With the Vikings playing their first prime time game at the Metrodome since 2009 Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they had a fired-up crowd ready to cheer them on. All the fans were looking for was the first completion of the game by Christian Ponder to get them in full throat roaring their approval. The fact that the first completion didn't come until the Vikings were trailing 10-0 – and even that play was a disaster – made for a frustrating, ugly turning point of the game.
Ponder didn't complete his first pass until less than two minutes remained in the first quarter after missing on his first five attempts and, despite chances to get the crowd into the action and make things difficult for the Buccaneers, the loudest noise early in the game was the crowd booing the offense, not cheering it.
"You can't put yourself in a hole like that the way we came out," tight end Kyle Rudolph said. "We started slow and then turned the ball over. It put a lot of pressure on our defense. We need to take it upon ourselves to start fast, move the ball down the field and sustain drives."
The Buccaneers won the coin toss but opted to defer and let the Vikings have the ball first. In four of the previous five games that the Vikings got the ball first, including their big wins over San Francisco and Detroit, they scored on their first drive. Thursday night it was a very different story.
Ponder's first pass of the game was a throwaway when he was under pressure and didn't have an open receivers. Faced with a third-and-2 one play later, Ponder threw a horrible pass that had no chance of being completed. While the Buccaneers failed to take immediate advantage, when Ponder had two more incompletions on the next drive and Chris Kluwe shanked a 20-yard punt, Tampa Bay was near midfield and would take advantage – using a 41-yard run by rookie running back Doug Martin to get into scoring position and cash in with a field goal to take a 3-0 lead.
On the next Vikings drive, a miscommunication on third down between Ponder and Jerome Simpson led to a pass that landed 15 yards away from anyone and again brought out the boo birds – which only got louder when the Bucs drove 48 yards for a touchdown and a 10-0 lead with 3:34 to play in the first quarter.
After Adrian Peterson used a pair of 11-yard runs to get the fans back into the game, Ponder finally completed a short pass to Simpson, but he had the ball stripped by defensive end Michael Bennett, a turnover Tampa Bay converted into another field goal and a 13-0 lead that was never seriously threatened from that point forward.
"I just got hit. I've just got to tuck the ball and be aware what the situation is and where I am on the field," Simpson said. "Guys are going to be flying in there, trying to strip the ball. He got a good lick on me and I fumbled the ball."
Peterson admitted that the sputtering of the offense is something that can be a source of angst, but said the team can try to make the most out of their lackluster performance and learn from the numerous mistakes they made.
"It can get frustrating sometimes, but you can't show that during the game," Peterson said. "You have to stay focused. I thought we did that, but just want to continue it – stay on a roll with it. We're going to back to the drawing board, try to continue to improve each week and learn from this game. We'll come back a better offense."
Much like their Week 2 loss to Indianapolis, it wasn't so much that the Buccaneers dominated the Vikings early, but that the Vikings were their own worst enemies and created their own negative turning point.
"It's something we have to keep working on," Rudolph said. "We had spurts where we moved the ball fine. I think we have to stop shooting ourselves in the foot. When you play teams that have strong defenses like Arizona and Tampa these last two weeks, you can't keep shooting yourself in the foot. Teams like that will take advantage of it."
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.
Turning point: Offense sputters early
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