Under ordinary circumstances, if someone told you the Minnesota Vikings had the ball for just 58 seconds of the first quarter, you would assume that the team would be down 14-0. But in Friday's 37-20 win over the New York Jets at the Meadowlands, the Vikings offensive players were merely spectators as the defense one again came up with huge plays in the passing game, giving the Vikings a 14-3 lead in the first quarter and creating the Turning Point of the Game.
The Jets got the opening kickoff and came out passing, looking to build on what so many teams – including their own 2006 team – did to the Vikings in the final 10 games of the regular season. Of the Jets' first four plays, all of them were designed passes – two were completed, one was negated by an offside penalty and the other play broke down and quarterback Chad Pennington was forced to scramble. After a run, Pennington went back to the air – only to have Darren Sharper sneak into the zone where the ball was coming, intercept the pass in stride and bring it back 40 yards for a touchdown.
"That's what they pay me to do," Sharper said in a sideline interview. "Our defense is opportunistic and when we got those kind of chances, we need to take advantage of them."
After the Jets cut the lead to 7-3 on an 11-play drive capped by a 19-yard field by Mike Nugent after New York got to the 1-yard on the drive, the Vikings defense could again be pleased with their performance. But, following a three-and-out drive by Tarvaris Jackson and the offense, the ‘D' was again asked to stand up and take control of the game.
The defenders responded with another touchdown. With a second-and-16 play, Pennington tried to throw a sideline pass to running back Leon Washington as the quarterback tried to avoid a sack from defensive end Ray Edwards. Pennington's pass had no zip on it and Chad Greenway stepped in between the receiver and Pennington and had an easy 16-yard jaunt to the end zone.
While the Vikings offense would look impressive on its first drive of the second quarter – building the lead to 21-6 – it had the luxury of being comfortable with a big lead without doing anything offensively in the first quarter. Despite running just three plays and gaining four yards in the first quarter, the Vikings ended the quarter with a 14-3 lead. Why? A swarming defense that made Pennington look like an untested rookie, not a veteran who led his team to the playoffs last year. And in the process, the defense created an early Turning Point of the Game from which there was no return for the New Yorkers.
Turning Point: Early Defensive Domination
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