The disparity between the first half and second half of a football game was on clear display Sunday in Tampa. After one half of football, the Minnesota Vikings had a 13-6 lead. After three quarters, they had avoided any of the costly turnovers that had threatened their success this season.
But, eventually, their offense was shut down and shut out in the second half, and two turnovers in the final six minutes of play ended their hopes of a quality road win, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers escaped with a 19-13 win over the Vikings.
After gaining 146 yards in the first half, Minnesota ended the game with only 210. After scoring 13 points in the first half, they had none in the second half. After yielding only six points in the first half, they gave up 13 in the second half.
The ineffectiveness and late fumbles combined to send Minnesota to 5-5 on the season and into a three-way tie with the Bears and Packers for first place in the NFC North after Green Bay handed Chicago a 37-3 drubbing.
Minnesota built a 13-6 halftime lead behind the hard-charging legs of Adrian Peterson – who had 71 of his 85 rushing yards in the first half – and enough intermediate gains from Bernard Berrian and Visanthe Shiancoe. But in the second half it unraveled on both sides of the ball. On offense, Peterson was bottled up and quarterback Gus Frerotte was sacked and pressured. On defense, the improvisational skills of Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia got the best of Minnesota as he led to the Bucs to 13 unanswered second-half points.
While Garcia completed 23 of 30 passes for 255 yards and a 101.4 rating, the Vikings' offensive leader, Peterson, finished with 85 yards on 19 carries and Frerotte completed 14 of 20 passes for only 138 yards, as the Buccaneers outgained the Vikings 363 to 210 yards.
The Vikings offense started by going backwards, with Frerotte taking consecutive sacks on second and third down on the opening drive to force a punt. But after a 20-yard completion from Garcia to Michael Clayton to open Tampa Bay's first series, the Vikings defense sent the Bucs backwards as well. Needing only a yard on third and fourth down, the defense swarmed RB Warrick Dunn for no gain (Antoine Winfield and Ray Edwards combined on that one) and a loss of 2 yards (with Chad Greenway cleaning up that one).
Greenway's stop allowed the Vikings to start at their own 39-yard line, and a 23-yard connection to Shiancoe put the ball in Vikings territory. Three consecutive runs by Peterson picked up 18 yards and a first down and moved the ball into field goal position, where Ryan Longwell converted from 43 yards out to give Minnesota a 3-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
The Bucs responded with their own field goal drive. They picked up a first down with the short passing game, but Dunn provided the big play when Garcia rolled left, scrambled right and eventually found the diminutive running back downfield for a 36-yard gain. But once inside the red zone, Jeremy Trueblood was flagged for unnecessary roughness with a late hit on Ben Leber, and Tampa Bay had to settle for a 39-yard Matt Bryant field goal to tie the game with 2:48 to play in the first quarter.
The first-half scoring continued with the Vikings engineering the first touchdown drive. Peterson picked up a first down with two runs, and he also provided his most explosive play of the day with a 22-yard run when he spun out of a backfield tackle attempt by Ronde Barber and raced down the right sideline for 22 yards. Frerotte followed that with a 16-yard pass to Berrian and then took a late hit by Jimmy Wilkerson to put Minnesota in the red zone. After a defensive hold on Barber, Frerotte eventually found Bobby Wade for a 4-yard swing pass that accounted for the only touchdown of the half for a 10-3 Vikings lead less than two minutes into the second quarter.
The Bucs responded with a drive that started well for them, but eventually the run defense shut down the touchdown hopes. Garcia had the hot hand, hitting Antonio Bryant with a 12-yard pass, Jerramy Stevens on 5- and 20-yard connections and Dunn for 12 yards on the first four plays. Tampa Bay then used back-to-back penalties on Leber (holding) and Ray Edwards (late hit) to get the Bucs to first-and-goal from the 3-yard line. But they would only go backwards from there, with Winfield and Edwards sticking two plays for losses before Bryant hit a 26-yard field goal to make it 10-6.
However, the Vikings would make it five straight drives in the game with a score. Berrian picked up the initial first down with an 11-yard reception on a slant before Frerotte found Shiancoe for an 18-yard pass. After a reverse pass by Sidney Rice failed, the Vikings turned to Peterson for two consecutive runs to pick up another first down at the 25-yard line, but Minnesota had to settle for a 37-yard field goal by Longwell for the final points of the half and a 13-6 lead.
Although the penalties didn't get any better on Tampa Bay's first drive of the second half, one big play erased all that for the Bucs. Antonio Bryant picked up two first downs to start the drive with receptions of 23 and 9 yards. But, later in the drive, the Bucs put themselves in a big hole – second-and-30 – after back-to-back holding calls. They still converted when Garcia threw a perfect pass to Stevens for a 31-yard gain to the 1-yard line. Fullback B.J. Askew put the exclamation point on it with a 1-yard dive on the next play and just like that the game was tied 13-13 early in the third quarter.
For the first time since Minnesota's first drive of the game, the Bucs stopped the Vikings on a full drive when a fourth-and-1 pass to Peterson was knocked to the ground on tight coverage by linebacker Derrick Brooks.
The Bucs took over with the ball in their territory and started to drive before Cedric Griffin forced a fumble that Leber recovered. But, while Frerotte connected on passes of 17 yards to Rice and 19 yards to Berrian and appeared to be approaching field goal range, consecutive sacks backed them up and it was enough to have them forego a field goal attempt from beyond 55 yards, opting for a punt instead.
The Bucs continued to apply the pressure with their offense, grinding out the yards on the ground. Garcia scrambled early on, picking up consecutive first downs with runs of 6 and 8 yards before giving way to Dunn for rushes of 8 and 11 yards to bring the ball across midfield. A 14-yard first-down pass to Stevens put Bryant in field goal position and he hit the 29-yarder for Tampa Bay's first lead of the game with 5:36 to play.
And the news only got worse for the Vikings. Maurice Hicks fumbled on the ensuing kick return and recent practice-squad callup Brian Clark recovered on the 26-yard line. That allowed the Bucs to extend their lead to 19-13 on Bryant's 26-yard field with 3:30 to play.
While the Vikings offense looked solid in the first half, the unit's woes continued for the duration of the second half. Frerotte went four-and-out when his fourth-down pass to Rice was low, but because of a missed field from Bryant on the ensuing possession, the Vikings still had hope with a six-point deficit.
They took over on their 36-yard line with 1:55 to play, but the passing game was off. On first down, Wade had to play defensive back and was called for interference on an underthrown ball. On the next play, Jimmy Wilkerson came free for an 8-yard sack, and on the Vikings' last offensive play of the game Chester Taylor took a short pass, advanced 11 yards but was stripped from behind by Wilkerson for a fumble that Barber recovered to end the game.
After three quarters of not turning the ball over, two fumbles in the final six minutes prevented the Vikings from getting a rare road win and taking sole possession of first place in the NFC North. Instead, they had to settle for a three-way tie with Chicago and Green Bay in the division after a bitter 19-13 loss in which they were shut down and out in the second half.
Second-half shutdown leads to 19-13 loss
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