Notebook: Survival In Many Facets

The Vikings beat the Panthers in overtime thanks to weathering a few sub-par areas of the game until some key plays were enough to get a home win. See what the players and coaches had to say about the pressure on both sides of the ball, the third downs, the injuries and the key statistics.

Lost in the all the special teams reaction and analysis from the Vikings' 16-13 overtime win against the Carolina Panthers Sunday are many other facets of the game that helped keep it close.

After a sizzling performance on third downs in their road opener last Monday night, the Vikings cooled considerably, but they helped their cause by converting some key fourth downs.

Minnesota also won the rushing and passing battles, but lost in the return game and penalty phase of the contest.

These are the other topics that helped shaped a game that will feature two key special teams plays.


Carolina brought a heavy pass rush against Brad Johnson all game long, especially left defensive end Julius Peppers.

"He's been following me around for the past (eight) years of my career," Vikings quarterback Brad Johnson said. "He's that kind of player. I've seen him win a bunch of games. Either a sack, fumble picking them up, making an interception, he's always going to be in the backfield. You need at least three guys over there to block him. That's how good he is."

The Vikings didn't have three guys blocking him. Instead, it was often right tackle Marcus Johnson left one-on-one or with only minimal help with chips from the tight end or running back.

That allowed Peppers to dominate his portion of the game. He finished with eight tackles, three sacks for 26 yards, four quarterback hurries, one pass defensed and one blocked kick.

"He's a tremendous football player, and he had it amped up pretty good (Sunday)," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "We probably could have done – I could have done a better job – of protecting that tackle at times, whether it was a with a chip or a tight end. We probably let him stand out there by himself a little bit too much, but (Peppers) is going to make those plays because that's the type of player he is."

The Panthers got two other sacks and two other quarterback hurries against Johnson, who otherwise had a solid game when he got rid of the ball.


The Vikings were also able to get some pressure from their defensive line, but they were only credited with two sacks – one from Kevin Williams and another from a blitzing Napoleon Harris.

Harris' came on a key third-down play with the Panthers at the Vikings 1-yard line late in the third quarter.

"I saw DeShaun Foster duck his head and most of the time when they duck their heads they are not getting the ball," Harris said. "He ducked his head, that is what allowed me to get free because he didn't see me until the last second."

Harris had timed the play perfectly and shot a gap on the right side of Carolina's offensive line. He went right by Foster, who was trying to sell a play fake, and quarterback Jake Delhomme had no chance.

The 7-yard sack took the Panthers out of contention for a touchdown that would have given them a 17-6 lead and instead allowed the Vikings to stay within a touchdown at 13-6 after a John Kasay field goal.

"They pressured our quarterback quite a few times, too. I don't know what the sack total is right now, but Jake was under pressure," Fox said.

Williams' sack, the team's first sack of the season, came earlier in the third quarter with the Panthers facing third-and-5. It forced a Carolina punt.

Asked if he felt the old Kevin Williams was back, he said, "He never went anywhere. I've been here the whole time."

Two calls late in the game – one in the fourth quarter and another in overtime – also nullified plays that were originally ruled sacks.

With about three minutes to play in regulation, defensive end Kenechi Udeze dragged down Delhomme and looked to have a sack and a forced fumble, but the officials reviewed the call and ruled it an incomplete pass.

Udeze joined the throng of Vikings fans who disagreed with that ruling and another overturned sack in overtime.

After the Panthers had picked up one first down in overtime, Harris was at it again. He looked to have given the Vikings the ball at the doorstep of Carolina's red zone when he sacked Delhomme at the 24-yard line and forced another fumble that defensive lineman Darrion Scott recovered. However, the officials reviewed that call and ruled that Delhomme's arm was coming forward, a la the infamous "tuck rule."

"I saw the replay and it definitely looked like (a fumble). The offense should have been out on the field with a first down with that field position," Harris said.

Instead of getting the ball in field goal position, the Vikings offense was forced to march 78 yards in 10 plays before getting their winning field goal in overtime.

The ruling somewhat overshadowed one of Harris' best performances since he was traded to the Vikings in 2005. He finished with 10 tackles, one sack and a quarterback hurry.

"I'd say since I have been a Viking it has been one of the best games," Harris said. "So I am looking to build upon it. There are a lot of things you can take from this game defensively that we can get better at."


The Vikings defensive line was in full rotational mode Sunday. At point in the game, the beginning of a Panthers series featured only starter – Kenechi Udeze – on the defensive line. He was joined by Ross Kolodziej, Spencer Johnson and Ray Edwards.

"We've got to play a lot of people. We ask our big men to run. The way we ask them to run, we've got to play a lot of people so they can stay fresh," defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin said. "Regardless of who's up and who's down from an injury standpoint, any defensive lineman in a helmet is going to help us win."

The fact that both of the Vikings' sacks came in the second half, and they had two other sacks overturned late in the game might indicate they were able to stay fresher late in the game with the rotation earlier, especially coming off a Monday night win.

"We played five quarters tonight. There isn't a soul in this locker room who isn't feeling it right now," Udeze said. "They did a good job of subbing us, making sure we were fresh in the latter quarters."


Last Monday night in Washington, the Vikings converted 9 of 17 third downs, a 53-percent success rate, while holding the Redskins to 4 of 13 conversions (31 percent).

Sunday in the Metrodome, the defense had even better success against the Panthers, holding them to 3 of 14 third-down attempts (21 percent), but a major problem arose on Minnesota's offense. The Vikings were just 2 of 15 (13 percent) on third-down conversions.

"Last week we were great on third downs, this week we kind of struggled," quarterback Brad Johnson said. "We had some long third-down situations and Carolina is one of the better teams in third-down defense. But we will stay with our run no matter what and it really helps out our play-action game."

Minnesota helped to make up for that by going 3-for-3 on fourth-down attempts, due in part to good field position in those situations.


After being shut out in the first half, wide receiver Troy Williamson ended the game with six catches for 102 yards, and he was one of the few bright spots on third downs.

Williamson suffered what appeared to be a minor left shoulder injury that hardly hindered his play.

"I think he's learned how to grind a little bit, and sometimes those elite athletes don't fight through a little ouwie, a little hamstring, a little bump, a little bruise," Childress said. "He's a football player. He's an elite athlete, and those guys take as many licks as anybody out there and they get dumped on their shoulders."

That may have contributed to Mewelde Moore returning the Panthers' only kickoff of the second half after Williamson had three kickoff returns in the first half.

Cornerback Antoine Winfield left the game for one series with a shoulder injury, and defensive end Erasmus James will have a magnetic resonance imaging test on his left knee, which was being called a sprain after the game. He was in a brace following the game.


The two statistics referenced from statistician Bud Goode last week held true. In trying to get to the 30 rushes and 20 completions that yield a 95 percent chance of winning, the Vikings had 33 rushes and 20 completions (counting kicker Ryan Longwell's touchdown pass on a fake field goal).

The Vikings also won Goode's "Killer Stat," winning the yards per pass attempt differential, a statistic he calls "the most meaningful independent statistic in pro football."

Minnesota gained 6.1 yards per pass attempt while Carolina had a 4.7-yard average.


The Vikings have won each of their two regular-season games by a field goal.

"You know how we live. Rock ‘em, sock ‘em robots. Blue-collar football," defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin said.

While one Vikings official said the team was living right, center Matt Birk said maybe the team is just practicing right.

"You always hear Coach Childress talk about it being a battle-tested team," Birk said. "Training camp was tough. It was a tough training camp. He comes out for the very first practice and it was in the rain. I told you that if the man wants to go for it on fourth down or practice in the rain, that's what we're going to do. We're going to follow him and the decisions he makes. We're going to live with them and go. Today we made two fourth-down conversions and we stayed tough and hung together in some tough situations."


The Vikings deactivated Tarvaris Jackson (third QB), WR Maurice Mann, S Rashad Baker, RB Ciatrick Fason, LB Marquis Cooper, OL Ryan Cook and Anthony Herrera and TE Jeff Dugan.

The Panther's desperation showed in their pregame shuffling. They deactivated RB Nick Goings, LB Dan Morgan, T Jeremy Bridges, DE Stanley McClover, C Justin Hartwig, TE Jeff King, WR Steve Smith and DT Tony Brown.

But the real issues took place on the offensive line. Here is how their "starter changes" were presented before the game: Drew Carter at WR in place of Steve Smith; Jordan Gross at LT in place of Mike Wahle; Mike Wahle at LG in place of Geoff Hangartner; Geoff Hangartner at C in place of Justin Hartwig; Todd Fordham at RT in place of Jordan Gross.


Carolina RB DeShaun Foster gained 579 yards in the last six regular-season games of 2005. Last weekend, the Falcons held him to 65 yard on 15 rushes and the Vikings contained him to 26 yards on 13 rushes. Rookie DeAngelo Williams, however, had 74 yards on 13 rushes.

The Panthers were just 2 of 12 in third-down conversions against Atlanta, so their 3 of 14 in the Metrodome was actually an improvement. In 2005, Carolina converted 42.2 percent of its third downs, sixth in the league.

Carolina is the NFL's leader in takeaways since 1995 with 373, but the Vikings only gave them one – on a Brad Johnson interception.

Light moment of the game: Early in the second quarter, linebacker Dontarrious Thomas was a late substitution. About halfway to the defensive side of the ball, Thomas tripped on his own and fell forward, prone on the carpet. He made it onto his side of the line of scrimmage on time and the Vikings defense held on third-and-4 at the 7-yard line.

Light moment of the post-game: During Chester Taylor's post-game press conference after rushing for 102 yards, fullback Tony Richardson popped his head into the interview room and yelled, "Chester Taylor for president!" Richardson then went quiet for a few minutes before re-appearing and asking, "How good was your fullback blocking for you?" Taylor responded: "He was all right. His 13 years in the league paid off."

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