Rookie Performances Come in All Forms

The Vikings had a number of rookies in contributing roles Sunday, some drafted and some undrafted, some making positive impressions and at least one struggling. Plus, find out how the combination of a savvy quarterback and an extremely opportunistic defense accounted for all of the Vikings' touchdowns.

Vikings rookies spent Sunday making an impact against the Cleveland Browns – some positive, some negative.

First, the positive.

Defensive tackle C.J. Mosley, a sixth-round draft choice who has spent most of his Sundays observing teammates from the sidelines, not only registered the first sack of his NFL career, he had two and made the most of them.

"He has to play like that," nose tackle Pat Williams said of Mosley. "This isn't like college. There's no such thing as rookie. He's in the pros now. He has to play like a pro when gets a chance to play. He's been improving in practice. He comes and watches his film every day and gets the job done."

With the Vikings nursing a 3-0 lead in the second quarter, Mosley set up the Vikings' first touchdown with a sack that resulted in a fumble that Darrion Scott recovered at the Browns 35-yard line. Three plays later, the Vikings had a 10-0 lead.

Even so, head coach Mike Tice wasn't going to throw all bouquets Mosley's way.

"I think C.J. did some things pretty well (Sunday), and I heard his name on the headphones a couple of times prefixed by a curse word, so I would say he had some good plays and he had a few bad plays," Tice said. "Every time he goes out on the field and plays, he's going to get better."

Mosley was in the game so often because he was filling in for Kevin Williams, who left the game on Cleveland's first drive with a sprained right knee (the same one that received surgery in the offseason). In his most extensive action of the season, Mosley tied for the team lead with seven tackles, led the team with two sacks and had one of their two forced fumbles.

"I thought our defensive front after Kevin went down sucked it up," Tice said. "We only go with six (linemen) anyway, which is always scary. It's like going with seven offensive linemen; that's very scary, too. Keith Newman filled in well at end. I thought our inside guys played hard and played pretty damn well."

Other rookies living up to their roles Sunday were Ciatrick Fason, who fulfilled his short-yardage role in picking up 14 yards on three rushes, and punter Chris Kluwe, who continued his impressive season with a 44-yard average on six punts. Rookie cornerback Dovonte Edwards, who like Kluwe was an undrafted rookie, played a strong game as the team's nickel back in the absence of Fred Smoot, still recovering from a fractured collarbone.

The higher-round picks didn't fare as well. The Vikings' initial first-round choice, Troy Williamson, was inactive with a shoulder injury. Their second first-round choice, defensive end Erasmus James, started and put some pressure on the quarterback but didn't register in the defensive statistics.

And then there were trials of second-round offensive lineman Marcus Johnson, who made his first start at right tackle after starting the first four games of the season at guard. Suffice it to say his initial impression was not a good one.

On the first drive, Johnson was called for a false start three times before being pulled in favor of former starter Mike Rosenthal. Ironically, the Vikings picked up three first downs with Johnson before the Rosenthal insertion and none in the three offensive plays in Rosenthal's time in the first quarter.

"Marcus Johnson struggled with some penalties. He's trying hard out there," Tice said. "We let Michael Rosenthal finish the fourth quarter out, but with those young guys, if you don't get them in the game you never know how good they're going to be, so we wanted to stay with Marcus."

Johnson got back into the game on the Vikings' second drive and stayed away from the costly penalties until the third quarter, when two of his penalties hurt the Vikings again.

On the Vikings' second drive of the third quarter, the Vikings were facing first-and-goal from the 7-yard line when Mewelde Moore plowed into the end zone, a play that was called back because of a holding penalty on Johnson. The Vikings scored two plays later, but after Johnson's rough start, this didn't endear him to the coaching staff or fans, who cheered when Rosenthal replaced Johnson in the first drive.

On the Vikings' next drive, Johnson struck again. On third-and-6 from the Cleveland 24-yard line, Travis Taylor was ready to pick up a first down when he drew a pass interference penalty, but that penalty was offset when Johnson was also flagged for illegal hands-to-the-face. After replaying the down and a second-chance incompletion, the Vikings were forced to punt, and from that point on Rosenthal finished the game.


The Vikings pressured Browns quarterbacks most of the game, but the run defense was even better.

"Our defensive line got everything started," linebacker Keith Newman said. "Pat Williams set the tone early in the game by disrupting their running plays. We did what Coach (Ted) Cottrell asked us to do, which was create a new line of scrimmage. We created that in Cleveland's backfield."

The Vikings defense took a running back who was on pace for a 1,600-yard season and coming off a 166-yard performance last week and limited him to 73 yards on 19 carries. Last week, Reuben Droughns had a 75-yard run to start Cleveland's offense. This week, his longest run was a 14-yarder … all game.

The new line of scrimmage worked on passing plays as well. Browns quarterback Trent Dilfer was pressured most of the game and even knocked out of the game for one play – in which backup Charlie Frye threw an interception. Dilfer was sacked five times, lost two fumbles and added two interceptions of his own.


Despite Marcus Johnson's intermittent struggles on the offensive line, the Vikings generally kept quarterback Brad Johnson upright. Johnson was sacked only twice, but one of those was due to his veteran savvy.

"The offensive line played tremendously today. I didn't really get touched. I took a sack at the end of the game just to keep the clock running, but the offensive line played just awesome," he said.

With five turnovers, the Vikings defense often put the offense on a short field, but even so, Johnson had his best game since his return to the Vikings and his insertion into the starting lineup. Under Johnson's leadership, the Vikings are 4-0 despite a more patient approach to scoring points.

"You have to play with the cards you are dealt. I think the offense has been explosive for so long and for so many different reasons," Johnson said.

Instead of putting up big numbers and leading a top-10 offense, Johnson is settling for wins and a strong game-management style. He had only 207 yards passing, but with three touchdowns and only one interception had a strong 110.3 passer rating, his best of the season.


Part of the reason for the offensive success was the ability to score points off of turnovers.

"As always, you have to take advantage," wide receiver Marcus Robinson said. "When you get turnovers like that, you have to step up as an offense and put points up on the board. We did a great job (Sunday) whenever turnovers happened. We gained momentum by putting the ball in the end zone."

Robinson was on the receiving end of each of those points off turnovers. He scored three touchdowns, two of them on jump-ball fade routes and each of them following a turnover created by the defense.

On the fifth drive of the game, Mosley's sack and forced fumble set the Vikings up on the Cleveland 35-yard line. Three plays later, Robinson was catching his first jump ball in the end zone for a 10-0 lead.

"That's my thing. That is what I like to do. I try to get inside, hold the guy off a little bit and once the ball is up it's just up to me to get up and go after it. I'm just trying to make a play at that point."

The Vikings' third-quarter touchdown was also the result of a sack, forced fumble (by Keith Newman) and recovery (by E.J. Henderson). This time, the offense received the ball on the Cleveland 17-yard line, and after four plays Robinson found a seam in the middle of the defense for another 15-yard touchdown.

The final Vikings touchdown came in the fourth quarter, and this time the offense was the recipient of an interception by the Darren Sharper following a knockdown by defensive end Lance Johnstone. Once again, the Vikings were setting up shop in Cleveland territory, and once again it needed only four plays before finding Robinson on another jump-ball touchdown from the 2-yard line.

Each of Robinson's three catches – all touchdowns – came inside the red zone, where he seems to be a primary target and where he is making his living these days.

"In this offense, you have to find out what your role is. Once they tell you that, you have to accept it," Robinson said. "So, like me, maybe I don't play in between the 20s, but once we get inside the red zone I've gotta be ready, I've got to be ready to go out there and make those plays. We all know what our position is on the field. We would all like to be out there catching all the balls we can catch. But, at the same time, we realize we have a great corps of receivers and we just take advantage of opportunities."

Said Brad Johnson: "(Robinson) is a great example of keeping your head in the game and not pouting when things aren't going your way."

The only time the Vikings didn't score points off a turnover was on their opening drive of the game, when penalties forced them to settle for a field goal.


The Vikings special teams have been a bright spot, but the Browns pulled out a nice trick play in the second quarter. The down and distance dictated that maybe it shouldn't have been so tricky. Browns kicker Phil Dawson entered the game 18-for-19 on field goals, but he hadn't attempted a kick longer than 44 yards this season.

When he lined up for a 55-yard field goal in the second quarter, it should have been a tip-off to the Vikings, who looked prepared for a fake field and a potential pass but didn't have anyone covering for a fake field goal and a punt, which Dawson did. The Vikings ended up with the ball on their own 6-yard line.


Toward the end of the first half, the Browns were driving to the Vikings 5-yard line, facing first-and-goal, when wide receiver Antonio Bryant was called for a false start with 12 seconds left in the half. With time running, the Browns would have been assessed a 10-second run-off but instead elected to use a timeout. Coming out of the timeout, wide receiver Braylon Edwards was called for another false start, but because the clock was stopped the Browns didn't need to call a timeout to avoid a 10-second runoff. Instead, after an incompletion batted away by safety Darren Sharper, Dawson kicked through the only Cleveland points of the first half.


Minnesota held back a number of injured players Sunday, putting them on the deactive list. Wide receiver Troy Williamson led the list, joining QB J.T. O'Sullivan, CB Fred Smoot, RB Adimchinobe Echemandu, G Toniu Fonoti, TEs Jeff Dugan and Richard Angulo and DL Spencer Johnson.

The Browns deactivated QB Derek Anderson, WR Brandon Rideau, S Brodney Pool, RB Jason Wright, CB Antonio Perkins, RB William Green, G Joe Andruzzi and LB David McMillan.

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