In their 30-20 win against the Detroit Lions on Sunday, the Vikings turned the ball over twice and were the willing recipients of six turnovers from the Lions offense.
After taking the opening drive 80 yards for a touchdown behind the running of Artose Pinner and receptions of Marcus Robinson, the Vikings' remaining 23 points were all set up by turnovers on defense … and it didn't take long.
On Detroit's opening drive, Roy Williams inexplicably bobbled the ball and put it on the Ford Field carpet after a reception. Fellow former Texas Longhorn Cedric Griffin recovered and set up the Minnesota offense on the 45-yard line. Six plays later, the Vikings had a 14-0 advantage.
The defensive backs continued to press the issue. On the Lions' next drive, Jon Kitna overthrew Mike Furrey but not safety Dwight Smith, who took the interception 47 yards to the Detroit 22-yard line. This time, it took the Vikings five plays to increase their advantage to 20-0 on a Brad Johnson run and a failed pass following a bobbled hold on the extra-point try.
On the Vikings' next possession, cornerback Jamar Fletcher scored Detroit's first points on an 88-yard interception return for a touchdown.
The Vikings also turned over the ball on their possession. A Pinner fumble was recovered by safety Kenoy Kennedy, and, eight plays later, Jason Hanson pulled the Lions within 10 points, 20-10, with a field goal.
The turnovers continued at the outset of the second half when Darrion Scott ruined Detroit's first possession with a sack and forced fumble the Kevin Williams recovered. While the offense couldn't move the ball but 6 yards, it put them in position for a Ryan Longwell field goal and a 23-10 lead.
"That defense did a great job turning it to us," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "Obviously, you have to do something with it, which is something we have not been able to do. And still you'd like some more sevens."
Griffin forced another fumble one possession later that the Vikings couldn't turn into points, but his interception late in the third quarter set up the Vikings' final points of the game. It gave the ball on Detroit's 26-yard line, where they needed five plays to turn the advantageous field position into a 30-13 lead.
Darren Sharper sealed the win with a final interception in the game's final two minutes.
"They call me the king of padding stats at the end of the game. I got a lot of them," Sharper said. "So, I'm glad to kind of steal the game. You know, the more I get opportunities for them to throw the ball at me, the more plays I can make. That's just the thing. If I can get them to throw them at me, I can make more plays like that."
In a game where 33 of the 50 points were scored following turnovers, the significance of taking care of the football can't be underestimated. It's no wonder the media often hear head coach Brad Childress saying, "You've gotta take care of that football" on many Mondays during football season.
The team's 6-2 commanding lead in turnovers in Detroit put them in positive territory in takeaways-giveaways for the first time since their Oct. 22 win over Seattle, after which they owned a 10-8 turnover advantage over their opponents.
They now hold their biggest advantage of the season, 31-28, in turnover margin.
PLAYMAKERS AND PURSUERS
The Vikings' large turnover advantage wasn't the only reason their defense was being lauded after the game. They entered the contest with the league's top rush defense this season and the second-best in league history.
Their average just got better. While they entered the game surrendering only 59.8 yards per game on the ground, against Detroit they set franchise lows for each team when the Vikings defense held the Lions to minus-3 yards rushing in the game.
"Oh man, those guys are something else," said Pinner. "Big Pat Williams and Kevin Williams - those guys are something special. I had opportunities to run against them on scout team the last couple of weeks, and I'm glad I don't have to do that anymore."
The highlight of the rush defense came when the Lions were facing second-and-goal from the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter. Kenechi Udeze and Darrion Scott snuffed Kevin Jones at the goal line on second down, and backup running back Arlen Harris was dropped for a minor loss on third down. On fourth down, a blitzing Dwight Smith sacked Jon Kitna to effectively end Detroit's hope for a comeback.
"Our thinking was, it's tough to get down there into that red zone, within that 5-yard line against a defense like that. So, we're down there, let's go put it in and now we have a chance to force a punt," Lions coach Rod Marinelli said. "We were playing pretty good defense in the second half. Get a three-and-out and now have a chance to work down and get a field goal, tie it up and go into overtime."
Instead, the Vikings assumed control of the ball and were able to milk a little time off the clock before calling on their defense for one more stand, which it made.
GRIFFIN GETS THE LONGHORN
Griffin wasn't expecting a lot of trash talk from former college teammate Roy Williams.
Williams and Griffin faced each other for three years during Texas Longhorns practices, but this was the first meeting of the two since Griffin moved into the starting lineup for the Vikings on Nov. 12.
In this season's initial meeting of the teams on Oct. 8, the rookie Griffin was used as a nickel back and Williams was knocked out of the game on the opening drive after a 7-yard reception.
Griffin often found himself matched up against Williams in Detroit and, while Williams ended up with 73 yards on six receptions, Griffin was more of a playmaker than Williams.
Maybe bad things happen to Williams on 7-yard receptions, because this time his first catch of the game – another 7-yarder – was followed by him simply dropping the ball. Griffin picked it up and attempted a return that went for negative yardage.
In the third quarter, Griffin was involved in two more big defensive plays. After wide receiver Mike Furrey caught a 4-yard pass, Griffin knocked it out and linebacker E.J. Henderson recovered to thwart a Lions drive.
On the next possession, Griffin was trailing Williams on a route across the middle. When Kitna threw it behind Williams, the receiver stuck his hand back, tipped the ball into the air, and Griffin intercepted it to set up Minnesota's final points of the game.
Griffin finished the game with only two tackles, but he added that interception, that forced fumble, that fumble recovery and three passes defensed.
RUN SLOWS DOWN
Compiling 172 yards on the ground is no small feat in the NFL, but Detroit started to clamp down on the Vikings in the second half.
"Just having a day where I was able to touch the ball over 20 times and make plays, that's all I've ever asked for," Pinner said. "Having an opportunity to do it here just made it that much sweeter."
The Vikings had 150 yards rushing in the first half alone with Pinner leading the way with 105 yards. But as the game wore on, the Lions began to shut down Minnesota's rushing attack.
Pinner had 11 rushes for 20 yards in the second half, and the rest of the ground crew had seven rushes for only 2 yards. The Vikings only threw seven passes in the second half, as they were intent on taking time off the clock while maintaining their lead.
After being deactivated last week following another performance where he dropped a pass, second-year receiver Troy Williamson was part of the game plan against Detroit.
"He did a good job. I wanted to get a little bit of that speed into play, and share some time with Marcus (Robinson) and Billy (McMullen), and I thought he answered the bell," Childress said. "Those catches were not easy ones, and he's fighting his way back."
Williamson had three catches for 23 yards, tying Marcus Robinson for the team high in receptions while making some nice grabs on shorter routes.
"The NFL's tough. Nothing's guaranteed, and for different reasons decisions are made," quarterback Brad Johnson said. "Troy's worked hard in practice, obviously coming off of an inactive week and he gets his opportunity today and has three big catches for us and keeps the drive alive and shows his character and what he wants to accomplish in this league. It was a great day for him."
HICKS BACK TO STARTING
While right tackle Mike Rosenthal held onto his starting job at right tackle despite Marcus Johnson being back to a full practice schedule, right guard Jason Whittle wasn't as fortunate.
After three false-start penalties by Whittle last week in Chicago during a season-high-tying 12 penalties for the Vikings, Artis Hicks was reinserted into the starting lineup and contributed to the Vikings' 172 yards rushing.
Scott Grams contributed to this notebook.