Sunday, both teams looked like their old selves, Detroit unable to run and the Vikings bottling up everything and rallying to the runners for gang tackles.
Leshoure had 13 carries for 43 yards. The Lions had 17 carries for 60 yards and Minnesota never seemed threatened by Detroit’s running game. Without the balance, the Vikings were able to get after Stafford, the formula the defense wants and used earlier this season.
Special teams: B
Not having Harvin also cost the team its electrifying returner. Marcus Sherels took all of the kickoff and punt returns. He didn’t do anything spectacular, but he’s the solid, steady returner the Vikings know they can count on. He had a 20.5-yard average on four kickoff returns and two punt returns for six yards, with four fair catches. A temporary scare came on a short kick by the Lions, fielded by defensive tackle Christian Ballard, who fumbled, but Minnesota recovered.
Blair Walsh was perfect again on four field goals and had six touchbacks. Walsh seemed to be kicking higher and shorter but Detroit returner Stefan Logan was hesitant to bring the ball out and had two returns for 36 yards, both time bringing the ball out of the end zone giving the Lions’ worse field position than had Walsh simply booted the ball out of the end zone.
Punter Chris Kluwe had a strong 48.6-yard gross average with two punts finishing inside the 10-yard line. His 35-yard net average was hurt by one 31-yard return by Logan with Kluwe kicking the ball 54 yards, but Logan had the chance to return.
Minnesota needed this game for several reasons and played like it. All phases of the team contributed to the win. And the aspects that had troubled Minnesota in recent games, such as the passing offense and rushing defense, came through with comeback efforts. Following a franchise-tying losses last season, the Vikings have a shot at the playoffs this season. The final six games are tough, with two games each against the Chicago Bears (7-2) and Green Bay Packers (6-3) and a road game at Houston (8-1). But Minnesota has surprised this season, already outperforming many outside expectations. After going winless in the NFC North last year, the Vikings have swept Detroit with four games in the division remaining.