The goal of any road team going into a hostile environment is to shut up the fans by getting an early lead. The Vikings accomplished all of their goals early on, creating a turning point that made their 35-14 win against the Arizona Cardinals a lopsided affair early.
All three facets of the game were on display in the game's first 12 minutes, as the offense, defense and special teams all made big contributions to suck the air out of University of Phoenix Stadium.
The first came from the special teams. After the Vikings went out harmlessly on their first drive of the game, they forced the Cardinals into a three-and-out. It looked as though the game was shaping up early as a battle of field position and picking spots to make big plays. But Bernard Berrian had different plans. He fielded a punt on the 18-yard line and, although he was forced to the left sideline, he was never contained on the corner. He found a running lane down the sideline for an 82-yard touchdown that gave the Vikings an early 7-0 lead with less than four minutes gone in the game.
The defense chipped in next. With Arizona near midfield on its second possession, a pass to wide receiver Steve Breaston tipped off his hands and was intercepted by Cedric Griffin, allowing the Vikings to open shop on the Arizona 48. Five plays later, faced with a third-and-15, Tarvaris Jackson threw a perfectly-timed bomb down the right sideline to Berrian for a 41-yard touchdown and momentum was clearly on the side of the Vikings with a 14-0 lead with 6:39 to play in the first quarter.
It was clear that Arizona was in something of a panic mode, but the Cardinals knew that if they were to erase their early deficit, it would take their aerial attack to get it done. As Breaston had failed to pull in a pass on the previous drive, Anquan Boldin caught a pass that, while never firmly tucked away, was in his possession for two or three running steps before Antoine Winfield stripped him of the ball. Darren Sharper recovered and returned it to the Arizona 23-yard line.
It didn't take the Vikings long to take advantage of the second turnover of the quarter. The Vikings ran the ball five straight times, converting a third-and-1 with a 2-yard run by fullback Jeff Dugan and, two plays later, scoring a touchdown on a 6-yard bullet from Jackson to Sidney Rice.
Coming into Sunday's game, the Cardinals were looking to make a statement that they were a deserving playoff team – one of only two NFC teams that had already locked down playoff spots. But, after just 12 minutes and 17 seconds had elapsed in the game, the Vikings had a 21-0 lead that was never seriously threatened the rest of the way. The Cardinals were looking to get off to a fast start, but instead their own mistakes and big plays by the Vikings offense, defense and special teams made this an early blowout.
Turning point: Three phases, quickly dazed
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