Notebook: The replacements step up

The Vikings were without several starters on Sunday, but you wouldn't have known it judging by their production and scoring. The fill-ins performed well on offense and defense.

As the Vikings started their pregame warmups prior to Sunday's 38-14 dismantling of the Buffalo Bills, it looked more like a casting call for The Replacements than it did the Vikings team fans have grown accustomed to seeing.

Pro Bowlers Steve Hutchinson and Percy Harvin were both inactive. Defensive end Ray Edwards was also on the sidelines. Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson was questionable with a sprained ankle. The team was without both of its starting guards, being replaced by Ryan Cook, who had never started at guard prior to two weeks ago, and rookie Chris DeGeare – making his first pro start.

As if the Vikings weren't shorthanded enough, third-string QB Joe Webb was put at wide receiver, only to go down in the first quarter, and, perhaps most troubling, banged up QB Brett Favre suffered a shoulder injury on his first pass and was lost for the game. It had the all the makings of being a Bad News Bears type of game. Instead, the Vikings were Invincible.

Tarvaris Jackson came off the bench to lead the Vikings offense, completing 15 of 22 passes for 187 yards with a pair of touchdown passes to Sidney Rice. He said that, given Favre's deteriorating health, especially over the last month, he's been preparing with the expectation of coming in and taking control of the offense.

"It's something I've had to grow accustomed to," Jackson said. "The last couple of weeks, I've been preparing as though I'm going to start because Brett has been banged up. I know I have to be ready at all times because he plays so hard. You never know when an injury will happen. It's so cliché to say that, but it's really true."

Jackson wasn't the only replacement to make big plays. Defensive end Brian Robison, starting in place of Edwards, said he always prepares as if he's going to start, even though he knows he won't supplant Edwards or Jared Allen if both are healthy. He said that it is just his style and, on Sunday, it paid off with a pair of fumble recoveries.

"I've always prepared like I'm going to start," Robison said. "On both of the fumbles, I was just heading toward the ball. That's what our coaches teach us to do. When the ball came out, I was right there both times and was able to drop on them and give us the ball back."

The wide receiver corps was shorthanded without Harvin and Hank Baskett, who a surprise deactivation Sunday, much less losing Webb in the first quarter. But veteran Greg Camarillo said that the "Iron Three" was ready to get a lot of plays on the field and held up well.

"We didn't find out until the inactives were announced that we were only going to have three of our regular wide receivers going," Camarillo said. "We knew we were going to have a lot of reps and were ready for it. When Joe went down early, we were down to three for the rest of the game. It was a chance for all of us to make plays and, once we got rolling, they started coming."

It was when the inactives were announced that DeGeare found out he would be starting. He has been told to be prepared all week and took all the first-team snaps with Hutchinson sidelined. He said he had a feeling he might get his first career start Sunday, but it wasn't until he was told two hours prior to gametime that Hutch couldn't go that he was finally sure it was going to happen.

He said his attention to detail during the week paid off on Sunday.

"I was well-prepared for them," DeGeare said. "I got a jump-start on them early in the week looking at film, as far as watching tape. I pretty much knew what was coming the whole game. We had a good plan ready for them and executed it pretty well."

In the end, the replacement players all made significant contributions in a team victory and veteran Antoine Winfield said that is the reason teams carry 53 players on the roster – because at any time a backup can get the call into the starting lineup and will be expected to produce.

"One of the strengths of this team is its depth," Winfield said. "We needed all those guys today and the all came through in a big way to give us the victory."

GAME DAY NOTES

  • The Bills entered play with the league's worst run defense and it showed Sunday. The Vikings ran 40 times for 210 yards and three touchdowns. The Bills rushed for just 84 yards on 23 carries.

  • The Vikings outgained the Bills 387-239 – a disparity that was greater but the Vikings went into a fourth-quarter shell offensively and most of the defensive starters were out of the game when the Bills scored their only offensive touchdown.

  • Both of the defenses were among the league's worst on third downs, but each performed much better than usual. The Vikings allowed Buffalo to convert just three of 12 third downs, while the Bills allowed Minnesota to make good on just four of 12 third-down conversion attempts.

  • The Bills are at the bottom of the NFL in time of possession and didn't do themselves any favors Sunday. The Vikings held the ball for almost 34 minutes of Sunday's game.

  • The Vikings have struggled in the red zone this season, but scored 24 points in four possessions Sunday – three touchdowns and one field goal.

  • Fans saw the same old "Good T-Jack, Bad T-Jack" Sunday. Jackson completed 15 of 22 passes for 187 with two touchdowns, but also had three interceptions. However, his passer rating of 85.0 is better than most days Favre has produced. Favre threw just one pass before leaving with a shoulder injury, and that throw was intercepted.

  • Peterson scored his 49th, 50th and 51st rushing touchdowns of his career Sunday, putting him within one of the franchise record of 52 shared by Chuck Foreman (94 games) and Bill Brown (180 games). Peterson has his 51 rushing TDs in just 58 career games.

  • Sidney Rice had five catches for 105 yards and two touchdowns – the first 100-yard game for Rice this season.

  • The Vikings were credited with just one sack, but harassed Ryan Fitzpatrick the entire game.

  • Buffalo's Paul Posluszny had an outstanding game in the losing effort. He recorded 15 tackles (11 solo) with one sack, two tackles for a loss and a QB hurry.

  • The Bills didn't score an offensive touchdown until less than five minutes remained in the game. They had a time-consuming drive to start the fourth quarter, but it ended on a Fitzpatrick fumble of a snap on the 1-yard line that was recovered by Ben Leber.

  • The Vikings didn't commit their first penalty until 11:52 remained in the third quarter. They would finish the game with four penalties for just 20 yards.

  • The Vikings dominated the first-half stats. They held the ball for 18:24 of the game's first 30 minutes, outgaining the Bills 246-41. The Vikings had 160 yards passing and 86 yards rushing in the first half, while Buffalo had 32 yards rushing and just nine yards passing.

  • How dominant was the first half for the Vikings? They picked up 17 first downs, while Buffalo managed just two.

  • The Vikings had their highest-scoring game of the season with eight minutes to play in the first half. Their previous high was 27 in an overtime win over the Cardinals.

  • Both coaches used challenges to their advantage in the first quarter. Jared Allen hit Fitzpatrick from behind and caused what was ruled a fumble on the field and would have given the Vikings the ball on the Buffalo 15-yard line. The Bills won the challenge and retained possession. Later in the quarter, the Vikings challenged an incomplete ruling on the field that was overturned and gave them a 31-yard touchdown to Rice that tied the game at 7-7.

  • Joe Webb, who had been inactive for the first 11 games of the season was not only active Sunday, he returned the opening kickoff. Albert Young replaced him for the final two kickoffs after Webb hurt his hamstring.

  • The paid attendance was 64,012 – the 144th straight sellout at the Metrodome dating back to 1998.


    John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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