NFC North: Lions-Vikings111509

Adrian PetersonElsa/Getty ImagesAdrian Peterson was chased down Sunday by Phillip Buchanon, who prevented a touchdown by forcing a fumble that Detroit recovered in the end zone.

MINNEAPOLIS -- Sorry. I'm a sucker for symbolism. Sometimes these things just pop into my noggin. So as I descended into the Metrodome basement after Minnesota's 27-10 victory over Detroit , all I could think about was the Phillip Buchanon play.

Surely you've seen it by now. Minnesota tailback Adrian Peterson broke into the clear at the Lions' 47-yard line during the second quarter. Pretty much every time that's happened in Peterson's career, the result has been a touchdown. But Buchanon, the Lions' cornerback who once ran a 40-yard dash in 4.31 seconds, gave chase for 25 yards before catching up.

The NFL rushing champion was stunned as Buchanon tackled him with his left hand and punched the ball loose with his right. The Lions recovered for a touchback.

“I was caught off guard,” said Peterson, adding that he was “sick” about the play and jokingly saying he wanted to “punch” Buchanon. “Overall,” Peterson said, “I feel like we've got a lot to learn from this game.”

Indeed, the Vikings overmatched the Lions in every way Sunday and ultimately overwhelmed them. They are 8-1 and have a three-game lead in the NFC North. This season is rapidly shaping up as a once-in-a-generation combination of opportunity and chance, putting the Vikings on a pretty short list of candidates to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.

But lest anyone get too convinced of that destiny, remember this: If Adrian Peterson can get caught from behind, anything can happen.

“He just made a great play,” Peterson said. “Those guys on the other side of the ball, sometimes those guys are fast, too.”

But the second lesson/reminder of Sunday was that Minnesota has the offensive firepower to overcome even a series of similar occurrences. (It helped to be matched against the Lions' horrid pass defense, which has allowed quarterbacks to complete 71 percent of their passes on the way to a 107.8 rating.)

Minnesota gashed the Lions for 492 total yards, an average of 7.8 yards per play. Five of them went for 40 or more yards. Quarterback Brett Favre passed for 344 yards, receiver Sidney Rice totaled 201 receiving yards and Peterson finished with 133 rushing yards.

I understand the Vikings won't be playing the Lions' defense every week, and certainly not in any postseason game. But as they continue to compile elite offensive numbers, the confidence of the players surrounding Favre will only improve. Let's take a closer look at what we saw Sunday:

Rice should no longer surprise any opponent. Entering this year, many of us considered Rice a possession/red zone receiver. Although he does not have elite speed, it should now be clear he has the ball skills to catch passes at any point on the field. On Sunday, his seven receptions included catches of 56, 43, 43, and 21 yards.

Rice outmaneuvered Buchanon (or gently shoved, depending on your team allegiance) for a 43-yard reception in the second quarter. In the fourth quarter, Lions safety Ko Simpson stood flat-footed in the middle of the field as Rice blew past him. “He told me afterwards that he thought I was going to break off my route,” Rice said.

A possession receiver might do that, but we really shouldn't consider Rice that way anymore. In nine games this season, he is averaging 17.9 yards on 44 catches. He said Sunday that his favorite NFL receiver is Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald, who has maximized his receiving skills to offset speed that falls short of elite.

“As far as deep threats go,” said Favre, “Sidney ranks right up there with the best.”

To my good fortune, at least for this post, Rice's day ended with a bit more symbolism. With the game in hand at the 5:37 mark of the fourth quarter, the Vikings realized Rice was 9 yards away from Sammy White's team record of 210 receiving yards. Coach Brad Childress agreed on a short passing play that would give Rice the record, but Rice dropped the pass from backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.

“My bad,” Rice said.

Yes, there is always room for improvement.

Not to be outdone, rookie receiver Percy Harvin turned a short slant pass into a 40-yard play in the fourth quarter. Against a four-man defensive line, Favre opted against audibling to a running play based on his faith that Harvin could make an open-field play.

Harvin bounced off a strong hit from Lions rookie linebacker DeAndre Levy, kept his balance and beat the rest of the Lions' defense to the sideline.

“They actually played the pass on that play,” Favre said. “By rule you would have thought, ‘Hey, let's go to the run.' It helps when you have players that make plays. I said, ‘Hey, give Percy a chance.'”

Buchanon's play against Peterson overshadowed a tremendous run from Peterson, who clearly had live legs coming out of the Vikings' bye.

On the play, Peterson ran through four would-be tacklers, two at the line of scrimmage and two more at the Vikings' 47-yard line. (Levy actually had two chances at him.) Nine times out of 10, it would have been a spectacular 61-yard touchdown, replayed endlessly on highlight shows for the next 24 hours.

“That was one of the better runs, I don't want to say that I've ever seen, but in recent memory,” Favre said. “It seemed like the best I've ever seen at the time. ... Adrian, he'll be killing himself all night over that. But the guy is amazing, the way he can stop and go.”

Speaking as if he knew what I would be writing about Sunday, Peterson offered a final bit of perspective.

“In the NFL,” he said, “you definitely know it's going to be up and down. You can't be caught up and still looking behind you. You have to play the next play.”

That's what Minnesota did Sunday. After a little reminder.

On Stafford and Delmas

November, 15, 2009
MINNEAPOLIS -- I’ve spent a lot of time harping on the absolute necessity that Detroit upgrade its defensive line. On Sunday, you saw why the Lions’ offensive line isn’t much further behind.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford took a beating in the Lions’ 27-10 loss to Detroit, one that I don’t think any Lions official or fan wants to see many more of. The Vikings sacked him three times and hit him on at least 13 other occasions, according to unofficial postgame statistics. I also had the Lions with six dropped passes, although I admit I lost count late in the fourth quarter.

[+] EnlargeMatthew Stafford
Bruce Kluckhohn/US PresswireMatthew Stafford faced pressure all day from the Minnesota defense.
It didn’t take long for Detroit coach Jim Schwartz to bring up the topic during his postgame interview.

“We got our quarterback killed too much today,” he said. Later, he added: “We weren’t able to protect him and he wasn’t able to make throws. We tried to throw quickly. We tried to throw screens and we handled it poorly as a team.”

Schwartz said he wasn’t “worried” about Stafford, who seems to be a pretty tough cookie. The Vikings have an exceptional defensive line, but the worst-case scenario for any young quarterback is to get beaten up and down before he has his feet firmly set in the pro game.

“It was a rough game,” said Stafford, who was under such duress that he totaled only 224 yards on 29 completions. “They are good up front. They brought some good dogs and blitzes and got to us. We just have to play better.”

One other Lions note: Many of us were surprised by the absence of safety Louis Delmas, who didn’t play because of an infected tooth. That list included the Lions, who included Delmas among their 45 active players on the assumption he would be able to play with the condition. Schwartz said he “didn’t’ think it would be an issue” but found out otherwise during pregame warm-ups.

“He was never able to get rid of the pain,” Schwartz said. “When you have a really bad toothache, you can’t hit anybody, you can’t run or talk. When you get a safety that can’t run, talk or hit anybody, it would have been better to have known that beforehand. Louis is a tough guy that thought he would be able to answer the bell and he wasn’t able to, which left us a little shorthanded. That is something we need to do a better job communicating before the game.”

Rapid Reaction: Vikings 27, Lions 10

November, 15, 2009
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota is 8-1 for the first time since 1998 after breaking away from Detroit in the second half Sunday at the Metrodome. I wouldn’t classify it as the Vikings’ best performance of the season by any means, but I think it once again demonstrated how an elite quarterback can impact a run-based offense.

Vikings quarterback Brett Favre completed three passes of more than 40 yards to receiver Sidney Rice, and the third -- a 56-yarder early in the fourth quarter -- set up a touchdown that gave the Vikings a commanding two-score lead. Favre finished with 342 passing yards, the most since he joined the Vikings in August, and Rice caught seven passes for 201 yards.

We should point out that Detroit’s pass defense has been horrific this season, allowing opponents to complete 71.7 percent of their passes during the first half of the season. One of Rice's receptions, in fact, came against a blown Lions coverage. But without Favre’s accurate passing, the Vikings would have been mired in a much closer endgame.

Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson rushed for 133 yards and two scores, but his fumble on a second-quarter breakaway symbolized the Vikings’ early troubles in this game. The Lions were as close as 17-10 in the fourth quarter, and quarterback Matthew Stafford performed well despite absorbing a brutal beating to keep the game credible.

I’ll have more in a few hours. Until then …

Lions hanging in

November, 15, 2009
MINNEAPOLIS -- We have a barnburner here of sorts.

Minnesota capitalized on an early second-half fumble to take a 14-point lead but hasn’t been able to land a knockout punch on Detroit. The Lions put together an 84-yard drive, resulting in an 8-yard touchdown pass to Will Heller to make it 17-10, and they now have their second possession with a chance to tie.

I’m not sure if the Lions have the firepower to put together a full comeback, but to this point they haven’t gone away. The Vikings, penalized 10 times thus far, are doing their part.

I’ll keep you updated.

Halftime: Vikings 10, Lions 3

November, 15, 2009
MINNEAPOLIS -- Some thoughts at halftime as the Vikings hold a 7-point lead over Detroit:

  • Minnesota’s offense has made five trips to the red zone, if you count tailback Adrian Peterson’s fumble at the 20-yard line during a breakaway run. They have 10 points to show for it, a mixture of their own rustiness after the bye and some nice plays from the Lions defense. Two particularly bad endings to drives: A lost fumble on a botched reverse between Peterson and Percy Harvin and a stuffed fourth-down run by fullback Jeff Dugan.
  • On the latter play, there will be those who were upset that Peterson didn’t get the ball. But Dugan has been pretty reliable in those situations. I wish I had the exact statistics in front of me, but he’s converted every short-yardage play I’ve ever seen him run. Lions defensive tackle Grady Jackson got penetration on the play. I don’t think Peterson gets away from Jackson, either.
  • I had never seen Peterson get caught from behind on a breakaway until today. He broke into the clear late in the second quarter, but Lions cornerback Phillip Buchanon caught him at the 20-yard line. Buchanon poked the ball out of Peterson’s hands, and the Lions recovered in the end zone for a touchback. It was a great individual play by Buchanon, but Peterson is almost always money once he smells the end zone. He received credit for a 43-yard run on the play.
  • The Lions aren’t giving quarterback Matthew Stafford a chance. Officially, he’s only been sacked once. But the Vikings pass rush is running a jailbreak on nearly every passing play. Stafford threw a brilliant pass to receiver Bryant Johnson in the end zone during the Lions’ final possession of the drive, but Johnson dropped it. As a result, Stafford has 87 yards passing on 21 attempts.
  • Vikings quarterback Brett Favre has thrown for 197 yards against the Lions’ pretty porous Lions pass defense. Six of those passes have gone to receiver Sidney Rice for 145 yards. But I’ve been pretty impressed with Lions cornerback William James, who has broken up four passes that I’ve counted: Three against receiver Bernard Berrian, once against tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. It’s been a very active half for him.

Favre-to-Rice sparks Vikings

November, 15, 2009
MINNEAPOLIS -- There’s been a lot of talk recently about the burgeoning relationship between Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre and rookie receiver Percy Harvin. But fellow receiver Sidney Rice just reminded us that he’s not far behind.

Favre trusted Rice on a jump ball in what amounted to a free play after Detroit linebacker Larry Foote jumped offsides. Rice got away with a bit of a push-off against cornerback Phillip Buchanon but ultimately came down with a 43-yard reception.

That seemed to spark an offense that opened this game in pretty lackluster fashion; the Vikings had only three points to show for two possessions deep in Lions territory. On the play after Rice’s reception, tailback Adrian Peterson muscled his way out of Jason Hunter’s arms and ran away from the rest of the Lions’ defense for a 22-yard touchdown.

It’s 10-0 midway through the first quarter, and frankly, I’m not sure if I see the Lions coming back.

Delmas sidelined for Detroit

November, 15, 2009
MINNEAPOLIS -- Detroit opened Sunday’s game at Minnesota without exciting rookie safety Louis Delmas, and it’s not clear if he’ll play at all.

According to the Lions, Delmas had an infected tooth and jaw that worsened during pregame warmups. The Lions have three reserve safeties on their active roster: Marquand Manuel, Kalvin Pearson and Marvin White. To this point, Manuel has been playing in Delmas’ spot.