Game 4: Highlights, Lowlights and Notes

The Vikings overcame having to play a number of backups Sunday in Houston, and we kept tabs on those their performances. Plus a few bad trends reversed while other negative stats continued.

Sunday' game in Houston for the Vikings was a measure of how the backups would perform in the wake of injuries across the starting ranks. With that, we take a look at how those players fared.

Rookie running back Mewelde Moore, making his first start because of injuries to Michael Bennett and Moe Williams, and a four-game suspension for Onterrio Smith, had an average start, but he quickly came alive.

On the Vikings' first drive, he broke one run for 7 yards, but lost a yard on his second carry and got knocked back while picking up the blitz as well.

On the second drive, he led the offense to a touchdown, and continued his strong play in both the running and passing game. He ended the game with 92 yards rushing on 20 carries and 90 yards receiving on 12 catches. Not a bad first effort.

The Vikings had plenty of new starters, and two of those were on the offensive line. Cory Withrow made his first start at center, filling in for Pro Bowler Matt Birk, who suffered an ankle injury two weeks ago. Birk dressed for the game, and played only the final series of the game after Withrow suffered what appears to be a minor knee injury.

Withrow made a mistake on the first drive. The Vikings were facing second-and-11 on the 50-yard line and Culpepper signaled for the shotgun snap adamantly while the play clock was winding down. Culpepper was forced to call a time out. After that, Withrow settled down and handled the tough assignments against a blitzing 3-4 defense.

Also making his first start was rookie tackle Nat Dorsey, who was starting on the right side after Mike Rosenthal was placed on injured reserve and Dorsey performed better than Adam Haayer, who started two weeks ago against Chicago.

Dorsey began the game with a false start on the Vikings' second play from scrimmage. According to a FOX stat, the most false starts in the National Football League have occurred at Reliant Stadium in Houston, and the Vikings helped contribute to that (see "Flagged" below).

Oft-injured linebacker Raonall Smith was another player making his first start. Smith showed up positively in the first quarter. On the Texans' first drive, they were facing third-and-2 inside Minnesota territory. When running back Domanick Davis got the handoff, Smith strung out the play and got the first hand on Davis. When the defensive help arrived, Davis lost 3 yards and the Vikings forced a Houston punt.

Smith continued to play well the rest of the afternoon, finishing with five tackles, as the Vikings waded through a mix of linebackers in and out of the lineup. They made some expected coverage mistakes but generally fared well.

Chris Hovan kept his starting streak intact, extending it to 48, but after the first play from scrimmage he was pulled for Steve Martin. The Vikings had considered starting Martin in response to lackluster play and a leg bruise suffered during practice this week.

The two defensive tackles continued to rotate most of the game, with Martin playing the base defense and Hovan coming in on passing downs. The limited reps may have helped Hovan, as he seemed to play more disciplined and registered his first sack of the season.

The Vikings haven't scored a touchdown in the first quarter yet this year. That trend continued in Houston when Moore was brought down at the 1-yard line on the last play of the scoreless first quarter. Two plays later, Culpepper hit Randy Moss on a slant for a 1-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

The Vikings haven't had many glaring mistakes for time management this season, but on the road they struggled in the first half. Daunte Culpepper had to use all three of his timeouts (and thereby eliminating the possibility to challenge a call) with 6:30 still left in the half.

In the second half, Mike Tice challenged a key fourth-quarter reception for Houston, but the Vikings were denied on their challenge. On the next series, Culpepper had to burn the team's second time out of the second half when the play clock was winding down too far. They wouldn't need that one at the end of regulation, but they had to burn their first one of overtime at 7:47 as the play clock wore down again. That one didn't hurt either, as Culpepper hit Marcus Robinson two plays later with the game-winning 50-yard touchdown pass.

The Vikings also had four false starts in the first half, all by different players. That wasn't exactly ground-breaking in Houston, however, as Oakland had eight false starts at Reliant Stadium last week. The second half wasn't any better, as the Vikings start falsely two more times — both by Nat Dorsey — in the second half. Dorsey ended up with three false starts.

While time management might have been an issue in Houston, turnovers were not. Culpepper didn't throw an interception and the Vikings didn't fumble.

The lack of turnovers, however, followed the Vikings to the defensive backfield, where they have yet to get an interception. The best chance they had was at the beginning of the fourth quarter, when linebacker Keith Newman had perfect coverage on a tight end and batted a pass down instead of making the interception.

Darren Bennett entered the game with only five punts in three games. Sunday in Houston, Bennett had eight punts (nine if you count having to punt twice because of a penalty on the last attempt). Maybe he gets better with practice, as he averaged 40.6 yards in the Houston game and entered it averaging only 34.0 yards.

The Vikings deactivated QB Shaun Hill (emergency QB), RB Michael Bennett, LB Chris Claiborne, LB E.J. Henderson, T Adam Haayer, TE Jermaine Wiggins, DE Chuck Wiley and DT Spencer Johnson.

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