On a night where the arms of the Vikings’ quarterback lacked a special quality, linebacker Erin Henderson showed off his arm. But Henderson’s deep throw went from the end zone into the stands and toward the top row of the lower deck.
It will almost surely cost him thousands of dollars, but when a backup linebacker scores a touchdown – even if is the preseason – paying the commissioner can be worth it.
“It was worth it. It’s one of those things (that) you never know if you’re going to get into the end zone again,” Henderson said. “I hope they don’t tax me too bad. Keep in mind I’m an undrafted free agent and I don’t really have that much money and I’m not on Jared Allen’s paycheck. I think they should start fining by pay or salary, take a percentage or something.”
Henderson’s 35-yard fumble return for a touchdown was the defense’s biggest play on a night in which the defense got four turnovers. His touchdown came with five minutes left in the first quarter, when Broncos rookie Tim Tebow was taking his first snap of the game – one that bounced off his hands, then off his foot and rolled right to Henderson.
What did Henderson see, besides a big opportunity?
“The ball rolling towards me and tunnel vision from there. I felt somebody running next to me and I saw some purple, so I’m like, I’m good,” he said. “I just wanted to get into the end zone. That’s been a long-time dream of mine to throw the ball into the stands to the fans like that. I found out after that it’s illegal and I’m probably going to get a fine. We’ll see how that turns out.”
Henderson also had a big hand in the Vikings’ second touchdown of the night when he recovered a second-quarter fumble caused by Colt Anderson at the 13-yard line. Four plays later, Albert Young capitalized on the turnover with a 1-yard touchdown run.
“We do turnover circuit every day. That’s one of the things that you want to focus on,” Henderson said. “Turnovers make a big difference in the game and they can really make momentum swing and go from one side to the other, and fast too. We want to be aggressive and get everybody running to the ball.”
JOHNSON SURE OF PICK, UNSURE OF FUTURE
Henderson had two of the Vikings’ three fumble recoveries, but safety Tyrell Johnson came away with the team’s only interception of the night. That, too, came off Tebow.
“I saw him rolling out and I knew that with a young quarterback he’s kind of one-dimensional and doesn’t really look off that deep guy like Brett Favre would or somebody else like that, so I just took advantage of the situation, made sure I caught the ball and did the best I could running,” Johnson said.
He turned the interception into a 41-yard return to the Broncos 24-yard line. Like Henderson’s fumble recovery, Johnson’s interception also led to points, a field goal from Ryan Longwell.
Johnson had the only interception for Vikings safeties last year and continues to look for opportunities to prove he can do more.
“I am a ballhawk. I’ve never questioned that. I don’t know if the coaches question that or not. I really can’t control that,” he said. “Once I do it enough and once you do something enough, people will see it and they’ll believe it.”
What’s he’s not sure about is his starting status anymore. He made 15 starts last year, but his job is being threatened by Jamarca Sanford.
“I really don’t know. All I can do is continue to go out there and play. If I’m a starter or coming off the bench, it is what it is. All I can do is go out there and control what I can control,” Johnson said.
“I honestly don’t know. I played this game and usually the second or third string usually plays in the fourth game. I don’t know.”
More than likely, the Broncos would have taken the opportunity for field goal tries after being stopped on a few third downs, but preseason being what it is, Denver coach Josh McDaniels kept his offense on the field during five fourth-down tries.
The Broncos were successful only once.
“We take pride, regardless if it’s a preseason game, Super Bowl or whatever the situation is. It’s always our job and our objective,” defensive tackle Fred Evans said of getting the defense to turn the ball over on downs.
Evans and Letroy Guion both had strong games as the starting defensive tackle tandem for the preseason finale. Guion was a big part of one of those fourth-down stops when he penetrated into the backfield and helped drop RB Bruce Hall for a 2-yard loss.
“I come into every game with the same mentality. I come in to try to do my best, play beyond the defense and just work hard and just try to make plays,” he said.
“It feels a lot better this year. I worked hard in the offseason. I’ve got God in my life now. I’m taking the right steps in my life. I’m just doing it all right and it’s just all coming together for me. I’m maturing.”
Guion and Evans each registered two tackles and gave a good showing as Saturday’s roster cutdowns loom.
“Just trying to go there and show off a good game in the fourth preseason game,” Evans said. “We finished strong and you never know what’s going to happen. I’m just trying to go out there and do good for the D-line and myself and the team.”
NIGHT OF THE BACKUP
The Vikings had 20 of their 22 starters sitting, playing their backups against Denver’s first team for the first two drives before the Broncos also turned their backups
Rookie CB Chris Cook and veteran DT Jimmy Kennedy did not dress, but almost the whole crew of normal starters wasn’t in the starting lineup.
Here are the extensive changes: Tarvaris Jackson started for Brett Favre, Taye Biddle for Percy Harvin, Greg Camarillo for Bernard Berrian, Patrick Brown for Bryant McKinnie, Chris DeGeare for Steve Hutchinson, Jon Cooper for John Sullivan, Ryan Cook for Anthony Herrera, Drew Radovich for Phil Loadholt, Jeff Dugan for Visanthe Shiancoe, Ryan D’Imperio for Naufahu Tahi and Albert Young for Adrian Peterson.
On defense, Jayme Mtichell started for Ray Edwards, Fred Evans for Pat Williams, Letroy Guion for Kevin Williams, Brian Robison for Jared Allen, Heath Farwell for Chad Greenway, Jasper Brinkley for E.J. Henderson, Erin Henderson for Ben Leber, Asher Allen for Antoine Winfield and Colt Anderson for Madieu Williams.
The only listed starters that did start were CB Lito Sheppard and SS Tyrell Johnson.
The Broncos sat four of their starters, including CB Champ Bailey and RB Knowshon Moreno. On offense, Stanley Daniels started for Zane Beadles and Riar Greer started for Daniel Graham. On defense, Ronald Fields started at nose tackle for Jamal Williams and Perrish Cox started at cornerback for Andre Goodman.
The Broncos didn’t dressing several other players: WR Brandon Stokley, S Darcel McBath, OL Russ Hockstein, WR Demaryius Thomas, LB Elvis Dumervil and LB Darrell Reid.
Childress said he probably wouldn’t start making cuts until Saturday. The deadline for the Vikings to be down to 53 players is 5 p.m. Central Saturday.
“I always tell those backups to make the decision-making hard,” Childress said. “Don’t count numbers in line. There’s a number of them that I thought did an outstanding job, all the way through training camp.”
The Vikings won’t practice on Friday and Saturday, but their week of preparation for Thursday night’s regular-season opener next Thursday night will start on Sunday.
Childress said he isn’t putting a timetable on Chris Cook’s knee injury.
Sheppard started at right cornerback, but Childress said he isn’t declaring him the starter yet.