In one of the strangest games that even fans of the Vikings from their Met Stadium days can remember, there were about a dozen turning points. There was the Vikings building a 20-10 halftime lead despite being grossly outplayed in the first half. There was the Ed Hochuli Factor in which a non-call on a clear facemask violation led to a fumble and robbed the Saints of potential points. There was the Saints' problem with turnovers in general. There was the complete shutdown of Adrian Peterson by one of the worst run defenses in the league. There was the Reggie Bush record-tying two punt returns for touchdowns. But, in the end, it was a series of three passes that created the turning point of the game Monday night in the Vikings' 30-27 win over the Saints.
When the Vikings signed Bernard Berrian, the intention was that he would provide a deep threat to the passing game that had been missing since Randy Moss left. One of the reasons Tarvaris Jackson was benched in favor of Gus Frerotte was that he has never shown any consistent deep-passing accuracy. But with the season potentially on the line if the Vikings dropped to 1-4, the team rallied after falling behind 27-20 behind a quarterback who wasn't intended to be the starter and a receiver who had struggled to get open deep.
Trailing 27-20 with nine minutes to play, Frerotte faced first-and-10 from his own 37. He bought time in the pocket and launched a 36-yard pass to Berrian, who came back from double coverage to make a sliding catch for a first down on the Saints 27-yard line. On the play, Frerotte stood his ground to put zip on the ball and deliver the pass, taking a heavy shot from defensive end Will Smith that knocked the quarterback flat. He remained down for several seconds and for a moment, it appeared as though he might be done for the night.
Frerotte got his bearings back and returned after just one play on the sidelines, later calling himself "fuzzy" but never unconscious. Facing third-and-17 from the 34, the Vikings of 2006 or 2007 likely would have tried to dump a pass to make fourth down more manageable. But with Berrian and Frerotte, other options were open. Frerotte let go of a long pass that Berrian admitted after the game was blown assignment on his part. But Berrian leaped at the goal line and made the catch, colliding with Aundrae Allison, who appeared to be the target, for a touchdown to tie the game 27-27 with 7:10 to play.
The Saints methodically drove down the field to get into field goal range with two minutes to play, but Martin Gramatica pulled a 46-yard attempt wide left, leaving the Vikings on their own 37 with 1:58 to play. Again, the Vikings of 2006 and 2007 would have likely tried to chip and flip passes to get into scoring position. Not the 2008 Vikings with Frerotte and Berrian running the show.
Faced with third-and-3 from his own 44, Frerotte launched another bomb for Berrian. He was unable to make the catch, but used veteran savvy to stutter step and let trailing safety Kevin Kaesviharn, who had his back to the ball, run into him. The result was obvious – even to Saints fans. Berrian hit the ground and the Saints were hit with a 42-yard pass interference penalty. It moved the ball to the Saints 14-yard line and, after running the ball to the middle of the field with three running plays that exhausted the Saints' remaining timeouts, Ryan Longwell hit a 30-yard field goal to win the game with 13 seconds remaining.
Had the game not taken so many twists and turns, it could be argued that any of a half-dozen moments could have been legitimate turning points, but, with the game and perhaps the season on the line, three long plays from Frerotte to Berrian – receptions of 36 and 34 yards and a penalty that picked up 42 yards – gave the Vikings a long-missing big-play component and, in this instance, a much-needed win.
Turning point: Frerotte to Berrian
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