Christian Ponder (Bruce Kluckhohn/US Presswire)
RB Doug Martin racked up 214 total yards, had two touchdowns and left the Vikings defense frustrated while the Vikings offense struggled in the passing game, especially early, once again.
Playing at home during a short week was supposed to be an advantage for the Minnesota Vikings.
So much for that idea.
Rookie Doug Martin racked up 214 total yards and two touchdowns, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers blew out Minnesota 36-17 on Thursday night to hand the Vikings their first home loss this season.
“The energy was there. We just didn’t do enough things to keep the energy in the building,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said.
Adrian Peterson ran for a 64-yard touchdown and became the Vikings’ leader in 100-yard games with the 30th of his career. But his feats on the ground were overshadowed by Tampa Bay’s new kid from Boise State.
Martin took a screen pass 64 yards for one of Josh Freeman’s three touchdown passes, giving Tampa Bay a 27-10 lead just 1:21 into the second half. Vikings cornerback Chris Cook broke his wrist the play before.
Martin also capped a drive of more than 9 minutes with a 1-yard muscle into the end zone midway through the fourth quarter to stave off any comeback hopes for Minnesota (5-3).
Peterson’s touchdown brought the Vikings to 30-17, but his lost fumble in Minnesota territory in the second quarter led directly to a touchdown by the Buccaneers (3-4). Peterson finished with 123 yards on 15 carries. Percy Harvin had 90 yards on seven catches, including an 18-yard touchdown in the first half.
The Bucs, who became just the second visiting team to win on a Thursday night in seven games this season, revived their struggling pass rush with three sacks and flustered Christian Ponder with a heavy dose of blitzes. Ponder finished 19 for 35 for 251 yards, one touchdown and a late interception at the end of a desperation drive.
“I know I’ve got to get better,” said Ponder, who heard boos early in the game. “I put a lot of pressure on myself anyway, and I’ll always have high expectations.”
With two games apiece against division rivals Chicago and Green Bay plus road trips to Seattle and Houston in the second half of their schedule, the Vikings have quite the challenge waiting for them.
“We know we missed our opportunities to be a lot better than where we’re at right now, and that’s unfortunate. We know the schedule that’s coming ahead for us,” linebacker Chad Greenway said, adding: “We’ve got to play better than we did tonight. That’s for sure.”
A better start would help. Minnesota’s first three possessions against Tampa Bay were three-and-outs, Ponder started 0 for 5, and Jerome Simpson lost a fumble after a short catch near midfield.
The Bucs turned that into the second of Connor Barth’s three field goals and took a 13-0 lead.
Harvin finally gave the Vikings some life by grabbing a screen pass for a 32-yard gain and then pivoting to haul in a sideline pass over his shoulder for a touchdown.
But Peterson, who was having no trouble reaching the Tampa Bay secondary with almost every run through the line, had the ball stripped after a spin move by veteran cornerback Ronde Barber. The Bucs got the ball at the Minnesota 37, and Mike Williams made a tricky catch in the corner of the end zone for a 3-yard score and a 20-7 lead.
“He made a good play. That’s all I can say,” Peterson said.
Freeman went 19 for 36 for 262 yards and, most importantly, no turnovers. Williams had 68 yards on six receptions, and the Bucs held the ball for nearly 38 minutes.
Peterson made up for his earlier fumble by matching Martin’s big play with one of his own, sprung by a pancake block from Simpson to reach the end zone and get the Vikings back in it.
The game got more intense, too, with Jared Allen and Donald Penn trading shoves after one play that left Minnesota’s All-Pro with a facemask penalty and a bashed-up nose after Tampa Bay’s Pro Bowl left tackle pried Allen’s helmet off and got a personal foul of his own. Allen was yelling at Penn after the whistle, pointing at the blood running down onto his teeth and telling him he was coming after him. Allen finished off that drive with a sack, forcing the Buccaneers to punt late in the third quarter.
“We got whupped, top to bottom,” said Allen, who had the Vikings’ only sack. “But there’s two ways this goes: You either let this put you in the pit, or you eat it, you own it, you realize what your mistakes were, you fix it and you go back to work.”