Tarvaris Jackson looked sharp, Troy Williamson was flawless on his reception attempts, and the Vikings had limited penalties and no turnovers – and yet the Vikings’ first-team offense only scored three points in a 13-10 loss to the St. Louis Rams.
Overall, the Vikings offense looked sharper than it has probably all offseason, showing signs of life.
Jackson completed 8 of 11 passes for 83 yards in his three series and Troy Williamson caught all three of the passes thrown his way for 32 yards. Bobby Wade caught two passes for 42 yards, but the first-team offense stalled at the Rams’ 37-yard line, their own 39-yard line and the Rams’ 12-yard line before they finally took a 3-0 lead on a Ryan Longwell field goal early in the second quarter.
It was a good step for a young and unsure offense, but it might also be theorized that it is further proof a solid Vikings defense will have to be sharp this season in order to garner more wins than losses.
In fact, it was the defense that scored the team’s only touchdown – on an 82-yard interception return from second-string linebacker Dontarrious Thomas – that gave the Vikings a 10-7 lead that lasted one quarter before the Rams tied the game early in the fourth quarter and eventually won it as time expired in regulation.
The Vikings offense started with a rhythm not seen often last year … at least after the first play, a 4-yard loss on a handoff to Chester Taylor. But Jackson looked comfortable and found a receiving friend in Williamson, who caught Jackson’s first two passes – one a 5-yard out and the next one a 16-yard slant down the middle of the field for 16 yards on third-and-9. The second-year quarterback converted the next first down with his legs, taking a bootleg to the right for 17 yards, but getting to the 37-yard line would be as close as the Vikings would come on their first drive, which wasn’t close enough to test Longwell’s range.
The Rams had trouble finding running room, but Marc Bulger mixed the pass efficiently initially, picking up two first downs with the aid of a defensive holding call on Antoine Winfield and a 13-yard completion to Torry Holt. But, like the Vikings, once St. Louis crossed midfield it couldn’t advance much more.
Jackson and Williamson continued their synchronicity at the start the team’s second drive, beginning with an 11-yard pass, but that was the only first down they would muster on that drive. The Rams had the same amount of first downs in their drive – with a 13-yard pass to Holt – before the Vikings went on a scoring drive.
Jackson switched his favorite target on the team’s third drive, hitting Bobby Wade along the right sideline, a play that Wade turned into a 21-yard play with a nifty move. One play later, Jackson hit Wade for another 21-yard gain. An Adrian Peterson run for 7 yards, his longest of the game, and two more short runs netted another first down at the 24-yard line before Jackson went back to the passing attack. He connected with TE Visanthe Shiancoe for 7 yards and Peterson converted it for a first down with a 4-yard run up the gut, but the Vikings couldn’t advance past the 12-yard line. Longwell put up the first points of the game with a 30-yard field goal.
With the second teams entering the game for both teams, the Rams answered with a touchdown drive. Former Viking Gus Frerotte found Drew Bennett for 7 yards to convert the initial third down of the drive, and Brian Leonard picked up 11 yards on the ground with the ensuing play. Two more completions to Bennett and an unnecessary roughness penalty on Vikings DT Howard Green put St. Louis on the Minnesota 19-yard line. Two rushing plays later, Leonard got past the first wall of defense and found open space for a 10-yard touchdown with 4:11 remaining in the first half – the only offensive touchdown of the game.
After that, the two teams traded possessions until Dontarrious Thomas intercepted a Hail Mary pass from Rams third-string QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to end the first half.
Fitzpatrick started the Rams’ second half with an impressive drive to start, gaining first downs with passes of 11 and 9 yards to TE Aaron Walker and 9 yards to WR Dane Looker. But the Vikings had enough of a limited pass rush and brought Heath Farwell on blitzes two of the next three plays. The first resulted in a sack and the second caused Fitzpatrick to unload the ball to no one in particular, a throw that Thomas intercepted and returned 82 yards for a touchdown and a 10-7 Vikings lead with 9:49 remaining in the third quarter.
Vikings DE Brian Robison brought St. Louis’ next drive to a halt with a sack, but the offense managed only two first downs behind Bollinger before punting back to the Rams late in the third quarter.
The Rams went on what would turn out to be an improbable scoring drive, with several strange plays. It started innocently enough with two running plays that netted the initial first down, but after a holding call on Drew Strojny trying to fend off Ray Edwards, the Rams got it all back and more when Farwell was flagged for unnecessary roughness on a violent hit on Fitzpatrick. But an unlikely reception by Derek Stanley, on a pass that bounced off of safety Tank Williams and was initially ruled an incompletion and then overturned, gave the Rams 19 yards on third-and-9. Strojny was called for holding on Edwards again, but Stanley picked up another first down with an 18-yard reception to the 18-yard line. That eventually set up Kevin Lovell for a 34-yard game-tying field goal with 13:08 to play.
With QB Tyler Thigpen in the game, the Vikings moved the ball across midfield on a 12-yard Thigpen scramble and an 18-yard pass to Jason Carter, but the teams traded punts before the Vikings had one final scoring opportunity.
With about six minutes to play, Thigpen converted a first down with a scramble for 6 yards, but it was a 31-yard pass interference call on Josh Lay, defending Martin Nance, that put the Vikings in position on the 25-yard line. Three plays later, Longwell was called upon to put Minnesota ahead. Instead, his 42-yard field goal attempt went wide left and the game remained tied at 10.
The Rams’ rookie kicker wouldn’t make the same mistake as veteran Longwell. Vikings linebacker Vinny Ciurciu started the game’s final drive with a 7-yard sack, but again it was Stanley converting a third down with a long reception, this time for 21 yards to midfield. Completions of 12 yard and 16 yards put the Rams on the 20-yard line, and Lovell put the game away with a 40-yard field as time expired.
The encouragement for the Vikings was a rhythm with their first-team offense. The discouraging thing was the lack of points that resulted from those effort.
They’ll have a chance to do it all over again next Friday against the New York Jets.