Minnesota's magical turnover turnaround continues, and Sunday they actually moved forward in the playoff picture because of a Chicago Bears loss.
The Vikings' opportunistic defense of late was back at it in the Metrodome, creating six turnovers and allowing Minnesota to never trail in the game despite losing the battle of field position most of the contest. The Vikings extended their winning streak to seven games with a 27-13 win over St. Louis.
Minnesota's defensive backs came up with five interceptions and a fumble recovery going against St. Louis rookie quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. For his part, the Vikings' Brad Johnson avoided throwing any interceptions in leading an offense that didn't dominate but did enough to stay in control most of the game. Johnson finished the game 16-for-25 for 146 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. Fitzpatrick finished with a dismal 32.4 passer rating on 26 of 45 passing for 235 yards and his most egregious error, the five interceptions.
Despite Fitzpatrick's hardest attempts to get big-play wide receiver Torry Holt loose, the Vikings defensive backs generally kept him contained to 95 yards on 10 receptions. Johnson didn't find a big-play receiver for his offense, either, with only Marcus Robinson getting more than 20 yards receiving, but Johnson – per his method of operation – avoided the interception.
It all added up to a 14-point NFC win for the Vikings (8-5) and drew them one game closer to Chicago (9-4), which lost 21-9 to Pittsburgh, Minnesota's opponent next Sunday in the Metrodome.
After three punts to the start the game, the Vikings were set up for the first scoring drive of the game. Johnson used a heavy dose play-action to try and counter a blitzing Rams defense. On the first play, he took a shot while delivering a 12-yard strike to Troy Williamson. After a defensive penalty, Johnson hit Jermaine Wiggins for 12 yards, followed by a 10-yard run by Michael Bennett. Johnson then found Burleson for 12 yards and, two plays later, facing third-and-1 from the 13-yard line, the Vikings went with an empty backfield and handed the ball off to Koren Robinson on an end-around. Robinson escaped the tackle attempt of safety Adam Archuleta 3 yards into the backfield and wove his way through the defense for a touchdown and a 7-0 Minnesota lead with 5:36 left in the first quarter.
The teams exchanged punts before St. Louis put itself into scoring position. After a poor punt by replacement Darren Bennett, the Rams used an intermediate attack. After tripping for a 4-yard loss to start the drive, Fitzpatrick found Marshall Faulk for 7 yards and Kevin Curtis for 9 yards. Following a Faulk run that picked up 10 yards, the Rams had another first down inside the red zone. But, even without Mike Martz calling the shots, the Rams elected to go for the first down when facing fourth-and-2. When Darrion Scott blew through the offensive line to hold Jackson for no gain, the Vikings had the ball again.
Although they had to punt back to the Rams, they avoided giving up an easy field goal … or worse, a touchdown. However, after going three-and-out, St. Louis had the ball again in good field position. On third down, Fitzpatrick hit Holt with a bullet for 17 yards, but the Rams were held without another first down, bringing on Jeff Wilkins for a 51-yard field goal to draw within 7-3 with 6:54 to play in the first half.
Minnesota countered with its own field goal drive, thanks to a 61-yard kickoff return from Robinson. Troy Williamson started with an 11-yard end-around run, and already the Vikings were in field goal position. Three plays later, Paul Edinger kicked a 37-yard field goal for a 10-3 lead with 4:52 left in the half.
Brian Williams intercepted Fitzpatrick's next pass, but the Vikings were forced to punt after picking up only one first down. On the Rams' next possession, however, Antoine Winfield came up with the interception on the drive's second play. Three plays later, Edinger nailed a 44-yard field goal for a 13-3 Vikings lead.
The Rams offense got the ball back with 53 seconds left and moved into field goal position on the heels of a 10-yard Faulk run, an 11-yard pass to Shaun McDonald, a 13-yard pass to Faulk and a 36-yard pass interference penalty on Fred Smoot with no time left at the 5-yard line. Since the half can't end on a defensive penalty, the Rams had the opportunity to kick a 23-yard field goal and cut the deficit to 13-6 at halftime.
They tied the game on their first possession of the second half following a 26-yard punt from Darren Bennett. The Rams took possession at midfield, and a 9-yard pass to Holt and 20-yarder to Isaac Bruce put them in the red zone. On first down, Fitzpatrick scrambled 14 yards for a touchdown to knot the game at 13 four minutes and 18 seconds into the second half.
From there, the Vikings took the air out of the Rams' comeback.
Johnson hit Koren Robinson for 15 yards on a floater across the middle, then zipped a pass to Marcus Robinson that went for 49 yards to the 13-yard line. Two Bennett rushes put the ball in the end zone for a 20-13 lead with 8:05 to play in the third quarter.
Fitzpatrick answered by picking up one first down before throwing another interception, this one by Brian Williams. And returned 31 yards to the St. Louis 21-yard line. Four plays later, the Vikings had a 27-13 lead following a 1-yard run by Ciatrick Fason with 3:11 left in the third quarter, a lead that held up until the final gun because of two more interceptions, by Fred Smoot and Darren Sharper, and a fumble recovery by Sharper.
While the Bears are leading the NFC North with a smothering defense, the Vikings defense has been creating them at a feverish pitch in the last six weeks, which coincides with their winning streak and their ability to climb right back into the playoff race.
Turnovers, Wins Keeping Coming
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