The Cardinals are who most thought they were entering this game – a losing team – and the Minnesota Vikings did just enough with Arizona's five turnovers to get a 31-26 win and bolster the confidence of an offense that had been struggling.
Despite preseason prognostications of the Cardinals being a playoff team, they fall to 2-9 while the Vikings move to 5-6 on the season and still have hope – however improbably that might be – for a playoff run.
Minnesota did it by overcoming a shaky kick coverage team, two 99-yard returns for touchdowns by the Arizona defense and special teams, and winning the battle of turnovers. It also helped that the Vikings offense found its groove against the 26th-ranked defense in the league.
Brad Johnson completed 27 of 41 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns, and Chester Taylor ran 27 times for 136 yards and one touchdown. Meanwhile, the Arizona Cardinals ran a franchise-low six times and threw the ball 51 times for 405 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
The Cardinals benefited from a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the game and a 99-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, making it much closer than it should have been.
After the Vikings took a 31-13 lead with 12 minutes to play, safety Adrian Wilson returned a Taylor fumble 99 yards to draw his team within 12 points, and the Cardinals' dangerous passing offense caught fire in hurry-up mode late in the game for another touchdown that put them within striking distance at 31-26. When they recovered an onside kick with 38 seconds remaining, all bets were off, but time ran out on Dennis Green's luck on the Cardinals sidelines and the Vikings escaped with an improbable – if not entertaining and nerve-wracking – win.
The game started as badly as it could for the Vikings when J.J. Arrington took the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown.
But the offense recovered nicely to score a touchdown on the opening drive, one that was Taylor-made with every gain going to either Travis Taylor or Chester Taylor. Chester picked up the initial first down with runs of 8 and 3 yards before Travis caught a 17-yard pass in the open middle portion of the field. Two consecutive rushes to the right side picked up 39 yards to the 3-yard line, but the Vikings needed four downs from there to finally punch it in with a Chester run over right guard to tie the game 7-7 with 9:42 still remaining in the first quarter.
The Cardinals offense proved nearly as effective as their special teams in its opening drive. Rookie quarterback Matt Leinart started with a 29-yard completion to Anquan Boldin to jumpstart the offense, and went back to him on the next play for 6 yards. Edgerrin James converted the first down with a 14-yard run, and Larry Fitzgerald brought the ball to the 21-yard line before James fumbled and the Kenechi Udeze recovered.
The Vikings drove across midfield on the heels of runs of 10 yards by Brad Johnson and 10 by Chester Taylor before a 10-yard pass to Ciatrick Fason advanced the ball to the 30-yard line. From there, however, the drive went backwards to force a punt.
The Cardinals responded with a scoring drive, and started this one with another long play to Boldin to open the drive, this one going 20 yards. Leinart stayed in the air, hitting Fitzgerald for 11 yards that had 15 tacked on with E.J. Henderson roughing Leinart and then going for 17 to tight end Adam Bergen and 12 to wideout Bryant Johnson. But after getting to the 3-yard line, Arizona was unable to score a touchdown in three attempts and settled for a 21-yard field goal from Neil Rackers.
Once again, the Vikings offense drove past midfield with a short passing game but ended up punting back to the Cardinals, who responded with another field goal drive. This time, Bryant Johnson opened the drive with a 28-yard reception, and, three plays later, Fitzgerald converted third-and-9 with an 18-yard catch. The Cardinals converted another first down with the short passing game before the drive fell apart and Rackers came on for a 50-yard field goal and a 13-7 lead with 3:48 left in the half.
Needing a touchdown to take their first lead in the game, the Vikings offense gave them exactly that. Chester Taylor picked up the initial first down with a 15-yard reception, and Chester and Travis converted another first down. But, facing fourth-and-7 on the Arizona 39-yard line, head coach Brad Childress elected to go for the first down and was rewarded with a 22-yard completion to Wiggins. On second down, Johnson found Marcus Robinson for a 17-yard touchdown and a 14-13 lead that they took to halftime.
After stopping the Cardinals on their opening possession of the second half, the Vikings scored touchdowns on consecutive drives. Passes of 11 and 22 yards to Travis Taylor and Marcus Robinson, respectively, picked up two first downs to start the drive, and Johnson had a 3-yard scramble to keep the chains moving. The Vikings continued to keep the Cardinals off-balance with a 12-yard slant to Robinson, followed by a 15-yard run by Taylor to get the ball to the 9-yard line. On third down from the 9, Johnson hit Billy McMullen on a quick slant from the slot to extend the lead to 21-13 with 10:37 to play in the third quarter.
But the offense wasn't done yet. On the Cardinals' ensuing drive, safety Dwight Smith ended it with an interception and set up the offense near midfield. Two passes to Jermaine Wiggins brought the ball across the 50, and Jim Kleinsasser put them on the doorstep of the red zone with a 14-yard catch. The drive backed up from there, and Ryan Longwell was called upon to deliver a 40-yard field goal to put the Vikings ahead 24-13 with 6:38 left in the third quarter.
The Cardinals continued to pass their way into scoring opportunities with receptions of 24 and 22 yards by Boldin and Fitzgerald, respectively, but a penalty and a missed field goal from 40 yards kept the Vikings with the 11-point advantage, but not for long.
Special teams ace Heath Farwell recovered a Troy Walters fumble on a punt return, and the offense was set up on the heels of another Arizona turnover. Travis Taylor picked up one first down, and a pass interference call on Antrell Rolle gave the Vikings a first down on the 5-yard line. Two plays later, Johnson scrambled right, bought time and found Jeff Dugan in the back of the end zone for a 31-13 lead with 12 minutes left in regulation.
But the Cardinals would soon begin their surge to get back into the game.
When Fred Smoot recovered another Arizona fumble and returned it to the 16-yard line, it looked like the Vikings would put more points on the board. Instead, it was points for the Cardinals as Adrian Wilson scooped up a Chester Taylor fumble at the goal line and returned it 99 yards to make it 31-19 with 10:02 to play after a failed two-point conversion.
When the offense picked up one first down and punted away, the Vikings defense weathered the Cardinals drive to the 15-yard line, where they opted to go for the touchdown on fourth-and-13 and threw incomplete out of bounds in the back corner of the end zone with 3:08 to play.
But it wasn't over yet.
The Cardinals offense was back on the field with 1:49 to play and converted one fourth down with a 14-yard pass to Fitzgerald, followed by another 34-yarder to him, getting the ball quickly to the 5-yard line. After a lateral out of bounds 4 yards behind the line of scrimmage, Leinart found Boldin for a 9-yard touchdown to draw Arizona within five points, 31-26 with 39 seconds left.
And when Darryl Blackstock recovered the onside kick, the pressure was on the Minnesota pass defense. The Cardinals needed to go 44 yards in 38 seconds. They picked up one first down with a 20-yard pass to Fitzgerald, but three straight incompletions brought the game to an end as time expired … and ended the Vikings' four-game winning streak.
It was far from easy against a team that entered the game 2-8, but the Vikings pass defense weathered a late storm to draw them within one game of a .500 record.
Vikings Survive Quirky Game, 31-26
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