Tarvaris Jackson (Drew Hallowell/Getty)
The Vikings’ first-team offense looked sharp whether it was Tarvaris Jackson or Gus Frerotte leading it, and the backup was necessary after an injury to Jackson. Defensively, the Vikings appeared to improve their pass defense as well in a 23-15 win in Baltimore.
The Vikings won a preseason game 23-15 over the Baltimore Ravens and are hoping they didn’t lose their starting quarterback for any extended period of time.
Tarvaris Jackson looked sharp for the second straight game, completing 7 of 11 passes for 82 yards and a touchdown, but he also left the game in the first quarter with what head coach Brad Childress called a knee contusion. With about 3 minutes left in the first quarter, Jackson appeared to be injured at the end of a 9-yard scramble. His right knee may have gotten twisted at the end of a tackle by LB Ray Lewis, but Jackson remained on the sidelines with ice on the knee until halftime and was even seen smiling on the bench. He later returned with a brace on the knee.
Gus Frerotte picked up where Jackson left off and completed 4 of 9 passes for 69 yards and a touchdown before leaving late in the second quarter. The Vikings racked up 339 yards of offense against a depleted first-team Baltimore defense, while Minnesota’s defense held the Ravens to 237 yards, 126 of those uncharacteristically given up in the running game. By halftime, the Vikings held a 20-7 halftime lead.
Jackson couldn’t have looked much better on the first drive of the game. He went 4 of 6 for 56 yards, but the most impressive aspect may have been his ability to convert second- and third-and-long situations. On the initial third-down, facing third-and-11 after a false start, Jackson couldn’t find an open receiver and scrambled for 13 yards up the middle. Three plays later, needing 11 yards again, he found TE Visanthe Shiancoe in the middle of the field for 19 yards. Then, on second-and-6, Jackson connected on a high sideline pass with Sidney Rice. Finally, on third-and-8 from the 23-yard line, Jackson recognized a blown coverage and found Martin Nance alone in the back corner of the end zone for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead less than five minutes into the game.
Just like the Vikings’ first-team offense started how they left off in the preseason opener, so did the defense, which wasn’t a good thing. But this time, it was the run defense that suffered. On the Ravens’ second play from scrimmage, RB Ray Rice took a carry around right end for 42 yards before safety Tyrell Johnson tracked him down. Rice and QB Troy Smith took consecutive carries of 8 and 9 yards, respectively, for another first down, moving the ball to the 6-yard line. From there, Rice found an opening over the left side of his line and wiggled his way in for a touchdown to knot the score with 6:11 left in the first quarter.
The Vikings responded with another scoring drive that was started by Jackson and finished by Frerotte after Jackson’s injury. The starter began the drive with intermediate gains on passes of 8 yards to Rice and 9 yards to Bobby Wade to pick up the second first down. But on second-and-10 in the middle of the drive, Jackson scrambled right for 9 yards before being pulled down by two defenders on the play in which he appeared to be injured. Jackson stayed in the game for two more plays, including a 12-yard pass to Rice before going down to the turf while trying to get off the field. Frerotte’s first pass was a 22-yard pass play to Peterson, putting the ball on the 7-yard line. They couldn’t punch the ball in the end zone, but Steven Hauschka finished the drive with points on a 21-yard field goal.
The defense allowed one first down on another Ray Rice run of 11 yards, but Jared Allen helped bring the drive to a close with a 1-yard sack of Smith on second down, which was followed by a third-down incompletion caused partially by a big hit from Darren Sharper.
With Frerotte still in, the offense continued to roll. Peterson started with an 11-yard run, and Wade picked another first down with a 10-yard pass reception. With the Ravens bringing a blitz that left them in one-on-one coverage, Frerotte lofted a pass for Nance down the right sideline for a 32-yard gain. Consecutive carries of 6 yards picked up another first down to put the ball on the 5-yard line. After two incompletions, Frerotte was patient in the pocket and let Robert Ferguson clear on a drag route before unloading a touchdown pass to him for a 17-7 Vikings lead with 6:58 left in the second quarter.
The Minnesota defense surrendered two first downs, one on a penalty and another on a Smith scramble for 17 yards after pulling out of a would-be sack by Allen. But Allen returned to effectively end the drive when only one play later he pulled down Smith for a 12-yard sack that left Baltimore with a third-and-21 it couldn’t convert.
With Brooks Bollinger taking over the offense, the Vikings went three-and-out, but Sharper put the offense back in scoring position with an interception off a deflected pass that he returned 31 yards to the 11-yard line. A holding penalty on Dan Mozes had the offense going backwards, but Hauschka kept a 34-yard field goal attempt inside the left upright for a half-ending 20-7 lead.
While the first half featured consistent scoring drives for the Vikings offense, as they got deeper into their second and third teams the scoring slowed. The defense forced punts from the Ravens for their first four drives of the second half, but the Minnesota points started to become more deliberate as well.
Bollinger’s initial possession of the second half started near midfield and he used passes of 19 yards to Nance and 10 yards to Aundrae Allison to put them inside the red zone, but a field goal attempt was aborted when Chris Kluwe didn’t handle the snap.
Getting the ball back a short time later, Bollinger moved the offense into scoring position again. He converted one third down with an 11-yard pass to Jaymar Johnson and another one with a 5-yard completion to FB Naufahu Tahi. After a run for no gain and a couple incompletions, Hauschka boomed a 48-yard field goal through for a 23-15 lead with 1:21 left in the third quarter.
The defense forced another punt, thanks in part to a sack by rookie DT Letroy Guion as the game moved to the fourth quarter, but John David Booty’s first pass of the game, a quick pass in which the route was read and jumped, was intercepted by Derrick Martin and returned 22 yards for a touchdown. After a two-point conversion run by Cory Ross, the Ravens were within eight points, 23-15.
Booty’s next possession was marred by a sack, but rookie CB Brandon Sumrall quickly got Booty the ball back when he intercepted Kyle Boller.
Once again, Booty took a sack and the Vikings weren’t able to recover. But the battle of the rookie quarterbacks went both ways, as Otis Grigsby registered two sacks on Baltimore’s Joe Flacco, and the young reserve offenses for both teams looked raw for the remainder of the game.
Flacco would get one last opportunity to tie the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion. His attempt started with 1:52 remaining and he picked up first downs with completions to TE Adam Bergen and former Gophers WR Ernie Wheelwright. Flacco moved the ball across midfield with another first-down completion, but he needed some assistance to the keep the drive moving. It appeared to end when safety Husain Abdullah intercepted a Flacco pass, but DT Fred Evans was called for a facemask to give the Ravens new life. They moved it into the red zone with another 13-yard strike, but one last snap with 5 seconds left ended when Flacco threw the ball out of the back of the end zone to maintain the Vikings’ 23-15 victory.
The Vikings appeared to cure some of their ills from the first game, improving their pass defense with the first-team defense, and they continued to roll with their first-team offense, whether it was Jackson or Frerotte leading them down the field.