The Vikings sported an impressive defense in 2006, but it has become even more opportunistic during the 2007 preseason. See just how good they've been, with comments from Darren Sharper and Antoine Winfield, and get more than 30 game-day notes that help tell the story of the preseason finale.
Many people have pinned the hopes of the Vikings on their defense – the idea being that, if the Vikings are going to win, it will have to be thanks to an oppressive defense.
There are reasons to have that opinion. The Bears have made it to the playoffs with quarterbacks viewed as pedestrian at best, but they have an aggressive, turnover-happy defense that has caused turnover after turnover and made the Bears defense as likely to score as its offense.
As the Vikings closed out their preseason schedule, they were taking much the same approach. The team scored eight touchdowns in the preseason – four by the offense and four by the defense – and needed a 2-0 edge by the offense in Thursday's finale to even up the score.
"We don't expect things to stay that way, but it's nice to know that we can put points on the board from the defensive side of the ball," said safety Darren Sharper
of the team's penchant for scoring touchdowns. "When you have an aggressive defense, those types of things will happen. We have tried to force the action and have been able to get some big plays out of it. When you make a quarterback hurry his passes and get pressure on him and slap at the ball, good things happen."
The Vikings forced 14 turnovers in the preseason to set a franchise preseason record. And their four defensive TDs broke the old record of three set in 1992.
"I didn't know we were setting records," cornerback Antoine Winfield
said. "We've been making plays, but the defenses that have been here in the past, I would have thought it would be hard to break those records."
So far, so good in that respect. If it carries over into the regular season, there may be less worrying about the Vikings offense and more praising the Vikings defense.
In 47 seasons, the Vikings have had a losing record in the preseason just eight times.
Ryan Longwell scored 11 points in Thursday's game, giving him 35 for the preseason to break the team record of 31 set by Fuad Reveiz in 1992. Longwell also set a new team mark with nine field goals – one more than Paul Edinger made in the 2005 preseason.
Fifteen Cowboys players that were in uniform didn't play – all of them expected to be Week 1 starters.
Only five Vikings that were on the active roster didn't see any playing time – Winfield, E.J. Henderson, Pat Williams, Kevin Williams and Darrion Scott. Chester Taylor was in a jogging outfit, but the official stats said he played.
Both teams ran an extremely conservative offense, the Vikings averaging just 4.1 yards a play on 68 offensive plays and the Cowboys averaging 4.2 yards a play on 56 plays from scrimmage.
Chris Kluwe had a good kicking night, averaging 46 yards a punt on five attempts after learning earlier in the week that the punting job was his with the release of rookie Alex Reyes.
The Cowboys completed 30 of 39 passes during the game, but averaged just seven yards per reception.
Between the two teams, seven players threw passes and 22 different players caught passes.
The Vikings got five turnovers Thursday, four on Dallas fumbles and one on an interception by Chad Johnson late in the fourth quarter.
The third quarter may have been one of the quickest quarters in recent memory. The two teams combined to run just 26 plays.
The Vikings had the better of most of the statistical categories in the first half. Minnesota had more first downs (10 to 6), total yards (165-118), rushing yards (47-12) and passing yards (118-106).
Individually, Artose Pinner was the leading rusher with eight carries for 21 yards, with Moore adding four carries for 17 yards. Brooks Bollinger ended the half completing nine of 15 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown – for a passer rating of 104.6. Billy McMullen led the team with three catches for 38 yards, followed by Sidney Rice with two catches for 17 yards.
The Cowboys managed just 12 yards on nine rushing attempts in the first half – half of that coming on one carry.
Despite a shaky start, Matt Moore finished the half completing nine of 10 passes for 62 yards and a passer rating of 125.8. Tight end Tony Curtis was the primary beneficiary of the short passing game, leading the Cowboys with five catches for 44 yards.
The Vikings' two-minute offense was on display late in the first half, as Bollinger completed four of six passes – two to McMullen for 33 yards – to drive the Vikings 53 yards with no timeouts in the final two minutes to set up a Ryan Longwell field goal with three seconds to play in the half, giving the Vikes a 17-14 lead they would take to the locker room.
Late in the first half, the Cowboys felt they found a vulnerable point in the Vikings Cover-2 defense. Moore led the Cowboys on a scoring drive that featured eight straight passes – all completions – with just one for more than six yards as the team drove down the field for a game-tying score at 14-14.
McMullen is in a fight for his roster spot and did himself no favors with the Vikings pinned on their own 7-yard line midway through the second quarter. After an incompletion with a Cowboys defender talking smack, McMullen decided to smack on his own – with a shot to the mouth. He was immediately pulled from the game and caught an earful from the coaching staff.
There's little chance Patrick Body is going to make the active roster, but he missed a chance to score a defensive touchdown. Moore threw an ugly pass right at Body, who had a clear path to the end zone, but Body dropped the ball and let Dallas keep it.
Moore had about as bad a start to his game as possible. He fumbled the first snap of the game on the Vikings 19-yard line. Defensive tackle Howard Green recovered the ball and it led to a Vikings touchdown six plays later.
The Vikings touchdown pass from Bollinger to Rice was the first thrown by a Vikings quarterback all preseason – a span of more than 13 quarters.
The Vikings finished the first quarter with an 82-58 yardage edge. The Vikings had 20 yards rushing and 62 yards passing, while the Cowboys managed 14 yards rushing and 44 yards passing.
Individually, Jackson finished the game with a paltry 39.6 passer rating, completing one of five passes for 13 yards. Bollinger completed three of five passes for 53 yards. Artose Pinner was the main rushing threat in the quarter with six carries for 18 yards. Four different Vikings caught passes, with Ferguson's 38-yarder being the big play.
Adrian Peterson finished the game with one carry for two yards. Chester Taylor didn't have a carry in the game.
Brad Johnson completed five of seven passes in the first quarter for 44 yards, with Miles Austin and Tyson Thompson each catching two passes. Thompson had all five Dallas rushing attempts in the quarter for 14 yards.
The Vikings defense again set the tone for scoring. Late in the first quarter, a short slant pass to Jerheme Urban was broken up by Heath Farwell, causing a fumble that was recovered by Greg Blue at the Dallas 42-yard line. Thanks to a 38-yard completion from Bollinger to Ferguson, the Vikings turned the turnover into points.
The Vikings' special teams continued to be a problem Thursday. After a booming 59-yard punt by Chris Kluwe, three Vikings converged on returner Urban. But all three collided without getting Urban, who went 95 yards for the game's first points.
The Vikings challenged the call and the Jumbotron clearly showed Urban step on the sideline at midfield. However, the officials didn't see enough (like a foot on a white line) to overturn the call.
That play resulted in a lost timeout. That, combined with a timeout called by Jackson after an incomplete pass, and the Vikings had one time out left with 10:31 to play in the first quarter. The third timeout of the half would get burned after the Vikings converted a first down in the red zone with 11:10 to play in the first half.
The Cowboys took a novel approach to the final game. Instead of the standard one-and-out series, they opted to bench almost all of their starters.
All of the Vikings deactivations were veterans, including safeties Mike Doss and Tank Williams, wide receiver Bobby Wade, DE Darrion Scott and linebacker Vinny Ciurciu.
The Cowboys inactives included kicker Martin Gramatica, CB Terence Newman, WR Terry Glenn, OT Doug Free and LB Greg Ellis – along with all those in uniform who didn't play.
The announced attendance was 62,938 – alleged to be the 95th straight sellout at the Metrodome.
Among the fans in attendance, although not necessarily among the paid attendees, was Twins outfielder Torii Hunter. The Twins had the official groundbreaking ceremony for their new stadium earlier Thursday.