Welcome back, Winfield
The return of Pro Bowl cornerback Antoine Winfield made an immediate impact on defense for the Vikings.
The Vikings made due without him for more than six games, but the difference he makes was incredible.
Winfield led the team with nine tackles, forced a fumble late in the first half, dropped a sure interception and was a rare force on run support and tackling in the open field.
"I consider him one of the top 5 run defenders in all of football," quarterback Brett Favre said. "Not just this year, but I've played against him. Not only is he good against the pass, he's as valuable to our run-stop defense as Kevin (Williams) and Pat (Williams.) The guy's outstanding. Having him back sure helps a lot."
That said, there was one short-yardage play where Winfield was literally knifing into the fray of things right in the middle of the defensive line to help with a key stop against the run.
Brinkley, Sanford solid in first NFL start
Rookie MLB Jasper Brinkley got his first pro start replacing E.J. Henderson and more than held his own. He finished with just three tackles on the preliminary stat sheet, but did not look at all out of place for being a rookie starting his first game.
He started the game strong, stuffing Bengals running back Cedric Benson for a one-yard gain and chased down Larry Johnson for another one-yard gain in the first quarter.
The only play in which he looked bad was the 42-yard run by Benson in the third quarter. Brinkley had the play diagnosed but was unable to avoid or shed the block quickly enough at the point of attack to keep Benson from reaching the second level.
"I think Jasper did a good job," Favre said. "Is he E.J. Henderson? No, but you gotta start somewhere."
With the Vikings building a lead in the game, Brinkley did not see as much action as the game wore on and the defense was often in nickel situations.
Likewise, Jamarca Sanford held up just fine as a first-time starter in place of Tyrell Johnson (concussion) at strong safety.
Sanford finished second on the team in tackles with six and led the team with another three tackles on special teams.
Most importantly, the first-year rookie from Ole Miss did not make any glaring errors or get caught out of position at any time in the passing game as the Vikings held Cincinnati to a mere 103 yards through the air.
"Jasper, I had an eyeball on him for a good part of the day," head coach Brad Childress said. "I thought he did a nice job of filling it up. Now he was playing downhill, and I would say the same thing for Jamarca (Sanford). Good instincts and made good adjustments."
Griffin shines too
No question the return of Winfield was huge, but the team's "other" cornerback, Cedric Griffin, also turned in a very solid performance.
Griffin was not at all intimidated by Chad Ochocinco, who was held to just three catches for 27 yards on the day, despite being the target of at least eight passes thrown his direction. Often times it was Griffin who drew the assignment of covering Ochocinco, including one play in which Griffin inadvertently took off his sombrero.
In fact, the entire Bengals receiving corps was held very much in check. Laveranues Coles, the team's other starting wide receiver, did not make a single catch. The team's No. 3 receiver, Andre Caldwell had four catches for just 25 yards. In fact, the Cincinnati receivers had just two catches during the entire game for more than 10 yards.
Griffin finished with two tackles and one pass breakup for the afternoon.
Favre considered his quarterback sneak for a first-down a bit of redemption. "I had to redeem myself, if you wanna call that redeeming yourself, for being downfield on the touchdown pass, which I had no clue," he said. "I'm like looking around, ‘Who in the world is downfield?' I had no clue. And that's happened to me more in the latter part of my career - more in the last three years - than in all of my career. I'd like to blame that on old age."
The Vikings faced a pair of the best cornerbacks in the league in Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall, and Sidney Rice struggled to gain separation on Joseph as he was held to four catches for 39 yards, including one touchdown.
Despite efficient production on offense and 30 points on the board, the passing game missed Percy Harvin inside.
ESPN reported that Jared Allen will be getting $4 million of an $8 million roster bonus this year instead of on March 1, 2010. The accelerated bonus will be moved into Allen's 2009 salary to potentially help the Vikings with the salary cap next year. Who wouldn't be willing to help with accepting $4 million a few months early?
Kevin Brown has been providing personnel analysis and writing about the Vikings for more than 20 years with Viking Update. Follow VU on Twitter and discuss this and other topics on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Vikings Update web site or magazine, click here.