The Vikings entered Sunday's game knowing Tennessee's third-ranked defense would present a tough challenge, but they weren't planning on helping them out with four turnovers. Those four costly miscues turned the tide of the game, as the Titans produced 21 points off turnovers in a 30-21 win over Minnesota.
The three fumbles and one interception underscored the struggles of the Vikings offense this season, which has endured penalties, red-zone problems and now turnovers. The latest mistakes took away from the Vikings' chance to establish their running game early as they fell behind 10-0 when a first-quarter fumble led to the Titans' first touchdown and then 20-7 when another fumble led to Tennessee's second touchdown.
The blunders kept the Vikings from ever establishing much of an offensive rhythm and kept the defense on the hot and humid field for too many plays in the first half. The early deficits forced the Vikings away from their strength – they ran the ball only 20 times all game – and into Gus Frerotte passing 43 times. While Frerotte finished with 266 aerial yards, star running back Adrian Peterson was limited to 80 yards on 18 carries and scored both of the team's touchdowns.
Meanwhile, the defense wasn't able to generate any sacks on Tennessee's veteran quarterback, Kerry Collins, or create enough turnovers to keep pace with the Titans' stingy and opportunistic defense. Collins finished with 199 yards passing after 147 of those came in the first half while building a 20-10 lead, and in the second half the Titans could settle into their game of controlling the clock and maintaining a lead with tough defense.
Minnesota's troubles began early and didn't relent. It didn't start well on offense or defense, and it started on defense without the services of middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, who was held out of the first series. That helped the Titans drive down the field, with rookie running back Chris Johnson getting the backfield action and Collins distributing the ball in the passing game. Johnson took first-down runs of 9, 6 and 1 yard, and Collins moved the chains with completions of 18 yards to Justin Gage and 16 yards to Justin McCareins. But once Johnson ran the ball to the 2-yard line, the Vikings got a break when TE Craig Stevens got too deep in the end zone on a third-down pass, forcing Rob Bironas on for a 20-yard field goal and 3-0 lead.
The Vikings offense did nothing to help the defense when fullback Naufahu Tahi fumbled the ball on the third play from scrimmage after making a first-down reception. That set up the Titans on the 33-yard line. McCareins got the initial first down with a 12-yard reception, but the running game accounted for the next six plays. While LenDale White caught a break when a second-down, goal-line fumble was overturned upon review, it was Johnson who got the touchdown on a wide-open run around left end for a 10-0 Tennessee lead with 4:05 left in the first quarter.
The Vikings were able to respond, as Frerotte moved the chains with a 9-yard pass to Visanthe Shiancoe and later a 9-yard pass to Aundrae Allison. Peterson got them across midfield with a 7-yard run and Bernard Berrian advanced to the 30-yard line with an 18-yard reception. One play later, Peterson exploited a hole down the right sideline for a 28-yard touchdown to decrease the deficit to 10-7 on the first play of the second quarter.
However, the Titans continued to move the ball with ease through the Vikings defense. Collins started with a 28-yard pass to Gage and, one play later, a 25-yard completion to Gage again. Just three plays into the drive and the Titans were inside the red zone, but once there the Minnesota defense did enough to force Bironas on for another field goal, this from 32 yards out, for a 13-7 Tennessee lead.
The Vikings responded with a 22-yard, drive-opening pass to Shiancoe, but a third-down sack by Albert Haynesworth ended that drive and sent Frerotte to the sideline for some temporary medical assistance.
While the Vikings didn't lose Frerotte, they did lose Henderson to a left foot injury on Tennessee's next possession, which ended with the Titans' first punt of the day.
Once again, Minnesota's offense turned the ball over in a hurry, with Peterson fumbling on a Kyle Vanden Bosch hit and defensive tackle Troy Brown recovering. The Titans had excellent field position at the 11-yard line and the Vikings defense was in a position to stop them after two plays that netted minus-1 yard. However, Brandon Jones caught a 9-yard pass and the Titans went for the first down on fourth-and-2 from the 3-yard line. Collins hit Gage in the right flat and a host of defenders knocked him around for what appeared to be a fumble short of the first-down sticks. Instead, the officials ruled that he made the first down and didn't fumble, a ruling that was upheld upon review. White scored on the next play and the Titans had a 20-7 lead with 3:42 to play in the half.
The Vikings responded with Peterson picking up the initial first down of the drive and Allison moving the ball across midfield on a 15-yard third-down reception. With no timeouts, Collins hit Kleinsasser for a 15-yard reception and Shiancoe for 5 more. Eventually, they had to settle for a 42-yard field goal from Ryan Longwell with 48 seconds left in the half.
They would have one more opportunity before halftime when Kevin Mawae hiked a shotgun snap when Collins wasn't ready. Henderson, who re-joined the action at the start of the drive, recovered, and after an 11-yard pass to Shiancoe, Longwell was back on the field for another try. This time, his 48-yard attempt hit the right upright and bounced back to keep the score 20-10 at the half.
The Vikings' offensive troubles carried over into the second half, but instead of turnovers it was penalties that put them in early holes, helping contribute to an exchange of three punts to open the half. The Titans were winning the battle of field position on the exchanges, and passes to McCareins and Gage for a combined 29 yards allowed Bironas to get in range for a 49-yard field goal and a 23-10 lead with 6:59 to play in the third quarter.
After another exchange of punts, the Vikings' mistake-prone offense struck again when Frerotte and Matt Birk didn't get a clean exchange on a snap. Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck recovered to thwart another Minnesota drive.
As the game moved to the midway point of the fourth-quarter, the offense finally put together its second full touchdown drive of the game. Frerotte found Wade to his liking, connecting with him on passes of 15 and 23 yards in middle of the field to advance into Tennessee territory before hooking up with Berrian down the right sideline for a 28-yard gain to the 3-yard line. Two incompletions and a 3-yard loss by Peterson were erased when Vanden Bosch hit Frerotte late and gave the Vikings another set of downs. On the next play, Peterson found the end zone from 3 yards out to bring Minnesota within a touchdown, 23-17, with 6 minutes left.
While the kickoff coverage team gave up a crucial 52-yard return, the defense forced a punt, albeit one that was downed at the 2-yard line. With 98 yards to go and backed up against their own goal line, Frerotte dropped to pass three straight times, throwing two incompletions before effectively ending the game with an interception when he was hit while throwing. Nick Harper returned the pick to the 6-yard line, and it didn't take Johnson long to exact the damage with a first-down touchdown run to make it 30-17 with 3:40 to play.
From there, the Titans defensive line did what it had to, with Haynesworth and Vanden Bosch getting consecutive sacks on replacement QB Tarvaris Jackson that convinced the Vikings to punt the ballgame away on fourth-and-13 from the 8-yard line with 2 minutes to play.
In a contest that was expected to be close, the Vikings handed Tennessee the advantage it sought with three costly turnovers that were converted into 21 points in a 30-17 Titans win. That win gave Tennessee its first 4-0 start in franchise history and dropped the Vikings to 1-3 after huge preseason expectations.
Vikings turn over game to Titans
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