The Vikings haven't had a stout defense in years, but the last month they have been proving they can get it done in tight games. Plus, get more than 20 game-day notes from the Vikings' 24-12 win over Cleveland Sunday.
It's been a long time since the Vikings have been a team that could count on their defense to win games. But, following their 24-12 win over the Cleveland Browns
Sunday, it's apparent that, even if the offense isn't hitting on all cylinders, the defense can pick up the slack and make the plays needed to turn a tight game into a lead.
The Vikings have become a team that is more likely to slog out victories in the fashion they did against the Browns Sunday, which is fine with the Vikings.
"We're making enough plays to win," coach Mike Tice told VU. "We're not pretty, but we've been kind of pretty in the past and it hasn't really gotten us anything. I'll take it this way as opposed to the other way."
The Vikings defense created five turnovers and held the Browns without a touchdown until the final 1:12 of the game. Running back Reuben Droughns
, who had gone over 100 yards in three of the last four games and was prepared to go over 1,000 yards Sunday, was held to 73 yards on 19 carries and, more importantly, kept out of the end zone – which forced the Browns to become a pass-first, pass-second option.
"When we can dictate the game defensively and make their offense one-dimensional, that allows us to get a short field," said linebacker Keith Newman
, who forced a fumble in Cleveland territory. "We have some excellent (defensive backs) with great hands and some very (opportunistic) defensive linemen that want to get after the quarterback. And that's how it all becomes fun. Defense becomes fun when you can dictate to the other team what they have to do."
The Vikings finished off November with a 4-0 record – the fifth time they have had a perfect November in team history and the first time since 1999. In three of the first four times they accomplished an undefeated November, the team made the playoffs and, in 1969, won the NFL Championship before losing to Kansas City in Super Bowl IV.
Darren Sharper added two more interceptions to give him seven for the season. He added 24 return yards on the two interceptions to set a new team record of 265 yards – surpassing the mark set in 1998 by Jimmy Hitchcock (242).
Receivers coach Wes Chandler was pushing Tice to use Marcus Robinson in the red zone, claiming that he could take advantage of mismatches he had seen on film. His prediction was deadly accurate. Robinson caught just three passes, but all of them were for touchdowns in the red zone.
Brad Johnson's second TD pass to Robinson in the third quarter was his 49th as a Viking, passing Randall Cunningham for 6th most passing TDs in franchise history. He finished the game with three TDs, giving him 50 for his Vikings career and just eight behind Wade Wilson for fifth place on the all-time list.
In the second and third quarters, the Vikings had the ball for just 10:53, as opposed to 19:07 for the Browns. Yet, as the game went to the fourth quarter, the Vikings had outscored Cleveland 14-6 in that span.
Three Vikings – Antoine Winfield, C.J. Mosley and Pat Williams – tied for the team lead with seven tackles each.
Mewelde Moore wasn't able to get untracked Sunday in the running game. Despite rushing 22 times, he gained just 67 yards with a long run of only 8 yards.
Jermaine Wiggins caught five more passes Sunday to give him a team-leading 54 catches – but has yet to score his first touchdown.
Brad Johnson finished the game with a passer rating of 110.3 – his best rating of the season.
The Vikings won the battle of the sacks – sacking Dilfer five times while Johnson was sacked just twice.
With the five turnovers made by the Vikings defense and the two allowed by the Vikings offense, the team moved into the positive side of the giveaway-takeway numbers for the first time this year – the Vikings have given the ball away 24 times, while taking it away 25 times. Considering how awful they started the season – at one point a minus-12 in the giveaway/takeaway column, that is quite an achievement.
At halftime, the huge edge the Vikings had in yardage had evaporated. The Vikes held a 176-148 yardage edge – out-passing Cleveland 152-101, but being out-rushed 47-24.
The Vikings did a solid job of containing running back Reuben Droughns in the first half, limiting him to 47 yards on 14 carries – 14 of those coming on one run in the second quarter.
Johnson was extremely efficient in the first half, completing 13 of 18 passes for 152 yards. Travis Taylor was by far his primary target in the first half, catching five passes for 70 yards.
After being second worst in the NFL by allowing 45 sacks, the Browns got to Johnson just once in the first half for a 2-yard loss and one in the second half.
The Vikings dominated the time of possession in the first quarter, holding the ball for 11:35 of the quarter.
As a result of controlling the clock, the Vikings had a huge edge in the first-quarter numbers. The Vikings ran 19 plays in the first quarter, as opposed to just six for the Browns. The Vikings held a slim 19-15 edge in rushing yards, but Johnson completed seven of 10 passes for 53 yards, as opposed to just four yards passing for Dilfer and the Browns.
Mewelde Moore left the game in the first quarter with a sprained wrist – the same injury that sidelined him from playing the running back role in the Giants game. But he shook off the injury and returned in the second quarter.
Kevin Williams suffered a right knee sprain on the first series of the game and didn't return to the game. C.J. Mosley took his place in the regular DT rotation.
Marcus Johnson's first start of the season at right tackle didn't go as planned. On the first 11 snaps in the game, Johnson was called for a false start three times – prompting Mike Tice to pull him in the middle of the game's opening drive. However, he did return to the starting lineup on the second drive. After two more Johnson penalties – a holding call that negated a touchdown run and a hands-to-the-face that negated a pass interference call – he was pulled in the third quarter again and replaced by Mike Rosenthal.
The Vikings made the Browns offense wait for a long time to see its first action of the game. While the team had to settle for a field goal, the opening drive took more than seven minutes off the game clock and took 12 plays.
Sunday's game was a reunion for a couple of players involved in a trade earlier this season. After Matt Birk went down in training camp and it was clear he would likely be lost for the season, the Vikings traded offensive tackle Nat Dorsey for Cleveland center Melvin Fowler. Fowler started Sunday's game for the Vikings, while Dorsey was a reserve for the Browns.
The attendance Sunday was 63,813 – the 81st straight sellout at the Metrodome dating back to 1998.