The Vikings made a brand new start of things in New York, and head coach Mike Tice may have gotten some intervention from his late father, Jack. How else do you explain the things that happened Sunday at Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands?
The Vikings became the first team in NFL regular-season history to score touchdowns on a punt return, a kickoff return and an interception return and, despite the offense not getting into the end zone, Minnesota left New York with an improbable 24-21 win.
Knowing that the Vikings have lost their first four road games this season by an average of 25 points and that the Giants have beaten them at the Metrodome each of the last three years, including a 34-13 blowout last year, Tice said last week he would call on his late father, a life-long Giants fans, for a reprieve.
"I'm afraid of my dad, who passed away in 1987, because I'm wondering if it is his fault that we can't beat the Giants. I'm going to ask him for a week reprieve to give me a break so we can beat the Giants one time," Tice said Wednesday. "John (Tice) and I were born and raised Giants fans. My dad and our family have had season tickets in the family since the Polo Grounds. I am kind of half blaming it on him. I am going to do some extra praying to him this week to try to ease the dogs off us a little and maybe we can have some luck. We haven't had much luck against the Giants. In fact, we have had some very ugly games. So that is what I am going to do. I'm being serious too. I'm going to ask him to please lay off."
The Vikings have been known for imploding on the road, coughing up the ball and committing numerous penalties. Sunday, they were the recipient of the big play on defense and special teams, the latter being the long-time bane of the team.
But against New York, while the offense couldn't get into the end zone, the Vikings relied on a 92-yard interception return for a touchdown, an 86-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a 71-yard punt return for a touchdown—becoming the first team in NFL regular-season history to complete the trifecta in a single game.
Indeed, the Vikings got their reprieve from Jack Tice, a win that might eventually save their playoff aspirations and maybe even Mike Tice's job if a playoff run is somehow made by this team with a 4-5 record.
The game started with a mixed bag of successes for the Vikings. They were continuously given great field position thanks to turnovers, but the offense was unable to do anything. By the time the first half was complete, Minnesota had a 7-6 lead and had only 6 yards of offense, compared to New York's 196.
The good fortune started with the game's first play when kickoff returner Willie Ponder fumbled the opening return and Antoine Winfield recovered on the Giants 27-yard line. Unable to gain the first down, the Vikings were forced to bring on Paul Edinger for a 40-yard attempt, one he pushed wide right.
After an exchange of possessions, during which only a late hit by Giants defensive tackle William Joseph picked up a first down, the Vikings got another key turnover. On a pass intended for wide receiver Amani Toomer, safety Darren Sharper deflected the ball and corralled it on his way to the ground, giving the Minnesota offense possession in Giants territory again, this time at the 18-yard line.
Once again, the offense could do nothing with the ball, and, once again, Edinger missed a relatively short field goal attempt. On his 32-yard attempt, Damane Duckett tipped the low kick, forcing it to be short.
Another exchange of punts gave the Giants offense the ball on the 28-yard line. After three straight possessions of going three-and-out, New York finally started to move the first-down chains, and it did with the ground game. Tiki Barber began with an 11-yard run, and then Eli Manning, needing 11 yards on third down, scrambled for a 13-yard run. Two plays later, Manning scrambled for 10 more. After a 13-yard pass to tight end Jeremy Shockey, the Giants were in scoring position. But on the first play of the second quarter, it was the Vikings who scored. Manning locked in on receiver Plaxico Burress, but Sharper read the play perfectly, jumped the route, intercepted the pass in stride and returned it 92 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 Vikings lead 17 seconds into the second quarter.
The Giants answered with a field goal drive. The big play was a 47-yard gain on a screen pass to Barber. Three plays later, fullback Jim Finn followed with a 12-yard gain on a screen pass to set up a 35-yard field goal by Jay Feely.
The Vikings offense continued to stumble and the Giants followed with another field goal drive. Burress picked up the initial first down of the drive with a 15-yard reception, and Barber followed with gains of 9 and 13 yards on a reception and rush, respectively. From there, the Giants were the recipient of a holding call on Sam Cowart and an 8-yard pass play to Toomer to put them in field goal position, a 48-yarder that Feely drilled to narrow New York's deficit to 7-6 with 3:39 left in the first half.
When Feely pushed a 28-yard attempt wide right on New York's next possession, that ended the first-half scoring, but the Vikings were quick to get it started in the second half.
Koren Robinson took the opening kickoff of the second half 86 yards for a touchdown to give Minnesota a 14-6 lead only 11 seconds into the third quarter.
However, the Giants responded with their first touchdown drive of the game, and it came on the heels of two big plays. On the first play of the drive, Antoine Winfield dove to knock down a Manning pass and made contact with the receiver, drawing a pass interference call that went for 40 yards, taking New York from their own 15-yard line to the Minnesota 45-yard line. Five plays later, Manning hooked up with Toomer for a 23-yard touchdown to bring New York back within one point at 14-13 with 11:46 left to play in the third quarter.
The Vikings offense was finally able to move the ball thanks to a 44-yard pass to Koren Robinson, but they self-destructed right after that. On the next play, Johnson hit Travis Taylor for a 27-yard touchdown, but Taylor was called for offensive pass interference and Mike Tice was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for arguing that call. After a 1-yard loss, an incompletion and a false start, the Vikings were facing a nearly impossible third-and-41, taking them from scoring position at the 27-yard line all the way back into Giants territory before punting away.
The defense held the Giants to another three-and-out, and Mewelde Moore returned the ensuing punt 71 yards for a touchdown and a 21-13 Vikings lead.
The defense continued to hold, but after Troy Williamson picked up a first down, Michael Bennett fumbled and linebacker Antonio Pierce recovered. Just when it looked like the Vikings would catch a break when Erasmus James batted the ball out of Manning's hand and Darrion Scott recovered, the fumble was overturned on review and ruled an incomplete pass. But, one play later, the Vikings got their turnover when Brian Williams got the defense's third interception.
However, the offense continued its game-long struggle and punted away two more times to the Giants. Manning put together two extended drives, but the first one ended with a punt from midfield and the second one ended with Toomer deflecting a Manning pass and Sharper making his second interception, the Vikings' fourth of the game, in the end zone.
Trying to manage the clock didn't allow the Vikings to pick up a first down and the Giants, trailing by eight points, needed a touchdown drive and a two-point conversion when they took over with 3:17 to play. They got both, as Manning suddenly started hitting receivers in the hurry-up offense. He complete his first three passes of the drive—11 yards each to Barber and Shockey and 8 more to Shockey. After an 11-yard run by Barber brought the game to the 2-minute warning, Manning hit Barber for 18 yards to the 3-yard line. Following a Manning spike, Barber ran for the touchdown and the two-point conversion to tie the game at 21 with 1:21 to play.
This time, Johnson found his groove. He connected with Jermaine Wiggins for 21 yards, then Marcus Robinson for 11 yards, Taylor for 11 and Wiggins for 3. After a spike and an incompletion, the Vikings had to settle for a 48-yard attempt by Edinger, who already had missed from 40 and had one blocked from 32.
Whether intervention or just the way things go in the NFL, Edinger nailed his 48-yard attempt right down the middle for the 24-21 lead with 10 seconds to play. A squib kick out of bounds couldn't even damper the Vikings' fortune, as a hook-and-ladder only netted the Giants 2 yards as time ran out.
Now with a 4-5 record, the Vikings still trail NFC North-leading Chicago by two games, but finally being able to break the road spell could bode well for Minnesota, which next Monday travels to Green Bay, another place where strange things just seem to happen when the Vikings visit.
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