After Sunday's game against the Packers, it all seemed so simple to the Monday morning quarterbacks.
Adrian Peterson had run for 108 yard on 10 carries and many wondered why he only rushed the ball twice in the second half. As it turned out, Chester Taylor only rushed three times in the second half, so the Vikings had apparently made a turn away from the rushing game and were targeting the passing game.
There might have been good reason for that – and one of those reasons was apparent from the start of the game when the Vikings began targeting Green Bay cornerback Jarrett Bush.
In only the second play from scrimmage, quarterback Kelly Holcomb fired a deep pass for Sidney Rice, a pass that Rice dropped with Bush trailing in coverage. On Vikings' third drive of the game, they completed a 16-yard pass to Troy Williamson with Bush in coverage, and on the very next play Holcomb found Rice down the right sideline for an 11-yard gain with Bush in coverage.
Rice didn't exactly say that the Vikings were targeting Bush, but their actions seemed to speak louder than Rice's words.
"We were just coming out throwing the ball. (Holcomb) was making good reads all night, not just to me but all the receivers," Rice said when asked about Bush. "I guess he felt confident in that matchup."
No doubt about it. On that same drive, Rice and the Vikings completed another pass play – this one for 15 yards – against Bush. That meant that three of the four passes that Holcomb completed on their third drive of the game came against Bush, with Rice the successful target on two of those opportunities.
Receiver Bobby Wade, who also caught a pass on that drive, was a little more forthcoming.
"We knew they were going to play man coverage. We knew Al Harris and Charles Woodson were strong players, veteran players. They were going to have to put a third player on the field to try to match up with whichever one of us," Wade said. "No doubt about it, we were trying to find the best matchup. Regardless of who that is, it's about making the best of that opportunity when it comes. Sidney did it all day and the receivers did a good job."
In the first half, while Peterson was averaging 10.8 yards per carry, Rice caught two passes for a 13-yard average and was the target of three more Holcomb passes.
In the second half, Rice ended up with two more receptions than Peterson did carries, but he wasn't able to get going until the fourth quarter, mainly because Green Bay used up almost nine minutes on its opening drive of the second half.
It wasn't until less than five minutes remained in the game that Holcomb and the Vikings offense started targeting Rice again. Down 23-9, Holcomb found Rice three times on Minnesota's 12-play touchdown drive, a drive that was capped by the 6-foot-4, 200-pound receiver out-jumping cornerback Charles Woodson for a highlight-film, 15-yard touchdown catch with 1:55 to play.
"It was just a little go route. I gave him a move inside. I was able to get on top of him, and right when I got in the end zone, the ball was right there," Rice said of his touchdown catch that illustrated the body control and ball skills that he showed throughout the offseason.
The Vikings went right back to Rice for another 15-yard gain on the first play of their last desperation drive, but getting to the Packers' 34-yard line would be as close as the Vikings would come to the end zone they needed to find at least one more time.
Had they gotten near enough and had the time to throw the ball, Rice might have been the target again, considering his college career at South Carolina included 23 touchdown catches in 24 games played, among his other collegiate accomplishments.
So while the Vikings can be criticized for not getting the ball in the hands of first-round running back Adrian Peterson enough in the second half, they might also be discovering their second-round wide receiver should be getting the ball thrown his way more often as well.
"I'm just out there to make plays. If we've got a play called and the ball comes my way, I'm trying to make the play," he said.
He proved that on Sunday, when he ended the day with six catches for 75 yards in his most extensive action of the season.
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