The Minnesota Vikings defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars 26-23 in overtime Sunday at Mall of America Field.
Adrian Peterson played his first game since tearing his ACL last December and led the Vikings with 84 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns. All week, Viking head coach Leslie Frazier said that he and the team would not make a decision on the star running back’s status until Sunday morning.
Not only did Peterson get onto the active roster, but found his way into the starting lineup. He was not expected to receive the bulk of the carries, but had more than the rest of the team combined.
The Jaguars (0-1) started the gut wrenching final minutes with a six-play, 76-yard scoring drive that gave Jacksonville a three-point lead (after a successful two-point conversion) with 20 seconds remaining The Vikings responded when Christian Ponder connected on two pass plays that set up rookie kicker Blair Walsh for a 55-yard game-tying field goal as time expired.
The Vikings marched down the field on the opening drive of overtime only to stall at the Jaguar 20-yard line. Walsh made his second pressure kick of the game for the eventual game-winning field goal from 38-yards out. The Vikings (1-0) finished the game with more total yards, passing yards and rushing yards than the Jaguars. They did it in shorter time and in fewer plays.
The Vikings ended up sleepwalking through most of the first half. Ponder was terribly inaccurate, the play calling was questionable and the offense mustered very little offense. It had just two first downs in its first four drives, including one on its first play of the game. The Vikings started its fifth drive at its own 41-yard line and two minutes and 28 seconds remaining in the first half.
Beginning with that drive, the Vikings got things rolling. The Vikings turned a decidedly lopsided stat line into a slight advantage by the end of the game. Punter Chris Kluwe was called into action just once in the second half.
Just like the offense, the Viking defense struggled early and picked up its play as the game went on. Jaguars second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert was one of the worst statistical starters at the end of last season. But Sunday, the Vikings defense made him look like a Hall of Famer the whole game. It stepped up in overtime, but would not have even been in the extra session if it did not fail in the final minute.
The strength of the Viking defense is its pass rush. The entire defense totaled seven quarterback hits and two sacks.
The special teams came up big for the Vikings, especially Walsh. The Vikings took a big chance in selecting the 22-year-old from Georgia and releasing a reliable veteran. He rewarded the team for its gamble by nailing a 55-yarder as time expired to send the game to overtime. He finished the game 4-4 on field goals and 2-2 on extra points.
The special teams also received good contributions from Kluwe (48.4 yard punting average, including one punt inside the 20), Matt Kalil (blocked an extra point kick), Marcus Sherels (22 yards on two punt returns), Percy Harvin (88 yards on three kick returns) and Jamarca Sanford (forced muff punt return).
The second-year quarterback showed good things and areas of improvement. He started the game connecting on three of his first eight passes, including one incompletion that should have been intercepted.
The entire offense got going when he completed three consecutive passes to start the team’s first scoring drive late in the second quarter. All three passes were quick throws that Harvin turned into good plays. Ponder finished the drive 4-4 for 46 yards.
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Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. His work can be found on Examiner.com.