Even after a 34-0 loss to the Packers that had many fans counting them out for the rest of the season, the Vikings still viewed themselves as a good team with a bad record. Three weeks later, they are in the thick of the playoff hunt. See what the players and head coach had to say about the 21-day evolution, and get nearly 40 game notes that help tell the tale of their third straight win.
A lot of times, you learn more in the bad times than you do in the good. Following the Vikings' 42-10 blowout of the Lions Sunday, the Vikings improved to 6-6 on the season and in the thick of the playoff hunt in the NFC – something that seemed all but impossible at midseason with the Giants and Lions both at 6-2 and trailing in their respective divisions.
At the same time, the Vikings were struggling to find themselves and, following their 34-0 beating at the hands of the Packers on Nov. 11, the Vikings appeared to be sinking as fast as the Edmund Fitzgerald, which went down 30 years earlier on Nov. 11.
But, over the last three weeks, the Vikings have used that defeat as a catalyst to getting back into the playoff hunt. While there was no questioning the beating they took from Green Bay, the players knew they weren't a 3-6 team. With a pair of early three-point losses to Detroit and Kansas City, the Vikings had a bad record, but didn't believe they were a bad team.
"We knew we were close but couldn't get it done," linebacker Chad Greenway
said. "Now, we've got to keep our foot on the gas pedal. We've got a long way to go."
While there were external doubters of the Vikings' chances in 2007, after the loss to the Packers, there were no excuses. The Vikings were dominated in all facets of the game. But, instead of throwing in the towel and saying "no mas,
" they used the loss to focus on their own game.
"In the Green Bay game, we got our ass pretty much handed to us," cornerback Cedric Griffin
said. "We came out of it with a different attitude and started elevating practice and came out with a new attitude. Each game is getting better and better. It all starts with practice. We've done a great job in practice. Everyone is staying as one unit, everyone is aggressive and it's showing in the games."
That focus had led to improvement on both sides of the ball. The Vikings have been pressuring the quarterback on defense and grinding out drives on offense that exploit the running game. Again, the determination not to embarrass themselves like they did at Lambeau Field has brought a different team to the field.
"We just made it our mindset that we were going to play four quarters all the way through," running back Chester Taylor
said. "We're going to stay consistent and keep our mind into the game the whole way. We've been doing that lately."
But, now that the Vikings are in a tie for the second wild card spot, have they arrived? Not so fast, Vikings fans. The players are keeping this streak in perspective.
"We're a work in progress," safety Dwight Smith
said. "We've got a second-year quarterback. We have a rookie starting running back, a rookie (wide) receiver and a rookie cornerback. It's hard to just say that we've made it. All we can do is just execute and keep getting better every week."
Based on the last couple of weeks, that may be as improbable as their three-game winning streak that has the Vikings as suddenly one of the dark-horse darlings of the NFC after 21 days of winning.
"Twenty-one days it takes to lose a habit or create a habit, whether it's biting your nails or smoking or winning – 21 days," head coach Brad Childress said. "Twenty-one days didn't start with the Oakland game, it started the Monday after the Green Bay game. Count them up. November 12 through December 2. Psychologists tell us that all the time. These guys really have attacked this thing from the practice field to the meeting room to the weight room to the locker room, and you really can see it manifest itself right here."
Dwight Smith didn't start the game. He was benched for the first series of the game and Mike Doss got the start. Smith said the benching was the result of a "disagreement with the coach" and Brad Childress acknowledged Smith's not starting was for disciplinary reasons.
The Vikings are now 6-0 when they score 20 or more points and 0-6 when they score less than 20 points in a game.
The Vikings outgained the Lions 443-254 – running 66 offensive plays as opposed to just 46 by the Lions. The big disparity was in the running game, where the Vikings had 39 rushes for 216 yards and the Lions had just seven carries for 23 yards – with 22 of those yards coming when the Lions were simply trying to run out the clock.
Minnesota dominated the time of possession, holding the ball for 37:02 of the game, including an impressive edge of 29:16 to 15:44 in time of possession in the final three quarters.
Roy Williams left the game with a knee injury late in the first half, but for much of the half he was locked up with former teammate Griffin, who convinced the coaches his knowledge of Williams from their time together at the University of Texas would give him an advantage.
Eighteen different players caught passes Sunday – nine for each team.
Jackson had his best game as a pro Sunday, completing 18 of 24 passes for 204 yards with two touchdowns and a passer rating of 110.4.
Childress said he wanted to limit Adrian Peterson's touches to about 17 and he made good on it. Peterson had 16 touches.
A.P. is now at 1,197 yards rushing – just four yards shy of Terry Allen (1992) for fifth place in single-season rushing, 19 yards behind Chester Taylor (2006) for fourth place, 70 yards behind Robert Smith (1997) for third place and 99 yards behind Michael Bennett (2002) for second place. Smith still has a strong grip on the top spot with 1,521 yards in 2000.
The Vikings scored touchdowns on their first six possessions.
The Vikings had just four penalties for 25 yards in the game.
The Lions fumbled four times in the game but recovered all of them.
For a team that made it into the red zone just 20 times in their first 11 games, the Vikings improved on those numbers greatly Sunday – scoring five touchdowns on six trips into the red zone, with the only missed opportunity coming on a Tarvaris Jackson interception. That play followed a dropped pass by Visanthe Shiancoe on an option pass from Taylor.
Chris Kluwe didn't have to punt the ball until less than four minutes remained in the game.
With the game in hand, the Vikings pulled Peterson midway through the third quarter and offensive linemen Matt Birk and Steve Hutchinson midway through the fourth quarter.
Taylor had his 428th carry as a Viking in the fourth quarter, setting a new record for most carries in the first two seasons as a Viking.
Rookie sensation Calvin Johnson didn't catch a pass until 13:07 remained in the game.
The Vikings pulled out some surprising trickery late in the third quarter with a 42-10 lead. Faced with a fourth-and-long, the Vikings lined up for a 52-yard field goal. But on the snap, holder Chris Kluwe, who had yet to punt in the game, flipped a shovel pass to Jeff Dugan for 27 yards to the 6-yard line. One play later, the Vikings tried a halfback option pass by Taylor that was thrown fine but dropped by Shiancoe.
Taylor was forgiving about missing out on a touchdown pass, saying of Shiancoe, "I could have had a touchdown, but Shank messed me up. He's still my boy, though."
Kevin Williams went old-school pro wrestling on a third-quarter sack of Kitna, doing a Ric Flair "stylin' and profilin'" strut following the sack that got wrestling-savvy fans to respond with Flair's trademark "Whoooo!"
On the first drive of the second half, Peterson's climb up the single-season rushing list continued. On the drive, he carried five times for 38 yards. On the first carry, he moved into seventh all-time, passing Chuck Foreman, who gained 1,155 yards in 1976. On his 13-yard touchdown, he passed Robert Smith (1,187 yards in 1998) for sixth place.
The 35 points scored by the Vikings in the first half tied a franchise record set in 1986 against Green Bay. The Vikings scored 34 points in a first half twice – against the Cowboys in 1970 and against Chicago in 1990. The most points scored in any half was 38 against Jacksonville in 1998.
The Vikings scored 35 points in just 34 offensive plays in the first half.
The Vikings held the ball for 10:10 of the second quarter to take a dominating statistical edge, finishing the first half with 261 yards as opposed to 171 for Detroit. The Vikings had 154 yards rushing and 107 passing, while the Lions had just four rushing and 167 passing. The Vikings were four-for-five on third-down conversions and four-for-four in the red zone.
Jackson had a sparkling passer rating of 141.3 in the first half, completing 10 of 13 passes for 111 yards and two touchdowns. Peterson had 80 yards rushing on 10 carries, Taylor had 50 yards on six carries and Jackson ran three times for 22 yards, giving the Vikings a 7.7-yard per-carry average.
The Lions attempted just two running plays – none in the second quarter – while attempting 26 pass plays in the first half. Kitna was 18 of 25 passing for 179 yards. Williams led the receiving corps with five catches for 85 yards in the half.
The average start of a drive for the Vikings in the first half was their own 38-yard line.
Late in the first half, the Lions lost both Roy Williams and Boss Bailey to knee injuries. Neither returned to the game.
The Vikings' scoring drive in the second quarter that increased their lead to 28-10 consisted of 10 plays. The only passes were an incompletion on a screen to Peterson and a touchdown pass to Wade.
Early in the second quarter, Kitna completed a pair of passes to Williams for 67 yards to put him over 3,000 yards passing for the season.
On his first carry of the second quarter, Peterson passed Foreman (1,112 yards in 1977) into eighth place for the single-season rushing mark for the Vikings.
The Vikings dominated the first-quarter stats despite having a 7:46-7:14 deficient in time of possession. The Vikings had 101 total yards (35 passing, 65 rushing) while the Lions had 71 yards (67 passing, 4 rushing).
Individually, Jackson had a passer rating of 118.8 – completing all three of his pass attempts for 39 yards in the first quarter. Peterson ran five times for 35 yards and Taylor had three carries for 31 yards. Wade caught two passes for 29 yards. For the Lions, Kitna was 9 of 13 passing in the quarter for 67 yards, with three of those going to Williams for 18 yards and two catches each for Furry and McDonald.
Ryan Longwell saved the Vikings a touchdown following the Vikings' first score. Returner Aveion Cason broke through the wedge and had clear sailing to the end zone except for Longwell, who made an ankle tackle at the 40 that stopped a touchdown. The Lions would end up with a field goal on that drive to cut the Vikings' lead to 7-3.
The Vikings' run dominance was on display in the first drive, as both Peterson and Taylor had three carries for 31 yards on the drive. Peterson had a run 28 yards to get the Vikings into the red zone and Taylor had runs of 15 and 14 yards before capping the drive with a 2-yard touchdown.
Sunday was the third game in a row that the Vikings scored a touchdown on the opening drive.
The Vikings lost Bryant McKinnie on the second offensive play of the game with a knee injury. His knee buckled during a sack of Jackson, but he returned to the game two plays later after being checked on the sidelines.
The Lions made no effort to mix and match on their first drive of the game. Of their five offensive plays on the first drive, all of them were passes.
The announced attendance was 62,996 – the 102nd straight sellout, but it was the fifth time in six games that the franchise needed some form of corporate assistance.