Championship caliber teams know how to make adjustments that win games. The Vikings' performance in the third quarter of their 34-20 win over the Cleveland Browns put the rest of the league on notice that they are a team to beat after a dominating stretch became the turning point of the game.
The Vikings trailed 13-10 at halftime thanks to a couple of special-teams gaffes that gave Cleveland 10 points – a botched onside kick attempt to start the game that fooled nobody and a 67-yard punt return for a touchdown by Joshua Cribbs with 1:30 to go in a first half that had been largely controlled by the Vikings. With the opening kick of the second half, all three phases of the Vikings team came into play in blowing the game open.
It started with rookie Percy Harvin, who returned the opening kickoff 41 yards to the Vikings 45-yard line. The running game did the job early, as Adrian Peterson took carries of 5 and 6 yards for one first down and, on the next play, Harvin took a motion handoff for 11 yards and another first down to the Browns 33-yard line.
After being backed up 5 yards for a delay of game, it was the passing game that took over. Brett Favre faced a third-and-10 play and zipped a 13-yard pass to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe to move the chains. On the next play, he threw a fade route to Sidney Rice that, while incomplete, resulted in a pass interference call on Cleveland cornerback Brandon McDonald at the 4-yard line. It would take three tries to do it, but Peterson scored to end the nine-play, 55-yard drive with a touchdown to give the Vikings the lead back at 17-13.
With the special teams and the offense both making contributions, it was the defense's turn to apply the pressure and make the big play. After allowing a couple of impressive runs to veteran Jamal Lewis, Brady Quinn's first pass of the second half was brutal. Wide receiver Braylon Edwards cut his route inside on Cedric Griffin, but Quinn threw the pass to the sideline, where Griffin was the only person who could make a play on it. He made an excellent over-the-shoulder catch and kept both feet inbounds for the interception, turning the ball back over to the Vikings offense.
Again, the Vikings mixed the pass and run effectively. Peterson converted a third-and-short by bulling up the middle for 2 yards and, after an 8-yard sack of Favre, he converted another first down with a 21-yard pass to Percy Harvin to the Vikings 42-yard line. The running game stepped up, as Peterson ran carries of 6 and 7 yards, Chester Taylor took two carries for 5 and 8 yards, and A.D. broke off a 19-yard run into the red zone at the Cleveland 13-yard line. After being backed up on a 2-yard loss by Taylor, Favre went to Harvin twice – completing a pass over the middle for nine yards and, on the next play, throwing his first touchdown as a Viking to give Minnesota a 24-13 lead with 1:06 to play in the third quarter.
After allowing the Browns to stay in the game with sloppy play in the first half, the Vikings dominated the third quarter – running 21 plays in the first 14 minutes of the second half, holding the ball for all but 91 seconds and turning a three-point deficit into an 11-point lead, turning a tight game into a laugher and getting a very solid team-wide point in the process.