MINNEAPOLIS -- A few thoughts after Thursday night's 36-17 Tampa Bay victory at the Metrodome:
What it means: The Vikings are 5-3 at their season's midpoint. It's better than what many thought they would do, but their second-half schedule is far more difficult. That's what made Thursday night's presumably winnable game so crucial. Entering this game, home teams had won 13 of the past 16 Thursday-night games. Since 1990, 5-3 teams have made the playoffs 66.4 percent of the time.
Offensive struggles: Quarterback Christian Ponder got off to a slow start on the heels of his 58-yard performance on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, completing just one of six passes for four yards in the fourth quarter. He played a really substandard game for the second consecutive week. But Ponder wasn't solely to blame for the Vikings falling behind 10-0 in the first quarter and 20-10 at halftime. Two fumbles near midfield, one from receiver Jerome Simpson and one from tailback Adrian Peterson, led to 10 Tampa Bay points in the first half. But two things seem clear. The Vikings don't have an offense capable of playing from behind. And Ponder doesn't look to be playing with a lot of confidence. He is guiding his throws instead of driving them.
Martin factor: The Vikings had a hard time tackling an opposing running back for the second game in a row. Last week, it was the Cardinals' LaRod Stephens-Howling. Thursday night, it was rookie running back Doug Martin, who finished with 135 rushing yards and 79 receiving. Most notably, Martin ran through four arm tackles on his 64-yard touchdown reception on the opening drive of the third quarter.
Seeing blood: Tensions rose late in the third quarter when Bucs left tackle Donald Penn, a former Vikings practice-squad player, pushed off defensive end Jared Allen's helmet after the play and landed several punches. Allen was left with a cut on the bridge of his nose and was livid when referee Ron Winter's crew assessed offsetting fouls. As he and Penn continued to gesture to one another, Allen followed up with a sack on the ensuing third down, setting the crowd into a frenzy.
Missed opportunity: Trailing 30-17 at the time, the Vikings couldn't capitalize on the ensuing emotional wave. They went three-and-out on their next series, which included two plays that lost yardage, and their defense looked winded as the Bucs answered with a 16-play, 87-yard drive that took nearly nine minutes off the clock and ultimately made it a three-score game.
Injury report: Cornerback Chris Cook didn't return after leaving the game in the third quarter with an arm injury. He was replaced by rookie Josh Robinson in base defense and veteran A.J. Jefferson in the nickel.
What's next: The Vikings have 10 days to get ready for their next game, Nov. 4 at the Seattle Seahawks.