Kyle Rudolph (Hannah Foslien/Getty)
The Vikings’ first- and second-round draft picks connected for the first touchdown for each of them Thursday night. Their tight relationship off the field finally translated on the field. Plus, get nearly 20 notes that help tell the tale of the Vikings’ 28-0 win.
In what Vikings fans hope will be the first of many connections between them, Christian Ponder’s first NFL touchdown was thrown to fellow rookie Kyle Rudolph on a five-yard connection. The drive was sparked by a broken play in which Ponder and his teammates weren’t on the same page, but he improvised well, scrambling for 15 yards down to the 9-yard line. One play later, he would connect with Rudolph for the score.
“He was my second progression and I think a corner was on him and he just boxed him out so I threw it low and it was great,” Ponder said. “Obviously it was cool that he was my first touchdown pass and I was his first touchdown catch. It was great. It was good to get that under the belt.”
Rudolph made no bones about his rapport with Ponder, which began when they were drafted and has carried over during the preseason.
“Everybody knows we have a close friendship,” Rudolph said. “We’ve gotten closer over the last couple of months and I definitely think that carries over to the field.”
Rudolph and Ponder both made a point of saying it was the first touchdown for each of them.
Both Vikings quarterbacks posted impressive passer ratings Thursday. Ponder completed 10 of 17 passes for 83 yards and a touchdown for a rating of 91.1, while Joe Webb completed 5 of 6 passes for 43 yards (a 96.5 passer rating).
As a sign how little yardage can impact an outcome, the Vikings gained only 10 more yards than the Texans, but scored 28 more points.
If fans didn’t recognize a lot of the names they were hearing Thursday night, it wasn’t too unusual, because the teams both rested a ton of players. The Vikings sat a whopping 25 players, including all of their projected starters with the exception of Anthony Herrera and Remi Ayedole. Not to be outdone, the Texans sat 35 players.
With 12 yards rushing Thursday, Webb ended up leading the Vikings in rushing in the preseason with 102 yards – two more than Adrian Peterson.
A total of 19 different Vikings players caught passes in the four preseason games.
After committing just 11 penalties in the first three games combined, the Vikings were penalized six times Thursday – but that paled to the 10 penalties called on Houston, two of which negated runs of 30 yards or more.
While Matt Leinart didn’t look all that efficient in the first half, he completed 13 of 16 passes for 145 yards and had a passer rating of 104.4. Ponder completed eight of 14 passes for 69 yards and a touchdown for a passer rating of 94.0 in the first half.
The Texans gained 200 yards in the first half (138 passing, 62 rushing), while the Vikings gained 185 yards (118 rushing, 67 passing). The Vikings running attack looked good again this week, gaining 118 yards on 18 attempts – a sparkling 6.6-yard average.
As expected with a game that featured almost no regular starters, there were 12 penalties in the first half – seven on Houston and five against the Vikings.
Running back Alexander Robinson made a case to keep him on the roster. He broke off a 33-yard run in the second quarter and scored the Vikings’ second touchdown of the game in the third quarter.
In the second quarter, Houston’s Trindon Holliday had a 16-yard punt return. What made that noteworthy? In the first three games, the Vikings had allowed an average of just three yards per return with a long of six yards.
Linebacker Larry Dean had two special teams penalties in the first half, which didn’t help his cause in trying to make the final roster. On the opening kickoff, Dean was called for holding, taking 20 yards away from the return and, in the second quarter, was called for a false-start penalty on a Vikings punt.
Neither team generated much offense in the first quarter. Houston gained 79 yards, while the Vikings gained just 76 yards. Of those, Ponder accounted for 61 of them, throwing for 31 yards and rushing for 30.
Tyrell Johnson, who some believe is fighting for a roster spot, dropped an easy interception in the first quarter.
The Vikings controlled field position in the first quarter thanks to impressive punt coverage. When the first drive of the game stalled in Houston territory, Chris Kluwe’s first punt was batted back at the 1-yard line by Eric Frampton and downed by Adrian Awasom there. After the Texans went three-and-out, the Vikings again pinned Houston deep, with Kluwe knocking his second punt out of bounds on the 3-yard line.
Ponder had a heck of a time getting his first pass of the game thrown. On the first drive of the game, Ponder dropped to pass four times on the game’s first seven plays. On the first two, he scrambled for gains of 10 and 11 yards. After being sacked for a 2-yard loss on a scramble, his fourth drop-back resulted in another scramble, this time for 9 yards and his third first down rushing of the game. When it appeared he finally did throw a pass, it was negated thanks to a holding call.
This was the fourth time the Vikings and Texans have met. The Vikings have won all four – two in the regular season and two in the preseason – making Houston the only franchise that has never beaten the Vikings.
In the three games in which the Vikings played their starters, they outscored their opponents 10-3 in the first quarter.
The ceremonial Gjallarhorn to greet the Vikings to the field was sounded by members of the defending NCAA hockey champions from UMD.
The announced attendance was 62,148, the 136th straight sellout at the Metrodome since 1998. However, many of those fans came disguised as empty seats.
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.