Fumbles and flags. Those were the two major downfalls for the Minnesota Vikings Friday night in their 28-21 loss to the New York Jets.
What started as a game that looked like a 2004 playoff team versus a 2004 playoff team and had the look of a classic struggle from the outset turned into a typical preseason flag fest.
Initially, the Vikings looked strong on both sides of the ball, with quarterback Daunte Culpepper going 11-for-13 for 146 yards and leaving with a 7-0 lead midway through the second quarter. On defense, Minnesota held the Jets' first-team offense to three-play series on the first two drives before allowing a Chad Pennington touchdown pass late in the second quarter, followed by a Jay Fiedler touchdown pass with 2:47 left in the first half, giving New York a 14-7 halftime lead.
But penalties and fumbles were a big part of Minnesota's issues throughout the game. A Michael Bennett fumble set up the Jets' second touchdown, and the Vikings mishandled the ball three times on punt returns later in the game. By the end, Minnesota had accumulated 17 penalties for 122 yards.
Neither team produced more than 100 yards rushing – the offensive line play being a cause for concern for head coach Mike Tice – and Minnesota's new-look defense held the Jets to 223 total net yards. But sloppy ball-handling and too many flags gave the Jets the advantage they needed.
The Vikings committed seven penalties on offense and special teams in the first quarter alone. Those penalties were a definite factor in stalling Minnesota's first two scoreless drives. On the first drive, the Vikings moved across midfield on a 25-yard pass to Travis Taylor on third-and-8. They wouldn't get much further, however, as back-to-back penalties took them out of good position and eventually forced a punt.
After the defense denied the Jets a first down, Culpepper was back at work. He picked at the Jets secondary with crossing routes to his receivers. He connected with Taylor, Marcus Robinson and Nate Burleson, the last one being the longest at 13 yards. But on a 7-yard run by Culpepper, the Vikings were flagged for holding and the offense was again put in a penalty hole they wouldn't recover from.
Once again, the Minnesota defense denied a first down to the Jets as the first quarter came to a close, and the Vikings were at the start of another decent drive. This time it didn't start well, with Darrien Johnson getting a 13-yard sack on the second play of the drive, but a 42-yard, third-down pass to Marcus Robinson salvaged the drive. Three plays later, Burleson kept it alive with an 11-yard reception, and two plays later Taylor brought it to the 2-yard line with a 14-yard catch in middle of the field. After a defensive penalty, Moe Williams opened the scoring with a 1-yard dive for a 7-0 Vikings lead with 8:27 left in the second quarter.
From there, however, most of the offense came from the Jets. Quarterback Chad Pennington got hot, hitting Justin McCareins for 9 yards on third-and-5, then Laveranues Coles for 19 yards on second-and-7. Three plays later, Jerricho Cotchery beat cornerback Brian Williams for 18 yards and Coles hauled in the drive-ending 20-yard touchdown pass at 4:54 in the second quarter.
When Michael Bennett fumbled on the third play of the next drive, the Jets had excellent field position on the Minnesota 35-yard line. It took only two plays – a 17-yard pass to Cotchery and an 18-yard TD to Wayne Chrebet – for the Jets to assume a 14-7 lead with 2:47 left in the first half, a lead that held up until halftime.
Just as a turnover led to New York's final score of the first half, it also led to its first score of the second half. When Minnesota's Daryl Jones fumbled a punt return and Cotchery recovered, the Jets were only 3 yards away from paydirt. It took four plays and a third-down pass interference penalty in the end zone on cornerback Adrian Ward, but the Jets finally scored when quarterback Jay Fielder dove through a pile for a 1-yard sneak and a 21-7 New York lead only 3:19 into the second half.
After an exchange of punts with the third-string quarterbacks making their appearances, the Vikings offense got back on the board. In their second series together, quarterback Shaun Hill and receiver Troy Williamson found a connection together. First, Hill hit Williamson for a 54-yard bomb, then followed that up three plays later with a 13-yard slant pass to Williamson for a touchdown, pulling the Vikings within seven points at 21-14.
On their next series, the Vikings tied the game at 21. Hill started with passes of 14 and 12 yards to receiver Christopher Jones. After runs of 10 and 9 yards by Ciatrick Fason, the drive stalled – momentarily – but when Paul Edinger attempted a 37-yard field goal he was run into, giving the offense another opportunity with first-and-goal at the 9-yard line. After another penalty, the Vikings needed an 18-yard pass to Ryan Hoag and 1-yard TD run by Adimchinobe Echemandu to complete the comeback and tie the game 21-21 less than a minute into the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter and third-string players brought the game to a crawl. The teams exchanged the next four possessions before the Jets closed out the scoring. After a 37-yard punt return by Decori Birmingham gave the Jets position at the Minnesota 30-yard line, they needed only three plays to score the winning touchdown, a 10-yard run by rookie Cedric Houston for the 28-21 lead with 5:52 remaining.
The Vikings' last two gasps for the tie ended with a punt and an interception, putting them at 1-1 record on the preseason and looking to come back home against San Diego next Friday – with far fewer flags in the forecast.
Flags And Fumbles Do In Vikings
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