The Vikings lost plenty in Arizona. They lost their swagger, they lost their second game of the season, they lost their middle linebacker and they lost plenty of other players to seemingly more minor injuries.
It was simply a bad all-around evening for Minnesota, which lost 30-17 to the Arizona Cardinals and fell two games behind the New Orleans Saints, who lead the NFC with a 12-0 record after surviving an overtime game against the Washington Redskins Sunday afternoon.
But the bad news just kept piling up for the Vikings as the game wore on. Brett Favre threw two interceptions and two touchdowns in a 275-yard effort, but he was easily outdone by Kurt Warner, who threw for 285 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Favre got no help from his running game either. Adrian Peterson was limited to 19 yards on 13 carries while Cards RB Tim Hightower had 50 yards on six carries against a Vikings run defense that entered the weekend ranked second in the league.
The pass defense wasn't any better. Without Antoine Winfield for the sixth straight game because of a foot injury, the Vikings failed to get enough pressure on Warner and he found his receivers with pinpoint accuracy. Larry Fitzgerald had eight catches for 143 yards and a touchdown and Anquan Boldin had seven receptions for 98 yards and two touchdowns. The Vikings went the entire game without a sack.
The injuries just made it worse. At one point in the first half, the Vikings were without both their starting right tackles, and right guard Anthony Herrera was inactive for the second straight game following a concussion two weeks ago. Bryant McKinnie and Phil Loadholt returned after brief absences, but tight end Visanthe Shiancoe appeared to re-injure his tender ribs and the issues were even more prevalent on defense. Middle linebacker E.J. Henderson's season is over after breaking his left femur in the fourth quarter. The Vikings were also without cornerback Cedric Griffin and safety Tyrell Johnson toward the end of the game.
Things started well for the Vikings, but it just got worse as the game wore on.
The defense performed early for the Vikings, with CB Benny Sapp starting it out by stripping RB Tim Hightower of the ball on the Cardinals second play from scrimmage, a fumble that Sapp recovered on Arizona's 47-yard line.
Favre took full advantage, hitting his top three wide receivers four times in the first six plays to move the ball to the 15-yard line. Chester Taylor and Percy Harvin advanced to the 3-yard line with runs of 3 and 9 yards, respectively. And on first-and-goal, Favre threw for Shiancoe, who made the touchdown reception to give the Vikings an early 7-0 lead with 9:47 to play in the first quarter.
The defense continued to do its job, but it was a special teams letdown that set up the early tying score. When the Cardinals stopped Minnesota's second drive, Chris Kluwe punted away and Karl Paymah lost contain on returner Steve Breaston, who went 64 yards before being caught at the 2-yard line. Anquan Boldin took a swing pass and made it a one-play touchdown drive from 2 yards out to knot the game 7-7 just over 10 minutes into it.
That was as close as the Vikings would be the rest of the game.
While the Cardinals had an extended drive on their next possession, they were forced to punt away, but they proved that extended drives weren't necessary. After their defense shut down the Vikings offense with two straight three-and-outs, Warner only needed two plays to put his team in the lead. On his fifth drive, Breaston took an end-around for 19 yards and Boldin caught a back-shoulder throw against Cedric Griffin and took it 39 yards for a touchdown and a 14-7 lead halfway through the second quarter.
The Vikings responded with a field goal drive, starting off with a 21-yard pass to Peterson. Harvin, Taylor and Peterson all contributed first downs to move inside the 20-yard line. They would get to the 5 but couldn't convert from there, forcing Ryan Longwell onto the field for a 25-yard field goal to cut the deficit to four points, 14-10, with 1:55 to play in the first half.
That would prove to be more than enough time for the explosive Cardinals offense. They avoided a crucial interception by Tyrell Johnson when Ray Edwards was offsides, but that was the only hiccup in the drive. Warner completed five straight passes, ending with completions of 20 yards and 34 yards to Fitzgerald, the final one for a touchdown to give Arizona a 21-10 lead that it took to halftime.
The Vikings offense started moving the ball in the second half, but Favre began to kill drives with interceptions. After getting to the Arizona 35-yard line, the Vikings' first drive of the second half ended with an interception by LB Karlos Dansby.
The Cardinals took advantage of that miscue, driving across midfield and into the red zone before Neil Rackers hit a 31-yard field goal for a 24-10 lead.
Once again, Favre drove across midfield and then daggered his own drive with an interception, this time with defensive back Michael Adams doing the damage. As with the previous interception, the Cardinals turned the turnover into a field goal. All they needed was a 26-yard reception by Fitzgerald and they were in position for Rackers to connect on a 30-yard field goal for a 27-10 lead.
With a 17-point lead in hand, the Cardinals defense started doing what the Vikings couldn't – getting to the quarterback for sacks. On three consecutive drives, the Cardinals sacked Favre, with Bertrand Berry getting to the quarterback the last two times.
The Cardinals mounted one last scoring drive following the third sack. Once again, it was Fitzgerald doing most of the damage. He started the drive with an 18-yard reception and caught a 21-yarder three plays later to move the ball into Minnesota territory. After a 32-yard run by Hightower, the Cardinals were in position for a 29-yard Rackers field goal and a 30-10 lead with 4:18 to play.
The Vikings' final drive produced what they hadn't been able to accomplish since their opening drive – a touchdown. This time it was Harvin on a 31-yard reception with 1:20 to play, but it was too little and far too late against a Cardinals passing game that found its rhythm much more consistently throughout the game.
The loss dropped the Vikings to 10-2 and two games behind New Orleans in the NFC race but still two games ahead of second-place Dallas. However, it also brought Arizona into the equation with eight wins and now a tie-breaker advantage over the Vikings. Considering both of the Vikings' losses this season came on the road, maintaining whatever home-field advantage they can get through most of the NFC playoffs could be critical.
But they will have to do that with at least one fewer starter after the Henderson injury and with a little less swagger.
Vikings get dusted in the desert, 30-17
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