Slow starts had been the bane of the Vikings in their first two games of the season. They had consistently shown they could get their offensive act together in the second half against lesser opponents, but, with the high-flying San Francisco 49ers coming into the Metrodome Sunday, there were worries of a lopsided score. It was lopsided, but lopsided in the Vikings' favor, as long, effective offensive drives led to touchdowns, not field goals, and an impressive turning point of the game.
"I think we executed (well)," said wide receiver Percy Harvin, who caught nine passes for 89 yards. "Christian (Ponder) did a great job managing the game. Our front seven did a heck of a job blocking their front seven. It was a good all-around win."
It got started early for the Vikings. After San Francisco won the coin toss, they deferred to the Vikings, which proved to be mistake. The Vikings marched on a 16-play drive that covered 82 yards, and took 7 minutes, 40 seconds off the first-quarter clock. The Vikings didn't face a third-down situation until they got across midfield and, when they did, they converted two in a row – one on an Adrian Peterson run on third-and-1 and the second on an 11-yard pass to Kyle Rudolph on a third-and-10 play. When San Francisco finally did make a stop on third down, it was at the 1-yard line and there was no doubting that the Vikings would go for paydirt.
"We wanted it too bad," Harvin said. "We were down on the 2-yard line, we looked at Coach (Frazier) and said, ‘We're already down here, there's no need to kick a field goal.' It was a tone-setter. We came out and wanted to play smashmouth football and I think we did that."
Ponder finished the drive with a 1-yard pass to Rudolph to give the Vikings a 7-0 lead they would never surrender.
Things didn't change much in the second quarter. The Vikings had the ball twice and drove 80 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown on their first drive of the second quarter – capped off with a 23-yard scramble for a touchdown by Ponder – and the second was a nine-play drive in just 52 seconds that led to a field goal to give the Vikings a 17-3 lead at halftime.
The defense got pushed into a hole on the opening kickoff of the third quarter that got the 49ers to the Vikings' 14-yard line, but the defense made a critical stop and forced the Niners to settle for a field goal to keep the lead at 14-6.
"The offense and defense both fed off each other," Harvin said. "(Chad) Greenway pulled the offense to the side a couple of times and said the defense was feeding off of us. We were feeding off the defense. When you get a game like that, everyone is having fun."
After San Francisco cut the Vikings' lead to 17-13 with 6:17 to play in the third quarter, it was up to the Vikings offense to put together another drive that would salt the game away.
Pinned on their own 14-yard line and momentum slipping away from them, Harvin and Adrian Peterson took over. Peterson picked up a pair of first downs (one rushing, one receiving) and Harvin caught three passes for 30 yards and added a 9-yard run. The 12-play drive ate up seven minutes of clock time and ended when Rudolph caught his second touchdown of the day.
For a team that struggled to get its offense rolling early in their first two games, it was sustained drives that ended in touchdowns, not field goals, that made a turning point of the game that might finally help erase the brutal 2011 season and put it in the rearview mirror for good.
"This was a huge game for us to springboard our season," Rudolph said. "That was a great football team we beat. You have to give them a lot of credit. But this was a huge one for us."
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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