NFC North: 2013 Week 3 CLE at MIN Rapid Reaction
September, 22, 2013
By Ben Goessling | ESPN.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- My thoughts on the Cleveland Browns' 31-27 win over the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field on Sunday.
What it means: The Browns pulled out their first victory of the season days after trading running back Trent Richardson, with third-string quarterback Brian Hoyer shaking off three interceptions to lead a late-game scoring drive. The Vikings, meanwhile, blew a lead and gave up a last-minute touchdown for the second straight week. A team that went 10-6 last season is now 0-3, heading into a quasi-home game in London, and the loss to the Browns exposed serious issues on both sides of the ball.
Vikings stock watch: Falling -- Vikings' secondary. Minnesota lost Chris Cook, A.J. Jefferson and Jamarca Sanford to injuries, and while it remains to be seen if any of them are long-term problems, the injuries left an already-thin secondary vulnerable to Hoyer, who recovered from a miserable second half to stun the Vikings at home. Antoine Winfield is sitting at home, and though the Vikings so far have been reluctant to talk their former Pro Bowl defensive back out of retirement, Sunday's events could change their minds.
Browns stock watch: Rising -- Browns' run defense. Cleveland had given up an average of just 59.5 yards per game in its first two losses, and even though Adrian Peterson ran for 88 on Sunday, the Browns made sure they didn't come easy. Peterson's longest gain of the day was 9 yards, and the Vikings had to rely on Christian Ponder and their passing game more than they would have liked to.
Hoyer Watch: In the first half, Hoyer looked capable of pulling out a surprising victory, making a number of effective throws on rollouts to keep him away from the Vikings' defensive line and burning cornerback A.J. Jefferson on a stop-and-go route to Josh Gordon for a 47-yard touchdown. He threw a pair of interceptions in the second half, when the Vikings turned up the heat with blitzing linebackers, but he rebounded to lead an 11-play, 55-yard drive for Cleveland's final touchdown, finding Jordan Cameron in the corner of the end zone.
Ponder Watch: In a game that exposed plenty of issues for the Vikings, Ponder's play was what got fans the most riled up. He crumbled after leading a couple of drives early in the game, throwing for just 7 yards in the third quarter, and was unable to direct a late-game drive to put the game away after the Vikings took a 27-24 lead on a Blair Walsh field goal. The Vikings' play calling will come into question after the team handed Peterson the ball just five times in the fourth quarter, and the team's offensive line again left Ponder running for his life. But a quarterback the Vikings drafted 12th overall still has not shown any signs of being a fixture at the position, and on Sunday, a quarterback making his second career start got the last laugh on Ponder.
What's next: The Vikings (0-3) head to London to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers at Wembley Stadium, while the Browns return home for their first division home game of the season, playing host to the Cincinnati Bengals next Sunday afternoon.
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