By Joseph Gunther
The Minnesota Vikings missed an opportunity to move up the standings with a 36-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Thursday at Mall of America Field.
The Vikings did just about everything it could to give the game to the Buccaneers in the first half.
They couldn’t complete passes. They didn’t give the ball enough to Adrian Peterson. They could not punt the ball. They could not tackle. They could not keep up with the Buccaneer receivers.
Yet the Vikings (5-3) only trailed by 10 at half time. And were it not for fumbles by Jerome Simpson and Peterson, the Vikings could have been tied or even leading.
Aside from his fumble, Peterson had a big game with 123 rushing yards, including a 64-yard touchdown run. He topped the 100-yard mark for the 30th time in his career, setting a Vikings record.
Buccaneers rookie running back Doug Martin had a career day with 214 total yards, including 135 rushing, and two total touchdowns. However, when the Viking defense tightened up in the second half, he managed just 29 rushing yards in the second half.
Leslie Frazier, Bill Musgrave and Alan Williams were outcoached at every level by Greg Schiano, Mike Sullivan and Bill Sheridan.
Musgrave’s play calling early in the game could have changed the whole complexion of the game. The Vikings went three-and-out in each of its first three drives. In those drives, Peterson had three carries for 17 yards. The other six plays were five incomplete passes and negative run play by Percy Harvin. Just give the ball to the man gaining over five yards per carry. Hindsight is 20/20, but far too often coaches try to be cute and get burned for it.
The offensive line had its worst game of the season. The receivers did not get open until the final minutes of the game. Christian Ponder struggled, but he also didn’t have time to throw the ball or receivers to throw it to. Simpson made a terrific diving catch on a pretty well thrown ball. However, it was incomplete because Simpson was too close to the sideline and could not get two feet down in bounds.
Critical mistakes by the offensive unit killed momentum gained by the defense. Peterson’s fumble came inside the Vikings 40-yard line with the Buccaneers only ahead by six points. Then in the second half with the Vikings trailing by 13 points, the defense got the crowd fired up and into the game and John Sullivan snapped the ball on third-and-six without Ponder looking at him. Ponder recovered the fumbled snap for a 12 yard loss and forced the Vikings to punt.
The Vikings’ defense played a lot better in the second half than it did in the first half. If not for the offensive second half struggles, the Vikings probably would have won the game.
However, it did not make plays when it needed to and really struggled to make tackles and cover receivers.
Jared Allen got the crowd into the game when he had a skirmish with Buccaneers left tackle Donald Penn and then sacked Josh Freeman on the following play.
Brian Robison was the only Viking that can be okay with his first half play. The starting right defensive end knocked down several passes. He probably should have intercepted at least one of those batted balls. That could have been the play that changed the game.
Chris Kluwe and Chris Cook were the only problems, but they were big problems. Through the first quarter and a half or so, Kluwe had a 31.3 yard punting average, which was about 18 yards fewer than Buccaneers punter Michael Koenen. Cook negated a big punt return by Marcus Sherels with a 15-yard personal foul for an illegal block.
Blair Walsh made a 51-yard field goal and both extra points. He also forced a touchback on all four kickoffs.
The returnmen were solid as well. Harvin only had one kick return opportunity and he took it seven yards deep in the end zone out to the 36-yard line for a 43 yard return. Sherels had three punt returns for 31 yards, including a 16-yarder.
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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.