Vikings, Frerotte get first, well-rounded win

Quarterback Gus Frerotte made his first start since rejoining the Vikings and, after some first-half struggles that were smoothed over by a big-play defense, Minnesota pulled out its first win of the season, a 20-10 victory over the previously unbeaten Carolina Panthers.

Saturday night, Vikings coach Brad Childress was talking to his team about finding diamonds in their own backyard, trying to get his players to understand the talent they have on the roster.

It didn't seem to inspire his team through much of the first half of their 20-10 win over the Carolina Panthers, but eventually veteran quarterback Gus Frerotte found a rhythm, the defense came up with big plays and Minnesota (1-2) stopped it's two-game skid to start the season.

Frerotte's first half included an interception, no touchdowns and 43.0 passer rating, but he bounced back to finish the game completing 16 of 28 passes with one touchdown, that first-half interception and a 77.1 rating. For much of the game, however, it was the defense that kept the team within striking distance and even tied it up before halftime.

Minnesota fell behind 10-0 in the second quarter, but a field goal and Antoine Winfield's first sack of his career – in which he caused a fumble, picked it up and ran into the end zone untouched – tied it up by halftime. After that, Frerotte and the offense found a rhythm, built a 10-point lead and largely kept the ball out of the Panthers' hands.

Winfield was also part of a defensive effort that sack Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme five times, held him to 191 yards passing and no touchdowns, held the Panthers to 204 yards of net offense and limited dangerous receiver Steve Smith to a team-leading four catches for 70 yards and no touchdowns.

But it wasn't as easy the final statistics would make it seem. The game didn't start out the Vikings' way. Rookie running back Jonathan Stewart returned the opening kickoff 38 yards, Delhomme opened with a 16-yard pass to Steve Smith and Cedric Griffin cost the Vikings 15 more with a facemask penalty while tackling Smith. From there, the defense stepped up and forced John Kasay onto the field for a 43-yard field and a quick 3-0 lead 2:07 into the game.

Just like a penalty cost the defense on the first series, multiple penalties hurt the Vikings offense on its first drive. Adrian Peterson, who ended up rushing for 77 yards on 17 carries, was called for a false start on the second play from scrimmage and tackle Ryan Cook followed with a holding penalty on the next play. When tight end Visanthe Shiancoe dropped a would-be catch when hit hard by Chris Gamble, it put the offense in a hole they couldn't dig out of.

The defense continued to do its job, holding the Panthers without a first down on the next two drives, but a pass behind Bernard Berrian and off his hands went into Gamble's hands. The Panthers couldn't turn the turnover into points, but the Vikings offense continued to struggle in the passing game, with the only first down coming on a 13-yard pass to Bobby Wade.

Smith continued to hurt but not kill the defense, as he picked up a first down with a 15-yard reception, but Minnesota got a break when Delhomme fumbled and Ben Leber recovered.

Two incompletions and a sack were the only plays the offense had on its next drive, but the Panthers put the first touchdown of the game on the board. They did it with a persistent running game and big plays in the passing game. Stewart did the hard work on the ground, gaining 23 yards on five runs, including the final 2-yard plunge into the end zone. The big plays in the passing game came via a 29-yard pass to Smith in which Tyrell Johnson was late in getting over, a pass interference penalty on Charles Gordon on third-and-6 and a 14-yard pass to Dante Rosario to the 2-yard line on third-and-9. When it was done, the Panthers had a 10-0 lead with 9:55 to play in the first half.

While it look at the time that Carolina had the Vikings on the ropes, it would turn out to the Panthers' final points of the game. The Vikings responded by returning to their bread and butter – Peterson. He took the first four carries of the ensuing drive for a combined 17 yards before Frerotte mixed in passes to Naufuha Tahi and Chester Taylor for another first down. They returned to the ground game for 15 yards between Peterson and Taylor before Frerotte began to hit his stride with a 15-yard completion to Wade to the Carolina 29-yard line. After a defensive penalty, Frerotte found Robert Ferguson for a first down on a 9-yard play. Eventually the drive stalled with a pass that was batted down and Longwell put the first Minnesota points up with a 28-yard field goal for a 10-3 deficit with 1:46 left in the half.

But when the Vikings needed to put the ball in the end zone, it was their defense that did it. On Carolina's next third down, Antoine Winfield came on a blindside blitz, sacked Delhomme and jarred the ball loose. Winfield hopped to his feet, scooped up the ball and ran untouched 18 yards for the game-tying touchdown, 10-10, before half.

The offense found its rhythm in the third quarter coming out of the locker room. On third-and-7, Frerotte moved in the pocket to buy time and found Berrian deep for a 48-yard completion down the left sideline. One play later, after a false start and an incompletion on a batted pass, Frerotte found Shiancoe in stride for a 34-yard touchdown and a 17-10 lead 2:03 into the second half.

Stewart appeared to respond in a big way when he returned a kick for a near touchdown to the 8-yard line, but the play came all the way back to their own 7-yard line when Carolina was penalized for an illegal block in the back. Five plays later, the Panthers were punting back to the Vikings.

The Vikings returned the favor, but a sack by Chad Greenway brought the Panthers' next drive to a close and set up on an impressive 19-play drive by the Vikings. Berrian got the initial first down with a 10-yard reception before Taylor turned two touches into 15 yards. Garrett Mills tied Berrian for the longest reception on the drive with a 10-yarder, but Peterson had the longest gain with a 14-yard run to the 12-yard line. But after 13 plays in the drive, it slowed considerably with three penalties – two on the offense and one on the defense – to help extend the signature series before the Vikings eventually had to settle for a 32-yard field goal from Ryan Longwell to give Minnesota its 20-10 lead.

That would prove to be enough, as the two sacks on the Panthers' final drive of consequence forced the ball over to the Vikings on downs and allowed them to milk the clock to under 30 seconds and seal the 10-point win.

After two potentially back-breaking losses to the Packers and Colts, the Vikings weren't ready to think about a two-game road trip ahead of them or even their next game against a 3-0 Titans team. This win – the first of the season – was to be savored for at least 24 hours.

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