E.J. Henderson (Andy King/AP)
Linebacker E.J. Henderson had gone almost four years without an interception, but Tony Romo tossed him two that were critical in the Vikings getting a much-needed win Sunday.
In a game the Vikings absolutely had to have Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, everybody on the team needed to try to make the big play that would turn the game around. The Vikings were aware of the long odds of making the playoffs that the loser of today’s game would be facing – in the last 20 years, only five teams that started 1-4 made the playoffs. With everyone desperate to make a big play, it was two interceptions from E.J. Henderson that created the turning point of the game.
Henderson said that the team was feeling the pressure of their slow start and needed to make big plays. He would be in the center of the action and, for the first time all season, gave fans the look of the Vikings team that dominated in 2009.
“It feels great,” Henderson said. “Any time you can go out and make some plays for the team, it’s a great thing. We needed to get some turnovers on defense and I was just in the right place at the right time.”
In the first 97 games of his NFL career, Henderson had a grand total of two picks. He doubled his career total on Sunday. Defensive tackle Kevin Williams said Henderson would get razzed by his defensive teammates about not having interceptions. More times than not, he would knock down passes or come close to picks, but it came together Sunday, to the delight of his teammates.
“We give him slack all the time about when was the last time he had an interception,” Williams said. “He got two today. That will take care of that for a little while.”
For the record, both of his previous picks came in a two-week span of 2006 – intercepting Jon Kitna of Detroit and Seneca Wallace of Seattle. He admitted it has been too long since he created turnovers and said it was a good feeling to get not one, but two critical picks.
“They’ve let me hear about it,” Henderson said. “It’s been a while. I didn’t have one the last couple of years, so it was great to get two in one day.”
The first interception came in the first quarter with the Vikings trailing 7-0. The Cowboys had taken advantage of a Vikings turnover to get a short field and score the game’s first points and, after a three-and-out from the Vikings offense, Dallas has the ball with the opportunity to take early control of the game. Thanks to pressure from Jared Allen, Tony Romo threw a fluttering duck that bounced off the helmet of Ray Edwards and Henderson pulled down the ball on the 26-yard line and returned 10 yards, setting up the Vikings offense deep in the red zone. Three plays later, Brett Favre would cash in, zipping a 10-yard touchdown to Greg Camarillo to tie the game and give momentum back to the Vikings.
The second pick was just as critical. With the game tied 21-21 with eight minutes to play, Henderson gave a blitz look to Romo and dropped back into coverage after the snap. Romo didn’t see him as he tried to go over the middle to tight end Jason Witten, but Henderson jumped the route and made a fingertip catch dropping back in coverage on the 30-yard line. The Vikings weren’t able to fully capitalize on the interception but were close enough to get a field goal from Ryan Longwell, which turned out to be the game-winning points.
“I gave him a little blitz look and dropped back to plug the middle,” Henderson said. “I knew he would probably be looking for (tight end Jason Witten) because he does that a lot in those situations. We game-planned for that play and I was able to get one. We confused him a little bit – he didn’t know where I was and, by the time he threw it, it was too late.”
Henderson admitted that there was a little sense of panic during the week, given the monumental odds against a team dropping to 1-4 and expecting to make the postseason.
“We were desperate,” Henderson said. “We heard the panic word all week. Any time you start off 1-3 or 1-4, you don’t want to be there. We knew how huge this game was. We were scoreboard watching a little bit and glad we got this win. We needed it.”
The win, combined with losses by all of the other three NFC North rivals, suddenly vaults the Vikings right back into contention in the division. With the Bears at 4-2 and the Packers at 3-3, the deficit the Vikings created early took a huge closing step – with the chance to put the Packers in the rear-view mirror with a win at Lambeau Field next Sunday night.
“It was definitely emotional,” Henderson said. “It feels good to get the win. I think it’s a monkey off of everybody’s back and, hopefully, this will be the win that pushes us three, four, five, six seven wins in a row.”
The Vikings needed a win and realized they would likely need to win the turnover battle to do it. They got the two interceptions they needed, from an unlikely source, to build what may well have been a season-saving turning point.
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.