Vikings coach Brad Childress isn’t ready to announce a starting quarterback for Thursday night’s game against the Packers, but his late third-quarter insertion of Tarvaris Jackson provided a momentary spark in a game that was overshadowed by diminishing playoff hopes after a 26-13 loss.
The Vikings got momentum early with a fumble recovery and a short-field touchdown drive, but it wasn’t until Jackson entered the game and engineered a fourth-quarter touchdown drive that the Vikings put up points again. In between, the Jets scored all 26 of their points and generally dominated the game.
New York converted 50 percent of their 14 third-down conversions while the Vikings were held to 2 of 13 (15 percent) – and one of those came on Brad Johnson’s opening-series touchdown pass.
The lack of execution led to a decided 36:26 to 23:34 time-of-possession advantage for the Jets, which in turn led to limited opportunities for Vikings running back Chester Taylor, who was held to 38 yards on 11 attempts and suffered a wrist injury that limited his availability in the second half. In the mean time, while Jets built their lead and worked the clock, they out-rushed the Vikings 68 to 62 yards, despite a 2.3-yard average for New York’s running game.
The first series for each team offered the only bright spots for the Vikings until the fourth quarter.
The Vikings were expecting the Jets to go with a no-huddle offense to start the game, and defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin talked about pressuring the quarterback. It started on the first drive. After a 12-yard completion, linebacker Napoleon Harris sacked New York’s Chad Pennington and forced a fumble that E.J. Henderson recovered.
The offense was just as sharp to start the game. After two plays netted only 4 yards, the Jets brought a blitz and Johnson made them pay by unloading a pass down the deep middle for Travis Taylor, who had a step on single coverage, for a 30-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
The Jets responded with a 12-play touchdown drive, and to the shock of no one they started mainly in the air. Jerricho Cotchery and Lavernues Coles picked up the initial first down, but Brad Smith had the drive’s only gain of more than 10 yards with a 19-yard reception to the Vikings 38-yard line. From there, Pennington dinked and dunked his way to the 6-yard line before Cedric Houston powered his way into the end zone to tie the game 7-7.
Minnesota’s offense cooled considerably, as the only first down it picked up in the next three drives came via a personal foul penalty on the Jets.
Meanwhile the Jets had their own troubles, with an intermediate field goal attempt going awry and ending in an incomplete pass. However, the Jets offense was the benefactor of a facemask on Ben Leber to turn good field position into scoring position. Coles gave them one more first down with a 14-yard reception, putting kicker Mike Nugent in position to make good on a 25-yard field goal for a 10-7 New York lead.
The trends for both offenses continued throughout the rest of the second quarter – the Jets moved and scored and the Vikings crumbled and stumbled.
Pennington hooked up with Coles and Cotchery for consecutive 17-yard receptions to move into scoring position before Coles caught a 21-yard touchdown pass over Fred Smoot for a 17-7 Jets lead.
But it wouldn’t end there. The Jets put together two more field goal drives while Ryan Longwell was wide right on his 49-yard attempt.
The Jets’ first-half domination showed in their 23-7 lead, but they also put up 239 yards passing on 29 attempts with just one sack, the one that Harris garnered on New York’s opening drive that led to the Vikings’ only score.
New York took their first possession of the second half and continued the trend, going 84 yards on 15 plays before a goal-line stand from the 1-yard line forced another field goal and a 26-7 lead.
After an exchange of possessions, Childress relented to the crowd’s calls for Tarvaris Jackson with 25 seconds left in the third quarter, but his first drive was uneventful, completing two passes before a Troy Williamson drop on a bomb ended the drive.
On his next possession, however, Jackson led the Vikings on a touchdown drive, and a quick one at that. On second down, he hit Williamson for 22 yards and, one play later, he connected with Williamson again for 11 yards. And on the fifth play of the drive he hit paydirt when Mewelde Moore took a screen pass and turned it into a 35-yard touchdown with a number of elusive moves. With 6:15 left in the fourth quarter, the Vikings were still holding onto fading hope, trailing 26-13 with the spark that Jackson provided.
When Napoleon Harris intercepted Pennington on the second play of the Jets’ ensuing drive, the Vikings had more hope with 4:53 to play.
A 9-yard scramble on fourth down was followed with a 31-yard pass to Travis Taylor to continue to feed hope to the crowd. After an 11-yard completion to Richard Owens to get inside the red zone and a 5-yard pass to Travis Taylor. But facing third-and-15, Jackson went to the end zone and was intercepted by cornerback David Barrett to end the hope.
With the loss, the Vikings fall to a 6-8 with their playoff lives on life support, needing two more wins and help from any number of the seven teams still vying for the two NFC wild card spots.