Middle linebacker Napoleon Harris returned to his starting spot at middle linebacker with his injured wrist heavily wrapped. He finished the game with six tackles, second on the team to safety Dwight Smith, who had seven.
Cornerback Fred Smoot started the game after missing last Sunday to attend to family matters following the death of his half brother in a car accident the week before. Smoot returned as a starter at right cornerback, but his replacement from the week before, Cedric Griffin, also started as the Vikings opened the game in the nickel defense.
Smoot had five tackles and a pass defensed after being placed on the injury report last week with a strained groin as well.
"We actually had to have him see a doctor while he was down in Mississippi. He had a little groin coming out of the 49ers game," head coach Brad Childress said of Smoot late last week.
The shuffling in the secondary became more pronounced as the game went on. Cedric Griffin suffered a shoulder stinger, and Antoine Winfield suffered a minor concussion. Each left the game for a time and later returned.
But even without those injuries, cornerback Charles Gordon, promoted from the practice squad two weeks ago, began seeing more time in the nickel defense as Ronyell Whitaker's role continued to decrease. Whitaker and Gordon could be in competition for playing time when the Vikings use six defensive backs, which is happening more often as teams abandon the run and decide to pass more often on this Vikings defense.
On the defensive line, Ray Edwards returned to the rotation at end after being deactive last week for disciplinary reasons.
On offense, wide receiver Marcus Robinson not only played, he started after missing the last three games with a lower back injury. However, the Vikings rarely threw Robinson's way, as he caught only one pass for 17 yards.
The Vikings' other leading deep threats didn't have much more action, as Bethel Johnson was limited to one catch for 25 yards, and Troy Williamson had two catches for 35 yards in addition to dropping another key third-down pass.
But Williamson's role also appears to be on the decline. He didn't make the start, and Bethel Johnson, Travis Taylor and Robinson all appeared to be more involved after Williamson dropped two key passes last week against Green Bay.
While Bethel Johnson emerged as a deep threat last week against Green Bay, he was not among the Vikings' leading receivers in Miami.
Travis Taylor led the way with a career-high eight receptions for 67 yards.
Tight end Jermaine Wiggins, who has led the team in receptions each of the last two seasons but was held without a catch last week, tied his season high with six receptions and had a season-best 66 yards.
Fullback Jeff Dugan – replacing the injured Tony Richardson, who is expected to go on injured reserve as soon as Monday – had a career-high three receptions for 20 yards and made his first start, much less first action, of the season. Dugan was inactive for all but one game last season, and was active for the first time but didn't play last week against Green Bay.
The offensive line also saw some change.
All week long, Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said they were "mulling" changes on the offensive line. While they didn't start the game with those changes, an injury forced at least one change and possibly another in the second half.
When right guard Artis Hicks was injured early in the second quarter, backup Jason Whittle entered the game and remained there for the rest of the contest.
Late in the third quarter, the Vikings made the switch most observers figured was being hinted at last week. Mike Rosenthal replaced Marcus Johnson at right tackle and remained in the game the rest of the way. While Johnson was reported to have an ankle injury after the game, that was not among the injuries listed as reported in the press box Sunday. Griffin, Winfield and Hicks were the only Vikings injuries, according to a post-game report by the Dolphins, so the switch to Rosenthal may have been in response to Johnson's inconsistent play at right tackle.
For the record, the Vikings had 71 yards rushing on 18 attempts (3.9-yard average) in the first half, and 43 yards rushing on 17 attempts in the second half (2.5-yard average) in the second half. Quarterback Brad Johnson was sacked three times, twice in the second half.
The two moves on the offensive line used the rest of the active offensive linemen, as guard Anthony Herrera and tackle Ryan Cook were among the Vikings deactivated before the game.
Also inactive were QB Tarvaris Jackson (emergency QB), WR Jason Carter, RB Artose Pinner, S Will Hunter, FB Tony Richardson and DT Ross Kolodziej.
Running back Ciatrick Fason took Pinner's place in the lineup after Pinner was flagged for two crucial special teams penalties against Green Bay. Fason saw minimal action on offense and didn't have a carry.
Inactive for the Dolphins were QBs Daunte Culpepper and Marcus Vick (emergency QB), LB Jim Maxwell, DT Frederick Evans, G Joe Berger, G Jeno James, DT Kevin Vickerson and DT Keith Traylor.
One area that hasn't been a problem for the Vikings is stopping the run. They possess the league's best run defense and held the Dolphins to a franchise-record (for both teams) minus-3 yards rushing.
"That's a terrific front seven. Those two guys in the middle (Pat and Kevin Williams) deserve all the credit in the world," Dolphins QB Joey Harrington said. "They plug up holes like very few people out there. It was difficult for us to run the ball – all game. It's tough when you don't run the ball well early and you get into that mode, we're going five wide and we're just going to jink them down the field and we're going to take advantage of what they're doing.
"You almost get into a different mindset. I think that's what they do. They play so well inside. They force you to change your game plan. They force you to abandon what you do well. What we've done well is run the ball the last couple of weeks."
PRESSURE THE KEY
The Vikings were able to move the ball on offense, coming away with 361 yards of total net offense compared to Miami's 251, but the Dolphins were focused on pressuring the Vikings.
"They were able to move the ball a little on us, as far as the run and I think a few passes there, but we really just wanted to keep pressuring them, keep coming at them, and we knew eventually something was going to happen for us," said cornerback Renaldo Hill, who returned a fumble 48 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. "We were able to create two turnovers that turned into scores, so however we can help out the team, that's what we want to do on the defensive end.'
The Dolphins limited Vikings running back Chester Taylor to 80 yards on 28 carries, and Minnesota had 114 yards on the ground.
"We knew we had to stop the run. Every game plan starts with stopping the run. We wanted to get them in third-and-long and put it in their quarterback's hands and then get some pressure on him," said Dolphins defensive end Kevin Carter. "Then we have to get back and play good defense. That first drive they had was their most consistent drive they had. The defense played big in the second half and we were able to not only reverse field position but also score."
READING THE FUTURE?
Jason Taylor said he knew he had to make something happen in the fourth quarter, and linebacker Zach Thomas backed up the defensive end's version of his foreshadowing effort.
Jason Taylor caused a Chester Taylor fumble, and later in the fourth quarter the defensive end intercepted a pass that he returned 51 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
"The ref asked him if he could see the future after that because two plays before that, he told the ref, ‘I'm about to make something amazing happen.' You can ask him about it," Thomas said. "He said, ‘I'm out of rhythm. I'm about to make something amazing happen.' Next thing you know, the pick, takes it to the house, the sack. He had a forced fumble. I mean he had everything today. He's had that every week. I'm just happy first of all that he's part of the family, and I'm happy that he's part of the team too."
Said Taylor: "I hadn't been feeling good all game. I didn't feel like I was in a groove. I was kind of struggling personally so I was trying to do some self-talk in the huddle. The ref was standing there so I just turned to the ref and said, ‘I'm about to do something outrageous.' He said, ‘What?' I told him again and he kind of laughed and walked away. I got lucky and got a pick."
Taylor's 51-yard interception return for a touchdown was his second in the last three weeks. It is the fifth time in Dolphins history that a player has had two interception returns for a touchdown in the same season.
He also ties an NFL record for most touchdowns (seven) by an NFL defensive lineman, equaling former New York Giant George Martin's accomplishment from 1975-88.
"The more you see, the more you can diagnose plays, know what's coming and know what is going on," Taylor said. "My second year in the league, I probably wouldn't have made that play. I would have been way up the field tying to get the quarterback. It's experience, but it is also the guys around me. We all play off each other. It is not a one-man deal. This isn't golf or tennis. I am just very fortunate to have the teammates I have."
Quarterback Brad Johnson said Taylor told him he made the read on that interception.
"He's unbelievable in what he does," Johnson said. "I asked him and he said he read the scheme. I thought that we had him blocked and I never saw him until after he made the play. I thought it could have been a big play for us but he kind of stayed hidden behind (Bryant) McKinnie."
Taylor, who had seven sacks in his last five games before the Vikings came to town, finished with five tackles, a sack, an interception for a touchdown, two forced fumbles and two passes defensed.
PASS DEFENSE ON THE DEFENSE
The Vikings' pass defense has been exposed as vulnerable to tune of 345 yards by the New England Patriots and 347 yards by the Green Bay Packers, so when Miami Dolphins quarterback Joey Harrington passed for 67 yards on the first drive of the game, it looked like more of the same could be in store for the Vikings.
However, the Vikings adjusted quickly and became more effective after that, despite losing cornerbacks Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin for short periods in the first half.
"They were throwing some quick passes. We were blitzing and we had a man free every time, but (Harrington) was just getting the ball out of his hands before we got there," Winfield said of the Dolphins' first-half passes.
Harrington had thrown three touchdowns and two interceptions in his last two games. On Sunday, he threw one touchdown and one interception.
The Vikings' loss couldn't be pinned on the special teams. The Vikings won nearly every head-to-head battle.
Chris Kluwe only had a 37.7-yard average on his punts (with two inside the 20-yard line) while Dolphins punter Donnie Jones had a 42.7-yard average (with one inside the 20), but Kluwe had a better net average.
Part of that came thanks to a 28-yard punt return by Mewelde Moore, who averaged 11.3 yards per return, beating Miami returner Wes Welker's 10.0-yard average. Moore did have one ill-advised return attempt inside the 10-yard line that put the Vikings in bad field position on their own 5-yard line.
Kick returner Bethel Johnson averaged 26 yards per return, bettering Welker's 23-yard average and the Dolphins' 21-yard average as a team.
Kicker Ryan Longwell was also good on both of his short field goal attempts – from 35 and 19 yards – and Miami's Olindo Mare made one from 44 yards but kept another one from 44 yards wide left.