Vikings report card: Not a lot of 'wow,' but a win
NOV 08, 2013 1:44p ET
The relief was evident on the faces of the Minnesota Vikings after Thursday night 34-27 win against Washington. There were smiles all around the locker room after winning at home for the first time this season and avoiding another late-game defensive collapse, snapping a four-game losing streak.
Minnesota (2-7) now has nine days to relax and prepare for its next game, with the good feelings built up from holding on to a win with a strong defensive effort in the season half and the offense tying a season-high with 34 points. Quarterback Christian Ponder had his best game of the season before leaving with an injury.
Here's how the Vikings graded out in each phase on Thursday night against Washington:
Pass offense: B
The numbers don't jump out, but Ponder was at his efficient best and helped lead Minnesota's come-from-behind win. He finished with the highest single-game completion percentage of his career (80.9 percent) after going 17-of-21 passing for 174 yards. He was sacked just once and used his legs to escape pressure while still making plays downfield. He passed for two touchdowns, the first in a Vikings uniform for receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and tight end John Carlson. Ponder recovered well from throwing an interception on his second throw of the game.
Ponder led Minnesota to two touchdown drives in the second half, overcoming a 27-14 deficit. But he suffered a dislocated shoulder while diving for the end zone and had to leave the game. Matt Cassel came in and kept the offense going. Cassel was 4-of-6 passing for 47 yards and led two field-goal drives, including hitting Jerome Simpson for 25 yards on an important third-down. The Vikings were 6-of-10 on third downs and controlled the game in the second half, outscoring Washington 20-3.
Carlson had his best game with Minnesota, while filling in for an injured Kyle Rudolph. He led the team with seven catches for 98 yards. Seven different receivers had catches for the Vikings.
Run offense: B
Again, the numbers don't wow, especially considering the high bar Adrian Peterson has set over the past year. But with the passing offense getting going in the second half, Peterson running hard and the defense finally getting stops, the Vikings controlled the clock in the second half. Minnesota trailed in time of possession, 20 minutes, 40 seconds to 9:20 in the first half. The numbers switched a bit after halftime and the Vikings finished the game only trailing 36:01-23:59.
Peterson finished with 20 carries, as Minnesota was able to stick to the running game on Thursday. He had 75 yards rushing, for a 3.8-yard average. The Vikings averaged 3.8 yards per carry as a team, with Ponder, Toby Gerhart and Cassel adding carries for a team total of 24 carries for 91 yards. Most importantly, Peterson finished one drive with an 18-yard run for a touchdown and one play after Ponder left with an injury, scored his second touchdown walking into the end zone from one yard out.
Pass defense: C
It was a tale of two halves for Minnesota's defense, especially against the pass. Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III was taking full advantage of a short-handed Vikings' defense in the first half. He was 16 of 21 passing for 179 yards and three touchdowns in the first half and wasn't sacked. He hit three different receivers for touchdowns and worked the read-option to perfection, accounting for 21 yards on the ground as well.
Then Minnesota found its pass rush. Kevin Williams had 2.5 sacks, his first multi-sack game since 2009, while playing nose tackle. Griffin was sacked four times in the second half, with Everson Griffen getting one sack and Jared Allen accounting for the other half-sack. Griffin was slowed to 8-of-16 passing in the second half for 102 yards. He did get Washington down to the 4-yard line, but missed on three pass attempts in the final set of downs and Marcus Sherels helped push receiver Santana Moss out of bounds in the end zone on a near-catch on fourth down to seal the Vikings' win.
Run defense: D
Minnesota won't be happy with the effort in the run defense. The Vikings simply missed too many tackles on Washington running back Alfred Morris, one of the tougher backs in the league to bring down. Morris finished with 26 carries for 139 yards and Washington had 191 yards rushing as a team and averaged 5.3 yards per carry, with 44 yards added in from Griffin.
But again, most of the damage was done in the first half. Morris had 17 carries for 88 yards in the first half, which led defensive coordinator Alan Williams to challenge his defense at halftime, particularly in regard to the missed tackles. After Washington was 7 of 8 on third down in the first half, the Vikings held to just 2 of 8 in the second half. Minnesota finally made a defensive stop at home, forcing Washington to punt after 14 straight drives for opponents in the Metrodome had either resulted in points or kneeldowns. Sav Rocca's punt with 3:08 in the third quarter was the first punt by a Vikings' opponent in the Metrodome since the second-to-last series against the Carolina Panthers in Week 6.
Special teams: B
Minnesota's special teams didn't have the chance to be involved much in Thursday's game. Washington kicked away from Patterson, who leads the league in kickoff returns, much of the game, negating his impact. From the start of the game, Washington used high, short pooch kicks to avoid Patterson. Patterson finished with two returns for 37 yards. Gerhart had two returns for 31 yards, and A.J. Jefferson and Joe Webb also had returns as up-men in the kickoff formation. As a result, the Vikings average starting position was the 32-yard line, but didn't have any big plays from Patterson.
Kicker Blair Walsh was good on his two field-goal attempts and perfect on point-after attempts after missing the first of his career last week. Washington averaged 24.7 yards on three kickoff returns and Walsh had four touchbacks. Punter Jeff Locke punted just once, a 50-yarder. Punt returner Marcus Sherels did have a nifty 20-yard run, helping set up Minnesota with prime field position for one of its two second-half touchdown drives.
The Vikings really couldn't have asked for much more from Thursday night's game other than Ponder staying healthy, especially after the way the game started with Washington controlling the game in the first half and leading 24-14 at halftime. But Minnesota responded, as did Ponder after his early interception, and earned its first win at home, and first win the United States this season. Coaching deserves credit as well for the strong second-half turnaround.
And now the Vikings get to rest, with a weekend off and nine days before having to go on the road to face the Seattle Seahawks. Ponder's status won't be known until next week, but Minnesota is able to bask in earning a home win Thursday night.
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