First it was defense, and then it was the man they call "All Day" operating at night.
Last week's preseason-opening loss gave Vikings fans a hint of hope with quarterback Tarvaris Jackson performing admirably, but the team's only touchdown then came on an 82-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Surely, the Vikings can't rely on their defense to score touchdowns every week, but so far in two preseason games the defense has scored four touchdowns after a three-touchdown effort from the Purple Crush in a 37-20 win over the New York Jets.
Two interception returns for touchdowns off of starter Chad Pennington and another fumble return for a touchdown in the third quarter helped pace the Minnesota defense early and often. While Jackson was only 2 of 4 in limited opportunities, it was first-round draft choice Adrian Peterson, nicknamed "All Day," who impressed offensively this Friday night.
Peterson's first carry of the game went for 43 yards, and four rushes later he was bullying his way into the end zone behind Pro Bowl left guard Steve Hutchinson for a 21-6 lead early in the second quarter.
It was a night marked by an opportunistic defense that pressured Pennington – the player Randy Moss once called the best quarterback he's played with – into two weak passes, the first one that safety Darren Sharper returned 40 yards on the game's opening drive and the second one that linebacker Chad Greenway returned 16 yards on New York's third drive of the game.
While no Minnesota quarterback had more than four completions, it was Peterson who stole the offensive show, rushing eight times for 70 yards and a touchdown.
The fireworks started early and kept on coming into the third quarter.
While the Jets opened last week's preseason game with 16 straight running plays, this week they came out passing – and paid for it early. After picking up one first down, thanks largely to a third-down offside penalty on Ray Edwards, the Vikings' ball-hawking defense came to life. On Pennington's third pass of the game, he was looking for Jericho Cotchery on a crossing route, but Sharper step in front of the receiver for the interception, eluded Pennington and picked up a huge block from Kevin Williams for a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown and a 7-0 Vikings lead 3:26 into the game.
The Jets were unfazed and came out firing again while making a concerted effort to target cornerback Cedric Griffin. On the only third down of the drive, Pennington hit Coles for 12 yards when he worked off a Griffin bump at the line of scrimmage and caught a slant. A 5-yard reverse and a penalty on the Vikings for too many men on the field picked up another first down. A 10-yard pass to Cotchery and an ensuing penalty for spiking the ball put the Jets on the 6-yard line. While Leon Washington rushed to the 1-yard line on first down, the next two passes were defended well by Griffin, forcing the Jets to settle for a 19-yard field goal with 5:51 to play in the first quarter.
But after two straight possessions of no-huddle offense from New York, the Vikings offense didn't do its own defense any favors when Bobby Wade dropped what would have been a first-down pass to turn the ball back over to the Jets.
While the defense might have been getting winded early, it didn't show. On the second play of the drive, Edwards pressured Pennington and pulled his feet from under him as the quarterback released a pass intended for running back Leon Washington. Instead, Greenway snatched the ball out of the air and didn't break stride until he turned it into a 16-yard score for another defensive touchdown for a 14-3 lead.
Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer responded to the two interceptions by running the ball on each down of their next series after a kick return to the 49-yard line. The first three runs netted 26 yards and put Mike Nugent in position to kick a 34-yard field goal to draw it to 14-6 just 39 seconds into the second quarter.
While Minnesota's offense couldn't get it going on its first drive, it needed only one handoff to Peterson to look a whole lot better. Peterson's first carry of the game needed one spin to the right before he was off to races for 43 yards. Chester Taylor followed suit to the left, gaining 12 yards. A third-down pass to Sidney Rice gained a first down to the 7-yard line, and Peterson did the rest on two rushes to give the Vikings a 21-6 lead with 10:25 left in the half.
With the backup quarterbacks in for both teams, they exchanged possessions with Brooks Bollinger fumbling to end his first drive on a sack by Shaun Ellis, who beat Bryant McKinnie to the outside, forced the fumble and recovered it at the 35-yard line. Three plays into their ensuing drive, Kellen Clemens found Justin McCareins just short of the first-down marker, but he slipped a Griffin tackle attempt and juked past Dwight Smith and Sharper for a touchdown, making it 21-13.
The Vikings took their last possession of the first half and converted third-and-15 with a screen pass to Taylor that netted 18 yards. Rushes of 8 yards by Peterson and an 11-yard scramble by Bollinger put them in Jets territory, where Bollinger scrambled for 7 more yards before the field goal team rushed on, allowing Ryan Longwell to finish off the first-half scoring with a 54-yard field goal as time expired for a 24-13 Vikings lead.
Just because the game went to the second half and the second-team defense was in, that was no reason for the Minnesota defenders to stop scoring. On the Jets' first possession of the half, backup center Pete Kendall snapped the ball over the head of Clemens. When defensive end Brian Robison pushed Clemens out of the way inside the 10-yard line, Robison was able to gather the ball at the 3-yard line and dive into the end zone for a 31-13 lead with 6:18 left in the third quarter.
The next possession didn't go any better for the Jets. On third down, Clemens unloaded a pass in the middle of the field that Charles Gordon tipped and Dovonte Edwards intercepted with a diving effort.
That set the Vikings up on New York's 40-yard line, where Mewelde Moore started with three consecutive carries that advanced the ball to the 7-yard line. They weren't able to stuff it in the end zone, but Longwell was true from 22 yards out for a 34-14 lead with 2:07 left in the third quarter.
With Brad Smith inserted into the game for the Jets, they finally put together a positive offensive drive behind the legs of Danny Ware, the arm of Smith and the hands of tight end Sean Ryan. Smith picked up the initial third down of the drive with an 8-yard scramble and, two plays later, found Ryan for a first-down throw. Ware picked up 14 more yards on two rushes, and the Jets were on the move into Vikings territory. Ware picked up 17 yards on two carries, and Smith converted another first down with a 2-yard sneak. But even that momentum would turn against the Jets when a low snap to Smith allowed Spencer Johnson to come through for the sack and end New York's drive on fourth down.
When Tyler Thigpen couldn't get the Vikings offense into Jets territory, Jets fourth-string quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo was able to get his teammates into the end zone. Two passes to Ryan and an offsides penalty on third-string defensive tackle Conrad Bolston combined to give New York two first downs and move them across midfield. On fourth-and-8, running back Tony Hollings converted with a 14-yard reception, followed by a 10-yard pass to Chansi Stuckey. Tuiasosopo capped the drive through the third-team defense with a 23-yard touchdown strike over recently acquired linebacker George Hall and into the arms of Jason Pociask. That made it 34-20 with 2:22 to play, but the Vikings weren't quite done.
Martin Nance didn't just recover an onside kick, he advanced the ball 23 yards to New York's 15-yard line, and with 30 seconds left to play Longwell connected on a 27-yard attempt for the 37-20 final.
In all, four Vikings quarterbacks passed for only 72 yards, but 167 yards on the ground and a point-producing offense were more than enough in the Meadowlands.
Defense All Night … And ‘All Day'
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