Throughout the 2011 season, the Vikings have found themselves with leads in the second half, only to have their opponent dominate time of possession when it mattered most, imposing their will and wearing down a tired Vikings defense. In Sunday's 24-21 win over the Carolina Panthers, the Vikings flipped the script in a time-consuming turning point of the game.
After the Panthers took the opening kick of the second half and drove 80 yards for a touchdown, Carolina led 21-14 and it looked like it was going to be a lot of the same that Vikings fans have seen throughout the start of the 2011 season. But, with 7:39 to play in the third quarter, the Vikings finally looked like the team in the second half that everyone thought they could be. And the Vikings used all of their stars to get the job done.
Pinned on their own 10-yard line to start their second possession of the second half, the Vikings went old-school and ran the ball down the Panthers' throat to get out of the shadow of their own end zone. Backup Toby Gerhart had runs of four, nine and 11 yards and Adrian Peterson had runs of nine and 15 yards to get the Vikings into Panthers territory. When it appeared as though the Panthers could get off the field, Christian Ponder threw a perfect 12-yard dart to Visanthe Shiancoe to keep the drive alive. Peterson did the dirty work from there, picking up a first down with a 12-yard check-down pass and refusing to go down on a nine-yard touchdown run. It capped a 12-play, 90-yard drive that took 5:31 off the clock to tie the game at 21-21 with 1:58 to play in the third quarter.
After getting burned with long drives and third-down conversions in the first half, the Vikings defense got its second straight three-and-out from the Panthers offense. While the Vikings weren't able to take advantage, the offense converted a pair of third downs on great individual effort by Shiancoe on a third-and-10 and a third-and-short conversion by Peterson to help keep the clock rolling on a drive that lasted 3:25.
Asked to stand tall again, the Vikings defense rose to the challenge, forcing Cam Newton into a third straight three-and-out on offense and got the Vikings offense back on the field with 9:49 to play.
"When our defense came back and got those three-and-outs after the first touchdown coming out of the half, it was big," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "I think it was three consecutive three-and-outs if my memory serves me right. For our defense to bounce back and stand up and meet that challenge, that's a high-powered offense, one of the top-five offenses in the league. To shut them down the way they did in the second half gives you hope for things ahead for our defense. We need that from a confidence standpoint."
What would follow would be perhaps the drive of the season.
Faced with a third-and-7, Ponder completed a screen to Percy Harvin, who was not going to be denied despite playing with a significant rib injury. In a tremendous individual effort, Harvin shook off two tacklers and dragged another for 11 yards and a first down. Ponder then took over, completing passes of 15 yards to Devin Aromashodu for one first down and a 22-yarder to Harvin for another to get the Vikings into Panthers territory. One play later when Peterson broke off a 12-yard run, the Vikings were in scoring position. They forced the Panthers to burn one of their timeouts and capped off the 13-play drive with a 31-yard field goal from Ryan Longwell to take a 24-21 lead.
While the Panthers shot themselves in the foot by missing an identical 31-yard field goal in the waning seconds of the game, it was the Vikings who dictated the pace and tone of the second half. In a 20-minute span from midway through the third quarter to the go-ahead field goal with 2:43 to play, the Vikings held Carolina without a first down and held the ball for almost 15 of those 20 minutes, grinding out a retro-style turning point.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Turning point: Vikings control second half
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