Sunday was a day to mostly turn the tables for the Vikings, who experienced a few of their usual problems that were glossed over by more mistakes from the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The obvious one was Brian Witherspoon's fumble on his second kickoff return of the day, a fumble that the Dontarrious Thomas recovered and the Vikings turned into a 14-0 lead.
"I found that performance today to be totally unacceptable and I've got to take full responsibility for not doing a better job of preparing my football team. … Just embarrassingly poor today and I'll take full responsibility. It's not acceptable in any way, shape or form," said Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio, who had "a few choice words added" in during his sideline huddle with the players when they trailed down 14-0.
"Maybe the most different game I've been associated with the two scores. … In your wildest dreams you don't think it was going to be like that," Vikings coach Brad Childress said.
Josh Scobee's struggles also kept the Jaguars at bay when they were getting close to tying the game. Down 17-10 in the second quarter, Scobee missed a 46-yard field goal attempt wide left. When Minnesota quarterback Gus Frerotte quickly turned the ball back over to Jacksonville two plays later with a bad pass that was intercepted, Scobee had a chance for some semblance of redemption. Instead he hooked another kick – this attempt from 38 yards out – to keep the Vikings up by a touchdown at halftime.
Had Scobee successfully done his job on both of those second-quarter kicks, the Jaguars would have trailed by only one point at halftime. Meanwhile, 12-year NFL veteran Ryan Longwell connected on a 54-yard attempt in the first quarter to help build the Vikings' lead.
But not all of the changes the Vikings made on special teams – their albatross of 2008 – were all that helpful.
The Vikings promoted undrafted rookie Darius Reynaud to try to jumpstart their kickoff return team. Maurice Hicks had fumbled his final opportunity last week and was averaging only 22.3 yards per return.
Reynaud's indoctrination into the NFL return game was well short of spectacular. While he held onto the ball on both of his returns, he averaged only 18 yards between the two of them. He did make one split-second decision that turned out for the good. When the Jaguars were called offside on their first kickoff, an onside attempt they recovered, Scobee's kickoff hit on the field of play but Reynaud let it bounce out of bounds to give his team the ball on its own 45-yard line.
The Vikings also changed up their punt returner. With Charles Gordon breaking his ankle on a punt return two weeks ago, Aundrae Allison didn't sufficiently fill that role last week. On Sunday, Bernard Berrian took his turn.
Berrian returned only one punt, but he brought it back 19 yards, the third-longest return for the team this year.
Even special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro's new look (sans goatee) didn't erase problems in covering punts. Despite Witherspoon's problems in returning kickoffs, he broke a punt return for 38 yards, a return that exposed punter Chris Kluwe to a wicked blindside hit from safety Gerald Sensabaugh.
Mentally and physically, it's still hurtful to watch some aspects of the special teams.
Vikings coach Brad Childress told Fox Sports at halftime that Adrian Peterson didn't play the first two offensive series because the Vikings were trying to "mix it up."
However, after the game Childress revealed to reporters that Peterson was benched because he was late for a team meeting on Saturday, something that occurred in the team's final game last year at Denver. Cornerback Cedric Griffin was also late and was benched for the first two defensive series.
"They were late for a team meeting and that is how we do business. We talked to our leadership committee and they were all unanimous with that," Childress said. "That is just the way it goes. Everybody else is accountable and they are accountable as well."
In those first two series Sunday with Peterson on the bench, the Vikings drove 28 yards in three plays – including two Chester Taylor runs for a combined 13 yards and a touchdown. The team went three-and-out on its next drive.
"Everybody understands what the ground rules are," Childress said. "We don't have a lot of rules, but you set your fence posts deep and there are rules that aren't negotiable. It doesn't make any difference who it is. It's affected different players at different times. I really don't care if it's a practice-squad guy or, as you say, the best player on the team."
On Peterson's first play in the game, he ripped off a 21-yard run to set up Longwell's 54-yard field. Peterson finished the game with 80 yards on 17 carries (4.7-yard average) and one touchdown.
He also joined Eric Dickerson, Jim Brown and Edgerrin James as the only running backs in NFL history to reach 2,500 yards rushing in 25 games. Peterson now has 2,521 yards.
Peterson also has six touchdowns in six road games this year.
For his part, Peterson said he accepted the discipline.
"I knew I would get in early. It wasn't anything and I found out (Saturday). I understand it. I accept the decision and it's over," he said.
ONE DIMENSIONAL ‘D'
The Vikings have talked about getting a solid lead and allowing their defense to feed on a one-dimensional offense. The defense played a big part in turning Jacksonville one-dimensional Sunday.
The Minnesota defense forced five turnovers to help build a big lead, but it also stopped the Jaguars' 11th-ranked rushing offense. By the end of the game, the Vikings' dominance in the run game and their big lead had the Jaguars rushing for only 35 yards on 14 attempts.
Quarterback David Garrard accounted for 11 of those 35 yards, and Maurice Jones Drew was held to 4 yards on three carries (although Jones-Drew led the Jaguars in the passing game with nine receptions for 113 yards).
Garrard attempted a career-high 45 passes, completing 27 of them for 317 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and a 70.3 passer rating.
The Vikings also got four sacks in a road game, equaling their season total on the road before Sunday.
"They are everything we said they would be," said Jacksonville tackle Tony Pashos, who was called for holding four times. "We respected them. They are probably the most talent four up front."
One of those fumbles happened on their first offensive play, when center Brad Meester snapped the ball as if QB David Garrard was under center. Garrard was in the shotgun and Napoleon Harris returned the loose ball 27 yards for a touchdown 13 seconds into the game.
"The first play was just a mental error on my part. I was trying to figure out what they were trying to do defensively and I just lost focus. I thought he was underneath and I mis-snapped it," Meester said. "For me, there is no worse feeling in the world, for myself and for my teammates, letting them down on that first play. It was tough and I will never let it happen again."
Jaguars running back Fred Taylor didn't mince words. "That was the worst I had been around in my 11 years as a professional athlete," he said.
"That was just crazy to start out the game like that," Frerotte said. "You realize that two minutes into the game … we're up 14-0 but that we have a long way to go. They're a good team and a good offensive team. You got to give a lot of credit to our defense. They played a great game today and they held them when they needed to."