Vikings report card: Adrian Peterson leads Minnesota to victory
Relief was the overriding feeling in the Minnesota Vikings’
locker room after Sunday’s 23-20 overtime win against the Chicago Bears.
Relief amid a season that has gone downhill, with Minnesota
being near the bottom of the NFC standings but largely competitive all year.
Relief from not losing in overtime for the second straight contest. Relief
after a game in which Minnesota appeared prime to lose, then win, then lose and
win again. Blair Walsh’s 34-yard field goal, his third chance of overtime, gave
the Vikings the win and a 3-8-1 record.
Here’s how Minnesota graded out in each phase on Sunday:
Pass offense: B
The Vikings’ success in the passing game came with the
switch to Matt Cassel at quarterback. Christian Ponder showed concussion
symptoms after taking a hit at the end of the first half, completing a half in
which he was 3-of-8 passing for 40 yards and sacked three times. Cassel had one
play at the end of the half, a handoff to Toby Gerhart.
In the second half, Cassel added another dimension to
Minnesota’s offense with Adrian Peterson controlling the game on the ground.
Cassel was 20 of 33 for 243 yards passing in the second half and overtime. He
connected with Greg Jennings for a big 8-yard touchdown pass after being
flushed from the pocket. He threw one interception, which was the result of the
pass bouncing off tight end Rhett Ellison’s hands right at the goal line.
More importantly, Cassel made the plays when needed, driving
the Vikings down the field late in the fourth quarter for a tying field goal
with 24 seconds left in regulation. Cassel hit Jerome Simpson on a 20-yard pass
on 4th-and-11 from the 8-yard line. He also connected with Simpson for 24
yards, John Carlson for 17 yards and Jarius Wright for 21 yards to get Walsh
within striking distance.
With Cassel under center, Jennings emerged again. He had a
team-high seven catches for 78 yards and his first touchdown since catching two
from Cassel in Week 4. Simpson had three catches for 76 yards. In all, nine
players caught a pass on Sunday.
Run offense: A
Adrian Peterson has been limited with a groin injury. You
don’t say? Peterson didn’t break off any of the long, explosive plays he’s
become known for, but he controlled Sunday’s game. Peterson’s long carry of the
day was 23 yards, but he finished with a career-high 35 carries for 211 yards.
Minnesota ran for 246 yards as a team against Chicago’s league-worst run
Gerhart played a bigger role the past two weeks, but Sunday
was all about Peterson. He became the third-fastest player in NFL history to
reach 10,000 yards for his career and finished with the fifth 200-yard rushing
game of his career, which is just one away from the all-time record. Peterson
is now leading the league in rushing this season with 1,208 yards and appears
primed for another strong finish to a season. Peterson was consistent on Sunday
and big when he needed to be. He had 72 rushing yards in the first half, 88 in
the second half and then had nine carries for 51 yards in overtime. Rookie
Cordarrelle Patterson also showed a new wrinkle by lining up in the backfield
and scoring on a 33-yard run.
Pass defense: D
Alshon Jeffery is all that needs to be written. Jeffery
almost single-handedly gave Chicago a win. He was targeted 15 times and had 12
catches for 249 yards and two touchdowns. He started the second half with an
80-yard touchdown reception and then went up over Minnesota cornerback Chris
Cook for a 46-yard touchdown, which led to a Cook ejection after he bumped an
official while arguing the play. Quarterback Josh McCown was 23 of 36 for 355
yards passing, but was sacked four times.
The defense tightened after Jeffery’s final touchdown and
Minnesota scored the final 13 points of the game to win. Chicago was only 2 of
11 on third downs. Three of the Vikings’ four sacks came in the second half and
overtime and Minnesota got a turnover after McCown inexplicably tried a pass as
he was falling that went off a Vikings’ defender to offensive lineman Kyle
Long. Long caught the ball and tried to run and eventually fumbled. Minnesota’s
defense has been much maligned, and Jeffery looked like he was going to keep
the misery going, but the Vikings might have taken a step defensively on
Run defense: C
The final numbers skew the Minnesota run defense a bit.
Chicago’s Matt Forte finished with 120 yards on 23 carries. Michael Bush added
one 15-yard carry for 135 yards for the Bears at 5.4 yards per carry. Forte did
much of his damage on one run in the second half, a 41-yarder which helped set
up Jeffery’s second touchdown.
The Vikings probably won’t be happy allowing 135 yards
rushing, but there were signs of improvement as well. Forte’s one big run
overshadowed several stops by Minnesota, which also had better tackling. The
third-down defense and the late-game stops were key Sunday.
Special teams: C
The game twisted and turned on special teams. In most
occasions, that would be good for the Vikings’ usually strong units. Minnesota
originally thought it had won when Walsh hit a 39-yard field goal in overtime,
but Ellison was hit with a facemask penalty and the Vikings’ celebration ended
quickly. After a Peterson carry that lost yards, Walsh set up for a 57-yard
field goal attempt which he missed. He said he tried to hit the ball too hard,
but knew he’d get another chance. Bears kicker Robbie Gould missed a 47-yarder
to give Walsh another chance and he ended the game with a 34-yard field goal.
Minnesota also strangely gave Devin Hester a chance for a
return after tying the game in regulation and Hester — long a pain for the
Vikings — had a 57-yard return that gave Chicago a late chance.
Punter Jeff Locke didn’t give Hester much of a chance at
punt returns, with a 44-yard gross average and 42.7-yard net average.
Minnesota’s returners didn’t get much of a chance, with the Bears avoiding
This has been a strange and difficult season for the
Vikings, but they have not given in despite the circumstances. Minnesota has
been in almost every game this year and could be looking at much different
circumstances with a few plays here or there. Many teams can say similar things
in the parity-driven NFL. But the Vikings continue to push, having won two of
the past four games, and nearly beat Green Bay last week before tying.
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