Vikings Learning to Overcome Adversity

Monday night's win didn't come easy and it didn't come without its injury toll, but the Vikings still pulled out a win despite a poor first half.

They faced their stiffest test on Monday night – not judging by the level of competition, rather by the number of things that could and did go wrong – and still won. The Minnesota Vikings had a bad game on offense, a bad game in some aspects of their special teams, and a very solid effort by their defense.

We can count the number of things that could have easily produced their first loss in five games but instead resulted in a 20-13 come-from-behind win.

  • Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson threw three interceptions, the first one clearly not his fault with the ball bouncing off of receiver Robert Ferguson and to linebacker Brian Urlacher. But, despite throwing two first-half interceptions and fumbling a handoff exchange with running back Adrian Peterson, Jackson's team still won.

    "It's a big win, it shows that it is a team game. The offense, pretty much the whole game, we didn't play that well. You know, I turned the football over three times, we had a fumble and it just shows how good of a team you are," Jackson said. "Our defense played great. (The Bears) didn't score any points until we put the defense in bad positions. I just want to tip my hat off to our defense because they did a great job today."

    Throughout his postgame press conference, Jackson accepted responsibility for poor play, even a turnover that was probably more the fault of Peterson on a botched exchange.

    "I just didn't think (Peterson) did a great job of giving (Jackson) a pocket, getting his right elbow up," head coach Brad Childress said. "It was kind of an up-and-down run, and I think he was going to hit it up and down as hard as he could, and I didn't think Tarvaris was able to seed it quite where he wanted to. I think he got his around to the spot he needed to and seeded it with his eyes, but I think (Peterson's) elbow was just down a little bit too far."

    The Vikings finished with a 4-1 deficit in the turnover margin and still won a sloppy game. It wasn't until safety Darren Sharper gave them their only takeaway with less than two minutes remaining that they were able to put the game away.

    "Normally when you get that many takeaways you win the football game," said Bears head coach Lovie Smith. "When you win the turnover ratio, you normally win the football game."

  • But the ugliness that was the Vikings' 20-13 win wasn't all on Jackson. The special teams, despite bottling up return man Devin Hester, had a number of errors.

    Most notable were the snaps. Cullen Loeffler, the normally sure-snapping Viking, bounced one snap back to holder Chris Kluwe following a potentially game-tying touchdown run by Peterson in the third quarter. Instead, the low snap produced an awkward hold, and kicker Ryan Longwell sent the point-after attempt flying wide left to keep the Vikings down 13-12.

    There was at least one other low snap on a punt attempt that Kluwe fielded and punted away before it could be blocked. It was likely Loeffler's worst performance as a professional, but he had reason to be distracted.

    "The one thing that is going on with him is his wife is in labor, so I don't know if he was able to block that out of his mind or not. That was pointed out to me after the game. (It is his) first child, so whether he was distracted or whatever, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. He does a good job by and large of snapping the football," Childress said, adding later that it was labor pains that didn't signify an imminent birth.

    In their coverages on special teams, the Vikings held the ever-dangerous Hester to a 7.3-yard average on four punt returns and a 14.7-yard average on kickoff returns. But, while their strategy to squib kick it to him might have kept him from scoring touchdowns, it also gave the Bears great field position following most kickoffs. They started at their 41- and 43-yard lines after kickoffs in the first half. In the second half, the Vikings improved that to the 32- and 21-yard lines.

    "In a perfect world, you would squib it down to the goal line. It would be like – I'm just trying to think of the pro pool player – like Steve Mizerak to be able to knock the ball through all of those people all the way to the goal line," Childress said.

    Meanwhile, rookie Aundrae Allison was pedestrian at best on kickoff returns for the Vikings. While averaging 17.5 yards on his returns, the Vikings started at their own 12-, 16-, 27- and 16-yard lines after receiving kickoffs from the Bears.

    Bobby Wade's punt returns weren't any better. He fair caught two of them, one of them a questionable decision at the 7-yard line. On the three punts he did return, he averaged 4.3 yards.

  • And then there was the running game. The Vikings ended with 136 yards rushing, 36 yards short of their season average entering the game. Peterson was held to a 3.9-yard average while Chester Taylor gained 31 yards on five carries (6.2 average).

    But the first-half problems of Jackson and the special teams was apparent in the running game as well. As a team, the Vikings were held to 50 yards rushing in the first half, and that included two runs for a combined 18 yards by Jackson.

    To add to the raw numbers – which are still good by other standards, but subpar for the Vikings' offensive build – there were a couple of miscommunications that still produced two of Peterson's best runs. One of those went for an 8-yard touchdown and another was a 28-yard gain, his longest of the game that took them out of the shadow of their own end zone.

    For all the problems the Vikings had, most of them occurred in the first half, with three of the four turnovers and the rushing problems all taking place in the first 30 minutes of the game.

    "I thought our guys did a great job in the second half battling back and scoring those 14 points," Childress said. "It's rare that you're able to win a game when you lose the turnover battle 4-1. When you're talking about 1-for-14 on third downs, our defense really stepped up, and then our offense got it together in the second half."

    Although most players said there weren't any big speeches made at halftime, they also felt they were never out of it, being down 13-3 at intermission. Linebacker Chad Greenway said the veterans of the team stepped up at halftime and "took the role of leading us and letting us know that this isn't over," he said.

    "When you're at the bottom of the barrel, the leaders of this team did a good job of stepping up, taking control and pointing the young guys in the direction they needed to go," veteran guard Steve Hutchinson said. "We focused on one game at a time, and that motto has been working. Confidence is building."

    "I just thought this was just another step in the process growth-wise, where you find yourself down and you haven't played particularly well," Childress said. "I thought they were pretty amped up for Monday Night Football, which is the biggest stage there is, and I thought we had to settle down a little bit."

    The Vikings will get just as big of a stage on Sunday night when they host the Washington Redskins in another nationally televised game from the Metrodome. They may not have played consistently well on offense or special teams, but at least they proved to themselves that they can endure some adversity and still pull out a win.

    "It just shows that we can do it, if needed," Jackson said. "The last four games we have taken care of teams in the first half, getting up really big. It just shows people and it shows ourselves that we can win all types of ways."

    Childress and players have made a point of not acknowledging the playoff chase during their five-game winning streak, Asked on Tuesday if the adversity the team faced on Monday night could help them in the playoffs, a word Childress said he didn't understand after the game, he said the team has faced plenty of "vicissitudes" – or unexpected changes – recently.

    "Let's see if you guys understand this word – there have been a lot of vicissitudes with this season so far," Childress said. "I think we've been through that before in a game like the Oakland game, where we turned the ball over a great deal and were able to come out with the win there. But there are times where, yeah, you have to be able to overcome. Otherwise when you got knocked backwards you would stay backwards. So it's just a matter of recalibrating what is going on and, again, we've been through numbers of those things throughout the year, whether it be wins and losses or turnovers. You just have to learn how to fight on."

    NOTES

  • The Vikings gave tryout to a number of defenders on Monday: DBs Korey Banks (Mississippi St), Julian Battle (Tennessee), Randee Drew (N. Illinois), Mark Estelle (Utah St); DTs Kelly Talavou (Utah) and Joe Bradley (Louisiana-Lafayette); DE John Chick (Utah State). Bradley was with the team during the offseason.

  • WR Sidney Rice had a sprained ankle. The Vikings will see how he progresses this week.

  • CB Antoine Winfield was diagnosed with a pectoral strain, which is probably good news considering the pain he was feeling Monday night after the game when he tried to raise his arm.

  • LB Dontarrious Thomas has "groin tenderness on both sides," according to Childress.

  • Safety Mike Doss (hamstring) and guard Artis Hicks (back) each got some playing time on Monday night and Childress said they suffered no residual effects.

  • The Vikings are also hoping that Tank Williams can get back on the practice field this week.


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