There are times in an NFL season when there is a defining moment. The Vikings may have had theirs in a critical goal-line stand late in the third quarter that created a much-needed turning point of the game.
With 5:43 remaining in the third quarter, the Vikings led 16-3 and the Houston Texans
fans were getting restless. With Arian Foster
on the sidelines because of what turned out to be an irregular heartbeat, Ben Tate
replaced him in the backfield and, for the first time all day, the Texans were stringing together significant gains against the Vikings defense.
Starting from his own 39-yard line, Matt Schaub
got Houston into Vikings territory with a 19-yard pass to Andre Johnson
. Following a 13-yard run by Tate to the Vikings 25-yard line, Schaub completed a 14-yard pass to Johnson and the Texans were knocking on the door at the Vikings 11-yard line.
It appeared as though the Texans were going to cut the Vikings lead down to 16-10 when Schaub completed a pass to Kevin Walter
that appeared to be a touchdown. Instead, Walter was ruled down one foot from the end zone. It wasn't the touchdown Houston thought it had, but all the Texans needed was to get the 12 inches they needed for a touchdown to cut the Vikings' advantage to less than a touchdown. But the Vikings weren't going to make it easy for them.
"They were energetic, looking forward to this game (on Friday)," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said of his defenders after the 23-6 win. "They played like it. They were ready to go. It was great to see from a defensive standpoint."
On first down, Schaub tried to cross up the Vikings with a pass to tight end Owen Daniels
, but his pass sailed high and was uncatchable. Without Foster in the lineup – who is almost automatic from the 1-yard line – Tate got the handoff but was stonewalled by Kevin Williams
for no gain, setting up a third-and-goal inside the 1-yard line.
Not confident they could score the touchdown on the ground, Schaub dropped to pass and defensive tackle Fred Evans
blew through a gap to chase him down for a 14-yard sack. Had Schaub got rid of the ball, the Texans likely would have gone for a touchdown on fourth down. Instead, pushed back to the 15-yard line, they had no choice but to kick a field goal and allow the Vikings to maintain a 10-point lead.
"Just extremely proud of our defense. To stand up in that situation, that would have been a momentum turner," Frazier said. "If they end up scoring in that situation, all of the sudden the crowd is going to get back in it and it's going to be a tough ballgame. … For our defense to do that, they really stemmed the tide."
The Vikings converted three first downs on their next drive before punting and pinning the Texans on their own 1-yard line, and Minnesota scored on its next drive to put the game away at 23-6.
In a game driven by momentum, the Texans had a chance to dial the heat on the Vikings by converting on a first-and-goal from inside the 1-yard line. But it was a game-changing goal line stand by the Vikings that sucked the air out of Reliant Stadium and created a season-saving turning point.
"We talked about the importance of being physical and we talk about that every week. No greater time than for us to display the characteristics that we talk about as a team every week," Frazier said. "The fact that we want to be a smart team, we want to be a disciplined team, we want to be a tough team. We thought all our team characteristics would have to come into play for us to make this work from a defensive standpoint and a team standpoint. Our guys, they practiced that way throughout the week and they understood the physicality that would be necessary."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.