NOTEBOOK: Would-Be Vikings, Stat Anomalies

The Vikings faced several players they pursued in during the offseason free agency and showed those players respect in their game planning. Get that story and other notes of interest from Sunday's big win on the road.

Those who follow free agency closely on this web site during the "offseason" know the Vikings had serious considerations on two big free agents last March – middle linebacker Antonio Pierce and wide receiver Plaxico Burress.

Burress would have been an immediate, experienced replacement for Randy Moss. He would have been a big red zone target for Daunte Culpepper. But Burress' attitude, especially regarding his contract expectations, was one of the reasons the Vikings didn't pursue him as aggressively as did the New York Giants.

Entering the game with the Vikings, Burress had 45 catches (on pace for a franchise record) for 656 yards and five touchdowns. The catches, yards and touchdowns would all be easy team-leading statistics if Burress was on the Vikings.

But the big, talented Burress did have some warts on his resume. After producing at least 60 catches a season from 2001-2003 with a high of 78 for 1,325 yards in 2002, Burress managed only 35 receptions for 698 yards last year.

Even after Burress missed an initial meeting with Giants personnel in New York, the team kept after him, despite rescinding an initial offer when Burress' agent turned it down. Since, he's proven to be a solid target for quarterback Eli Manning.

The Vikings were concerned with Burress Sunday and decided to pay him respect with double teams much of the game, something they did with him and tight end Jeremy Shockey. The result was three catches for 50 yards, more yards than any Viking had in the game.

When asked last week how close the Vikings were to obtaining Burress in free agency, head coach Mike Tice said they recruited him hard, and those were the indications back in March. So how close were the Vikings to getting him?

"Probably not as close as some thought," Tice said. "I don't know if there was any type of agreement in philosophy with his agent and Rob (Brzezinski, the Vikings' lead contract negotiator). So probably not as close as some thought, but not like totally off. I didn't think we were going to get anything done. We tried hard, but I don't think it was going to work. We recruited him pretty hard."

The Vikings also made a push for Pierce and were especially disappointed to lose out on a potential on-field director for the their defense from the middle linebacker spot. Pierce was a target of the Vikings long before Burress, as the Vikings waited for Burress' initial demands of a $10 million signing bonus to fall with other free-agent WRs going to teams more desperate at the position before Minnesota agreed to talk with Burress' agent.

In Pierce's case, he was one of the Vikings' top targets, along with defensive tackle Pat Williams. With the sale of the team in limbo, Red McCombs wanted bonus money deferred until the summer, when he wouldn't have to pay. Williams accepted the deferral of a reported $6 million in bonus money, but Pierce's agent sent him on his way looking for another deal that didn't include those stipulations. Pierce's initial foray into free agency meant he is supposed to be at the beginning of his prime.

He proved to be just that against the Vikings, directing a defense that hasn't allowed an offensive touchdown in three games. Through nine games, Pierce now has 77 tackles. Antoine Winfield leads the Vikings with 55 tackles.

In both cases, the Vikings would have stood a better chance at landing those free agents if Zygi Wilf would have been in control of the ship at the time, as his ownership group has indicated a willingness to spend money to improve, and also indicated they see a talent deficit on the field right now.

Another free agent the Vikings considered was running back/punt returner Chad Morton, also with the Giants. In his case, the Vikings looked him over and simply decided against signing him. Ironically, this week the Vikings were concerned about the health status of running back/punt returner Mewelde Moore. Moore is much more of a running back than Morton, so the need for Morton would have been limited to being a punt returner, much like the player the Vikings released a few weeks back, Keenan Howry.

As that one turned out, the Vikings' return game shined at Giants Stadium, with Moore returning a punt 71 yards for a touchdown and Koren Robinson returning a kickoff 86 yards for a TD.


The Vikings won the game Sunday, but you wouldn't know it by looking at some statistical categories that typically point toward a winner.

The Vikings converted two third downs; the Giants had three times that many.

Minnesota had 137 total net yards; New York had almost three times that many (405).

The Vikings had 12 yards rushing. The Giants had 10 times that many (124).

Minnesota averaged 0.6 yards per rushing attempt; New York averaged seven times that much (4.3).

The Vikings had 144 yards passing; the Giants had twice that many (291).

In short, the Vikings won because they played a very "special" game that produced three touchdowns on returns.


One week after getting his first start and then expressing his disappointment at being replaced in the second half, defensive end Erasmus James got his second consecutive start in the old 4-3 defensive alignment.

This time, James continued to play extensively throughout the game and was credited with four tackles and a pass defensed.

Overall, the Vikings were credited with an impressive 13 passes defensed. The defense entered the game with 45 passes defensed in eight games.

Safety Darren Sharper had a game-high five, with three interceptions, and defensive tackle Kevin Williams was credited with three passes defensed at the line of scrimmage, matching his season total. Williams has only one sack this season.


A week after coming off a 106-yard rushing effort, his first 100-yard effort of the season, running back Michael Bennett wasn't able to back up that performance. Bennett rushed 19 times for 16 yards, a 0.8-yard average. His receiving prowess was only slightly better, albeit twice as good, as the team's leader in receptions with six catches for 11 yards, a 1.8-yard average.

Bennett also had the only turnover for the Vikings, a fumble that was recovered by Pierce.

Former starter Moore returned punts, but Moore didn't get into the offensive backfield as head coach Mike Tice had concerns about his ability to effectively block with a sprained wrist suffered last week.


Despite Bennett's lost fumble, the Vikings were the unequivocal leader in the battle of the turnovers.

The Giants entered the game as the league's second-best team in protecting the ball and creating turnovers on defense. They were plus-13 entering Sunday's game, getting 24 takeaways and giving it away only 11 times this season.

The Vikings, meanwhile, entered the league at minus-6, tied for 22nd in the league, but they reversed the roles in New York. Giants quarterback Eli Manning entered the game with five interceptions in eight games, but the Vikings picked him off four times. With Brad Johnson going without an interception for the second straight game and Winfield recovering the game-opening kickoff that was fumbled by New York's Willie Ponder, the Vikings came away with a plus-4 advantage on turnovers.


The Vikings double-teamed tight end Jeremy Shockey throughout the game with linebackers and safeties, and eventually the Giants took advantage of that with screen passes that had the linebackers busy in coverage on Shockey.

At the beginning of the second quarter, on New York's first scoring drive and the first drive its offense didn't go three-and-out, both of their big plays came on screen passes. The first was a 47-yard gain to Tiki Barber down the left sideline that put the Giants in scoring position. The second, three plays later, was a 12-yard screen to fullback Jim Finn that shortened Jay Feely's field goal attempt just enough to keep a 35-yarder inside the left upright.


The Giants were hoping to become the third team in NFL history to reach 600 total wins, joining the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers.

Michael Strahan played in his 184th game as a Giant, joining Lawrence Taylor and Joe Morrison on the franchise list.


This weekend was the third time this season that all blackouts were lifted throughout the NFL. All games were sold out in advance of the blackout deadline on opening weekend and Week 3. It was the 12th time in NFL history that all games were sold out and televised locally on a single weekend since the blackout policy took effect in 1973.

The NFL blackout policy requires games to be sold out 72 hours prior to kickoff in order to be televised in the home city.

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