FIVE POTENTIAL STARTERS DEACTIVATED
The Vikings' injury woes were never clearer than when viewing their list of deactivations before Sunday's game. Besides having tight end Jim Kleinsasser, right tackle Mike Rosenthal and nickel back Ken Irvin on injured reserve, head coach Mike Tice also decided — or was forced by injury — to sit another five potential starters against Jacksonville.
The biggest surprise deactivation was sitting down defensive tackle Chris Hovan. A Vikings official told Viking Update that were no injury concerns with Hovan, unlike the other potential starters on the deactivation list who weren't on injured reserve. Rookie free agent Spencer Johnson made the start in Hovan's place, and Steve Martin and Darrion Scott rotated into the interior lineup, spelling Johnson and Kevin Williams. Hovan stood on the sideline with his sweatshirt hood up and cap on throughout the game.
The Vikings also deactivated running back Mewelde Moore. Earlier this week the Vikings had talked about Moore being recovered enough from his high ankle sprain to be able to play, but with a solid role covering punts and kicks, Moore ran into a numbers game. Moore, a fourth-round pick this year, entered the game as the team's leading rusher with 376 yards.
Right tackle Nat Dorsey was also deactivated after suffering a shoulder strain in last Sunday's win over Detroit, meaning the Vikings started their fourth right tackle this season. Adam Goldberg, a second-year player who signed as a rookie free agent after the 2003 draft, made his first career start. Adam Haayer had also started a game at right tackle immediately after Rosenthal went down with his broken foot. Haayer played much of the game when David Dixon sprained his knee.
Pro Bowl center Matt Birk was also deactivated after having his second hernia surgery of the year on Friday. Cory Withrow started in Birk's place, and Billy Conaty, signed again last week, served as Withrow's backup.
The fifth potential starter deactivated was linebacker Raonall Smith, who is still recovering for two concussions in three weeks during the middle of the season. Chris Claiborne returned from a calf injury just in time to replace Smith, but Smith had been making a move to take over that starting spot full-time just before his concussions struck.
David Dixon left the game on the Vikings' first drive with a sprained right knee and was replaced by Adam Haayer.
Without Matt Birk in the lineup, the offensive line at that point consisted of Bryant McKinnie, Chris Liwienski, Withrow, Haayer and Goldberg.
UGLY PLAY OF THE GAME
Jacksonville tried to get creative on their second drive, but the play was executed about as badly as it could be. Wide receiver Troy Edwards took a reverse and turned to throw while in heavy traffic. He threw backwards across the field to quarterback Byron Leftwich. When he overthrew Leftwich, the quarterback simply tried to bat the ball further back instead of picking it up or falling on it. Lucky for Jacksonville, guard Vince Manuwai recovered the ball — but not until a 24-yard loss.
The Vikings had been outscored 54-27 in the first quarter this year, and it showed during their three-game losing stretch when they were trying to make a comeback in the fourth quarters.
However, Jacksonville was struggling even worse in the first quarter this year. The Jaguars had been outscored 41-14 in the first quarter.
The Vikings built a 3-0 lead in the first quarter Sunday despite going 0-for-2 on third-down conversions. Culpepper missed the first third-down attempt with a 4-yard scramble on third-and-5, and Marcus Robinson dropped a pass on the second third-down attempt of the quarter.
Some things never seem to change. The kicking game continues to haunt the Vikings. In the first half, Jose Cortez's kickoffs went to the 10-yard line, 9-yard line and out of bounds to allow Jacksonville to start at the 40-yard line.
In contrast, the Jaguars' Josh Scobee kicked three deep into the end zone to earn three touchbacks.
On Cortez's first kickoff of the second half, he finally kicked one into the end zone for a touchback, which brought a thunderous ovation and Mike Tice turning around to the crowd with arms raised in triumph. It was exactly a game-winning field goal, but it was baby step forward. While Minnesota averaged starting at the 20-yard line, Jacksonville averaged starting at the 35.
Punter Darren Bennett had a much better game. He averaged 49 yards on his two punts, and the Jaguars averaged only 5.5 yards per punt return.
RED FLAGS FLYING
Mike Tice's only challenge of the first half proved somewhat costly again. With seven minutes to play in the first half, Onterrio Smith took a run 4 yards to the 1-yard line. He was close to scoring but was ruled down inches short of the goal line to bring up second down. Tice challenged the spot, but a review showed Smith's elbow touched when the ball was just short of the goal line. Culpepper scored on a sneak on the next play, but the Vikings were charged a timeout.
One drive later, if the Vikings had their full complement of three timeouts they might have been able to score a touchdown instead of settling for a field goal to tie the score 13-13 as time ran out in the second quarter.
YELLOW FLAGS DORMANT
It took until the last drive and last minute of the first half until the first penalty of the game was accepted. The only penalty of the half was an illegal contact on cornerback Rashean Mathis on the Vikings' final drive of the half.
BENNETT'S REDUCED ROLE
Tice can't seem to find his featured running back. He started out last Sunday giving Michael Bennett the opportunity, but eventually he and Smith essentially split duty — Bennett rushed 11 times for 30 yards and Smith ran eight times for 27. Against Jacksonville, the role was reversed. Smith started the game and rushed nine times for 36 yards and caught three passes for 18 yards in the first half. Michael Bennett didn't touch the ball in the first half.
Bennett caught the first pass of the second half, but that was the only time he touched the ball in the game. Smith finished with 72 yards on 20 carries.
The Vikings announced late in the first half that Kenny Mixon was sick. He returned to the game. The Vikings have been struggling with various players getting the flu over the last two weeks.
The Vikings' last two first-round picks each recorded a sack in the game. Kenechi Udeze had the big sack to essentially end the game, and Kevin Williams recovered that fumble and returned it 77 yards for the game's final score.
Besides Smith, Moore, Dorsey, Birk and Hovan, the Vikings also deactivated Shaun Hill (emergency QB), G Anthony Herrera and TE Richard Owens.
Jacksonville deactivated QB Quinn Gray (emergency QB), CB David Richardson, CB Chris Thompson, FB Marc Edwards, LB Jimmy McClain, C Brett Romberg, DE Elton Patterson, TE George Wrighster.
Game 11: Highlights, Lowlights And Notes
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