After a 41-point outburst in a loss to the Chicago Bears before the bye, the Vikings were hoping to build on the offensive rhythm and eliminate the turnovers, penalties and other costly mistakes on special teams.
They were markedly better in all of the above areas on Sunday in a 28-21 post-bye win over the Houston Texans.
Quarterback Gus Frerotte threw for only 182 yards, but managed an efficient game, completing 11 of 18 passes, three of those completions going for touchdowns. Bernard Berrian amassed his third 100-yard game in the last four outings, catching two passes for 104 yards, but the Vikings seemed determined to establish their running game and were successful doing it. Adrian Peterson rushed 25 times for 139 yards and a touchdown, including two rushes of 20-plus yards in a touchdown drive that the Vikings needed midway through the fourth quarter.
On the other side of the ball, the Vikings gave up big yardage, surrendering 363 yards to Houston quarterbacks Matt Schaub and Sage Rosenfels but coming up with two key interceptions near or in the end zone when the Texans had touchdown drives on their minds, and getting five key sacks from an aggressive defense.
The Vikings were penalized only three times for 20 yards, didn't fumble the ball at all, and a deflected pass that Berrian could have caught was the only interception that Frerotte yielded.
The final result evened Minnesota's record at 4-4 and put them in a second-place tie with the Green Bay Packers, their opponent next week, and one game behind the 5-3 Chicago Bears for the division-title race.
The win couldn't have started much better for the Minnesota offense. Using play-action to Peterson to freeze the defensive line on the opening play from scrimmage, Frerotte had plenty of time to let Berrian uncover deep down the left sideline for a 55-yard reception to the 11-yard line. Three Peterson running plays later, the Vikings had a touchdown and a 7-0 lead 2:12 into the game.
Berrian quickly gave the points back to the Texans when he let a Frerotte pass bounce off his back shoulder. That deflection turned into an interception for Jacques Reeves that he returned 44 yards for a touchdown to tie the game less than halfway through the first quarter.
But the Vikings offense was undeterred. On their next possession, they went on 47-yard, 13-play drive that featured a large dose of Peterson and Chester Taylor, with the longest play being a 12-yard run by Taylor. But when they needed a touchdown, Frerotte went to the air and hit Sidney Rice for an 8-yarder on third down for a 14-7 Vikings lead 53 seconds into the second quarter.
The defense started to turn up the heat in the second quarter, allowing some long gains but thwarting Houston's third drive with an Antoine Winfield interception near the goal line. On the Texans' next possession, linebacker Chad Greenway sifted through traffic for a sack and a forced fumble that Ben Leber recovered.
The offense turned that second gift into points. Three plays into the ensuing drive, Berrian made a leaping grab, slipped a tackle and outran the pursuit for a 49-yard touchdown and a 21-7 lead with 6:09 to play in the half.
The defense continued its second-quarter theme by allowing one long gain – a 22-yard catch-and-run by running back Steve Slaton – but continuing to bring the pressure. Two plays later, Jared Allen slapped the ball out of Schaub's hand for another sack and forced fumble, but this time offensive tackle Duane Brown recovered. However, it was enough to take the air out of Houston's drive and force a punt. Still, neither team could turn their final drives of the half into points, sending the teams to halftime with a 21-7 Vikings lead.
The Texans opened the second half with Sage Rosenfels filling in for a battered Schaub, who limped for much of the first half with a knee injury, and Rosenfels, the Vikings' offseason interest, led the team right down the field. He started by connecting with Andre Johnson for 23 yards to open the half and connected with Owen Daniels for 21 yards three plays later. Once inside the red zone, the plays weren't as explosive but as effective, with a series of five touches between RB Steve Slaton and WR Kevin Walter advancing to the 3-yard line. Once there, Rosenfels found David Anderson in between defenders and fired a scoring pass to draw the Texans within a touchdown at 21-14 with 9:28 to play in the third quarter.
The Vikings offense picked up one first down but started to stumble. Fortunately for them, the defense avoided giving up another touchdown when Madieu Williams intercepted Rosenfels in the end zone to end Houston's second drive of the second half and forced another punt from midfield on their third drive.
But when the Minnesota offense needed a statement drive, they got it, inspired by a hard-charging Peterson. In the first three snaps of the drive, he took carries 21 yards and 22 yards to move the ball into Texans territory. A pair of rushes between Taylor and Peterson moved the chains again before a strong play-action fake froze the linebackers to allow Visanthe Shiancoe to get behind them for a 25-yard touchdown and make it a two-touchdown game again, 28-14, with 6:26 to play.
The Texans responded with a touchdown drive of their own. Rosenfels started with a 9-yard completion to Anderson and converted fourth-and-1 with an 11-yard pass to Daniels. Rosenfels continued to go to his productive tight end, as Daniels finished as Houston's leading receiver with 11 catches for 133 yards. The pitch-and-catch combo connected two more times on the drive for gains of 17 and 11 yards before Rosenfels went to Johnson for the 14-yard touchdown with 2:58 to play, cutting Minnesota's lead to 28-21.
When Darren Sharper leaped high to haul down Houston's ensuing onside kick, the Vikings were hoping to run out the clock with less than three minutes to play, but it wouldn't be that simple. The Texans held Peterson to 3 yards on two carries, and a third-down incompletion stopped the clock with 2:03 to play before they punted the ball away.
Houston's offense took over on their own 10-yard line with 1:57 to play, but consecutive sacks by Allen and Kevin Williams turned the ball over to the Vikings on downs, where they could kneel on it to start their post-bye push to the second half of the season with a win.
Now it will be up to them to see if they can continue to play a more efficient brand of football and put together some winning streaks in an attempt to chase down a division title.
Vikings cure mistakes, win 28-21
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