The Vikings had struggled on the road this season, going 1-4 overall and 0-4 outdoors. They erased those bad memories with an exclamation point in a 30-12 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday.
Minnesota did it with quick strikes that went against the Vikings' home-team opponent, a rare occurrence when the Vikings are on the road. They returned a fumble on the opening snap of the game for a touchdown, recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and had a 14-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.
While the Jaguars closed the gap to 17-10 early in the second quarter, it was Jacksonville – not the previously road-ravaged Vikings – that committed game-turning mistakes with missed field goals, fumbles and interceptions.
Gus Frerotte and the Vikings offense didn't do anything big, but they did enough to keep applying the pressure and take advantage of fortuitous situations that their defense created. Frerotte finished with only 120 yards passing, with half of those going to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, but an opportunistic defense was the catalyst that brought down the Cats.
Antoine Winfield had 12 tackles and a forced fumble. The defensive linemen combined for four sacks and a forced fumble, and linebacker Napoleon Harris got it all started by returning the opening botched snap 27 yards for a touchdown 13 seconds into the game.
While Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard threw for 317 yards, the defensive backs came up with two fourth-quarter interceptions, and the defense as a whole kept Jacksonville's running back tandem of Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor to a combined 24 yards rushing. And, despite not starting the game, Adrian Peterson had 80 yards on 17 carries and the Vikings produced 122 yards on the ground.
It was the quick start that propelled the Purple. On Jacksonville's first play from scrimmage a muffed snap was recovered by linebacker Napoleon Harris and returned 27 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead 13 seconds into the game.
The Minnesota road fortunes continued on the ensuing kickoff when Witherspoon was stripped of the ball by Cedric Griffin, a fumble that Dontarrious Thomas recovered on the 28-yard line. It took only three plays for the Vikings to capitalize on that, with Chester Taylor taking a run up the middle for 11 yards, Bernard Berrian taking an end-around up field 15 yards and Taylor finishing the drive with a spin move that got him into the end zone from 2 yards out for a 14-0 Minnesota lead only 1:41 into the game.
As the game settled into a more normal rhythm, the teams traded punts, but once again the Vikings' special teams broke down and Witherspoon took a punt back 38 yards to the Minnesota 27-yard line. A 14-yard pass to Jerry Porter moved the ball to the 11-yard line. Two plays later, Garrard connected with Reggie Williams for an 8-yard touchdown to cut the Vikings' lead to 14-7 with 7:57 to play in the opening period.
Two Jacksonville miscues on kickoff attempts – an offside penalty on an onside kick the Jaguars recovered and a kick out of bound – finally ended with the Vikings getting the ball on the 45-yard line, and a 21-yard run by Peterson was enough to get them in field goal position. Ryan Longwell nailed the 54-yarder for a 17-7 lead with 6:05 to play in the first quarter.
The Jaguars pulled within 10 points with a long field goal drive. Matt Jones picked up the initial first down with a 9-yard reception and Jones-Drew's hard-charging ability converted third-and-13 on a reception. He did it again when he took the next third-down pass 18 yards. But, once inside the 10-yard line, the Jaguars stalled and Josh Scobee was called upon to deliver a 21-yard field goal to make it 17-10.
Minnesota's offense wasn't doing much while Jacksonville's was finding a way to keep Leslie Frazier's defense off-balance with third-down conversions in the second quarter. Dennis Northcutt converted third-and-10 with a 19-yard reception, and Jones-Drew followed with a 20-yard reception on third-and-5. A holding call stopped Jacksonville's momentum, and Scobee couldn't deliver with a 46-yard field goal attempt that hooked wide left.
When Frerotte scrambled and lofted an ill-advised pass two plays later, safety Gerald Sensabaugh came away with an interception with 2:26 remaining that gave Scobee another chance. First, however, Garrard continued to move through the Minnesota defense with completions of 8 and 21 yards to TE Marcedes Lewis and 13 yards to Jones. But a Pat Williams sack and two incompletions brought on Scobee for a 38-yard attempt, which he hooked again to keep the Vikings in front 17-10 at the half.
After Shiancoe opened the second half with a 14-yard reception, Minnesota's offensive struggles continued, but their defense created a big play when Winfield punched the ball away from Matt Jones and Darren Sharper recovered on the Jacksonville 38-yard line.
The Vikings picked up one first down with Berrian's second end-around of the day, and Peterson picked up a combined 19 yards on consecutive carries but they couldn't turn second-and-2 into another first down. Longwell came on and converted a 32-yard field goal for a 20-10 lead midway through the third quarter.
Then the defense stepped up. After allowing a 24-yard pass to Jones-Drew, Jared Allen stuffed a run for minus-1 yard, which was followed by two incompletions from Garrard.
Frerotte needed a statement drive to potentially put the Jaguars away. He started the drive with a positive statement, but mistakes at the end of the drive may have made a four-point difference. He started with a 40-yard strike to Shiancoe. Four plays later, Frerotte picked up another first down with a 2-yard fourth-down sneak to extend the drive. When he coaxed a pass interference call on Rashean Mathis defending Berrian, Frerotte had first-and-goal at the 2-yard line. But he took a 10-yard sack instead of unloading the ball, and the offense couldn't recover to put the ball in the end zone. Longwell was forced onto the field for a 22-yard field goal and a 23-10 lead less than a minute into the fourth quarter.
The defensive clampdown continued to start the fourth quarter, and a 14-yard shanked punt from Jacksonville gave the Vikings the ball 40 yards from paydirt. Sidney Rice picked up the initial first down with a diving 14-yard reception before the Vikings went to work on the ground game. Peterson started with a 6-yard run, and after a penalty, Taylor converted third-and-14 with an 18-yard draw. Three plays later, Taylor did it again with a 10-yard catch-and-run on third-and-7. On the next play, Peterson put an exclamation on the drive with a 16-yard touchdown run to give his team a 20-point lead, 30-10 with 6:55 to play.
From there, the Vikings were able to pressure Garrard and came away with two interceptions in the fourth quarter, a period that included Chris Kluwe stepping out of the back of the end zone for a safety in which the Vikings were playing it safe with their special teams, providing the final score of the game in the 30-12 final.
The Vikings got their fast road start and finally finished off an opponent in their largest margin of victory this season. It was a win that kept them in a first-place tie for the NFC North lead with the Chicago Bears while both teams wait for Monday night to see if the Packers will rejoin the tie at the top.
Rare road fortunes in Vikings' 30-12 win
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