The one thing that was viewed as a key to the Vikings coming away from Jacksonville with a rare road win was getting ahead early. For an opponent that had the third-fewest giveaways in the NFL, the Vikings knew they would have to make the most of them if and when they arrived. They did exactly that to create a critical turning point of the game.
The first turnover came on the game's first play. Lined up in a shotgun formation, Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard failed to inform his center Brad Meester, who simply snapped the ball between his legs and went into blocking formation. The ball fell straight down and was scooped up by Napoleon Harris, who raced 28 yards for a touchdown to give the Vikings a 7-0 lead just 13 seconds into the game.
If the Jaguars fans weren't stunned by that development, they were just seconds later with the ensuing kickoff. Rookie return man Brian Witherspoon was stripped of the ball by Cedric Griffin and it was recovered by Dontarrious Thomas on the Jacksonville 28-yard line. Desperately hoping Witherspoon was down before the ball came loose, Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio challenged the play, but it was upheld. Three plays later, Chester Taylor popped in from 3 yards out and, with just 1:41 off the first-quarter game clock, the Vikings led 14-0 thanks to two Jacksonville turnovers.
Despite dominating the rest of the first half, the Jaguars still trailed 17-10 at halftime thanks to a pair of missed field goals by kicker Josh Scobee. However, momentum was clearly on Jacksonville's side heading into the second half. That was, until the turnover monster came back to bite them again.
After forcing the Vikings into a three-and-out to start the second half, Jacksonville had the ball on their own 21. A pass to Matt Jones appeared to have a first down in the bag for Jacksonville, but Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield punched the ball out of Jones' arm and Darren Sharper fell on it – giving the Vikings the ball on the Jacksonville 38-yard line. While they wouldn't score a touchdown on the drive, the Vikings would get inside the red zone, where Ryan Longwell connected on a 32-yard field goal to increase the Vikings' lead to 20-10 and effectively erase all the momentum it had taken Jacksonville two quarters to get back.
The Vikings would take over from that point and not allow the Jaguars to get any closer than double digits the rest of the way. With Jacksonville forced to pass, their final two offensive drives ended with interceptions of Garrard – one by Benny Sapp and one by Madieu Williams.
It was a game in which the Vikings knew they would have to play at a high level to bury the struggling Jaguars. With the Jaguars known as a team that is built to play with the lead and isn't fully equipped to play come-from-behind football, three turnovers in the game's first 33 minutes resulted in 17 Minnesota points, made Jacksonville a one-dimensional pass offense in the second half and, in the process, created the turning point of the game.
Turning point: The turnover beast
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