Vikings shut down Titans in rout
Minnesota survives mistakes to roll
MINNEAPOLIS — There were more than a few stalled drives, ill-advised penalties and mistakes. But for the Minnesota Vikings, it didn’t matter one bit.
Quarterback Christian Ponder threw interceptions on consecutive passes. So what? The Vikings, relatively penalty-free for much of the season, got whistled five times for 60 yards and had safety Harrison Smith ejected in the second quarter for making contact with an official. It will cost Smith, but it didn’t cost the Vikings.
Minnesota’s 30-7 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday moved the Vikings to 4-1, and they remained tied with the Chicago Bears atop the NFC North thanks to defense — swarming defense, opportunistic defense, smothering defense.
“It’s what we’ve said from the beginning,” said defensive end Brian Robison, who picked up his first sack. “If we play our fundamental ball, and pay attention to execution, the sky is the limit for our defense.”
Ponder, whose interception-free streak ended at 145 passes, rebounded with a 25-for-35 effort for 258 yards with two touchdowns, one coming late in the third quarter and the other coming in the fourth. Rookie kicker Blair Walsh was 3 for 3 on field goals. Percy Harvin accounted for 116 yards from scrimmage (108 on eight receptions) and scored his first two offensive touchdowns of the season — a 4-yard run in the first quarter and a 10-yard reception in the third. The Vikings gained 175 yards on the ground, led by Adrian Peterson’s 88.
“It’s nice to officially beat last year’s record,” joked Ponder, who completed 12 of his final 13 passes, about last year’s 3-13 team. “For us to string together three wins now? It’s big time. Last year we didn’t even have back-to-back wins.”
Sunday the Vikings defense got most of the credit.
Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck — playing for the injured Jake Locker — looked all of his 37 years. He completed 26 of 43 passes for 200 yards, threw one interception and had a passer rating of 69.9, even with numbers inflated by an essentially meaningless fourth quarter. Star running back Chris Johnson was held to 24 yards on 15 carries.
“We’re doing things to hurt ourselves,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “Maybe we’re just not good at overcoming some of that.”
The Titans (1-4), down 13-0 at the half, managed just nine offensive yards in the third quarter, when the Vikings put the game away. It was a long day for the Titans.
“We got something going there at the end; I guess that’s more for pride, just to show that we didn’t completely lay an egg,” said Steve Hutchinson, the former Vikings Pro Bowl guard now playing for Tennessee. “There’s fight in this team, and we are not going to quit.”
Indeed, the totals — the Vikings outgained the Titans 433 yards to 267 — are misleading when you consider the Vikings had held the Titans to just 96 yards when Ponder hit Harvin for a 10-yard scoring pass with seconds left in the third quarter to give the Vikings a 23-0 lead.
“I was hoping for a shutout, I really was,” said defensive end Jared Allen, who picked up a sack for the third straight week. “This has been a cumulative thing since we lost to the Colts (in Week 2). Something clicked after that game. We’re back to our character, to what we do.”
Sunday that meant pitching shutout ball for three-plus quarters while the offense pulled away, a process that would have gone faster had the Vikings not had to settle for three field goals.
Minnesota went up 7-0 in the first quarter on a 91-yard drive that was keyed by Harvin’s 45-yard reception and ended with his 4-yard run. From then until late in the third quarter the Vikings had to settle for field goals of 42, 36 and 26 yards by Walsh.
That was more than enough.
The Titans finally got on the scoreboard with 10:35 left in the game on Hasselbeck’s 10-yard TD pass to tight end Jared Cook, but the Vikings responded with their third TD drive of the game to push the score to 30-7. Tennessee did not score again.
“I cannot say enough about their effort,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “They want to be the best defense in the league.”
Each week, it gets a little closer. The Vikings haven’t trailed the past three games.
“We’re not where we need to be yet,” linebacker Chad Greenway said. “We’re playing good football, but we can get better.”
Notes: Vikings rookie Robert Blanton replaced Harrison Smith at safety after Smith was ejected for contact with an official in the second quarter. … Titans wide receiver Kenny Britt was activated for the game, despite not practicing all week due to an ankle injury. Middle linebacker Colin McCarthy, who hadn’t played since the season opener due to an ankle injury, was also active. McCarthy started. … Vikings linebacker Erin Henderson, who missed two games with a concussion, returned to action Sunday. Marvin Mitchell, who had started both games in Henderson’s absence, was inactive with a calf injury. … Vikings defensive end Brian Robison picked up his first sack of the season in the first quarter. … Titans running back Javon Ringer left the field on a cart after injuring his left knee in the fourth quarter. … Vikings receiver Jerome Simpson was bothered all game by a sore lower leg. He will be examined Monday.