Harrison Smith (Joe Robbins/Getty)
The Vikings were much more than a one-man band on Sunday. They got key and timely contributions from numerous players on offense, defense and special teams. Their 23-6 win may have been as complete a game as they’ve played all season.
In what may end up being their biggest win of the season, the Vikings got contributions throughout their 23-6 win over the Texans that started early and last throughout.
It started on the Vikings’ first drive. After not having a pass play of 20 yards or more in their previous three games, Christian Ponder had two on the opening drive of the game, completing passes of 27 yards to Kyle Rudolph and 32 yards to Michael Jenkins, leading to a touchdown pass to Rudolph to give the Vikings a 7-3 lead they would never surrender.
Early in the second quarter with the Texans driving into Vikings territory, Jasper Brinkley made the next big play – stripping Arian Foster of the ball on the Vikings’ 21-yard line, where cornerback A.J. Jefferson recovered to give the Vikings the ball. They would take advantage of the turnover, converting on a pair of third-down plays before Blair Walsh tied a franchise record with a 56-yard field goal that had 10 yards to spare to give the Vikings a 10-3 lead midway through the second quarter. Not only did he tie the distance record for the Vikings, he set an all-time NFL record with nine field goals of 50 or more yards in a season.
“He kicked it so well in pregame and (special teams coordinator) Mike Priefer had come up to me and said, ‘If we get to the 40, he can make it.’ He actually told me if we crossed the 50 we’re in good shape,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “I felt pretty good when we had the chance to kick the 56-yarder thanks to what he had done in pregame.”
In the final two minutes of the half, Marcus Sherels provided a 19-yard return that got the Vikings into Houston territory and, after a 21-yard catch and run by Jarius Wright, the Vikings got into position to kick another field goal to take a 13-3 lead at halftime.
The Vikings defense was stellar throughout, as Kevin Williams and Everson Griffen both batted passes that were nearly intercepted and had Matt Schaub extremely uncomfortable the entire game, but it was a goal-line stand the denied the Texans on three plays from the 1-yard line that made it clear this was going to be the Vikings’ day.
Adrian Peterson didn’t have a monster day, but had a handful of carries that moved the chains and kept drives alive and allowed them to work the clock in the second half. When Peterson finally came out, backup Toby Gerhart converted a huge first down late in the fourth quarter that kept the Texans off the field.
The special teams weren’t out of the action either. With the game still in doubt at 16-6 early in the fourth quarter, Chris Kluwe hit a punt that was covered by Josh Robinson on the 1-yard line that would eventually be another critical point of the game.
“What Chris did, what Blair did, our coverage units, our offense getting into some backed-up situations so we wouldn’t have to punt with our backs to the goal posts, we did a lot of good things that good teams have to be able to do,” Frazier said. “That’s part of winning games, being able to have good field position and understanding field position.”
Facing a third-and-3 from the 8-yard line, Harrison Smith made a nifty ankle tackle on H-back James Casey that left him a yard short and forced a punt.
Ponder did it not only with his arm, but with his legs as well, scrambling for a run of 21 yards in the first half and a 29-yarder in the fourth quarter that helped the Vikings score the final game-sealing touchdown.
Jerome Simpson didn’t have a big day, but made a huge catch on a third-and-13 play when the Vikings were clinging to a 10-point lead that, while not leading to points, gave them the field position they needed to pin the Texans deep, and it would eventually lead to the final score of the game.
With the Texans waving the white flag late, two of the young Vikings defenders sealed the deal, as Smith drilled backup QB T.J. Yates in the back and Griffen recovered the resulting fumble to officially seal the deal.
In most games, coaches give someone a game ball at the end of a victory. Sunday in Houston, the Vikings could justify giving a game ball to every player on the team because, if there has been that scenario in recent Vikings history, this may have been the game.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.