They don’t accept charity from anybody. So when the Lions continually tried to give Minnesota the game by shooting themselves in the foot, the Vikings responded with self-inflicted head wounds and eventually lost 34-24.
Reggie Bush looked like the reincarnation of Barry Sanders as the Lions sliced through the Vikings defense like a hot knife through butter. Fortunately, the Lions are a team that could mess up microwavable macaroni and cheese. They had touchdowns robbed by heinous penalties, untimely turnovers, and butterfingered defensive backs. Any other team not named “Lions” would have put up 50 points against the Vikings. As it was, Minnesota was still in the game until a severe case of defensive brain freeze penalties put the game on ice late in the fourth quarter.
The Vikings underachieved in just about every facet of the game. Both the defensive and offensive lines were putrid, rookie punter Jeff Locke could only manage a 34.8 punting average, and the linebackers looked slow and confused. After blasting through the line of scrimmage for a 78-yard touchdown run on the Vikings’ first possession, Adrian Peterson was held to only 15 yards on the next 17 carries as he tried to battle through a defense that constantly featured 10 men in the box. The Lions must have found a copy of the Vikings offensive game plan littering the parking lot, reading: “Run, run, pass. Run, run, pass. Repeat!”
Minnesota didn’t throw a pass on first down until the last few seconds of the first half and late in the fourth quarter. There were no screen passes to slow down the pass rush, and no blitzes to disrupt the chemistry between Matthew Stafford and Reggie Bush. Things were so bad that I caught myself longing for the Brad Childress/Darrell Bevell regime.
There is a lot of blame to pass around after a debacle like this, but the game was Christian Ponder’s to lose…and he did. He exhibited atrocious judgement, poor pocket presence, and questionable accuracy. When he was drafted, conventional wisdom said that his physical skills weren’t elite, but that he was smart. They were half right. Ponder has the football IQ of an imbecile. He always has at least one play a game that makes you scratch your head…or tear your hair out. It’s like having Tim Tebow without the athleticism or charisma.
Despite facing a Lions defense that was entirely focused on stopping Adrian Peterson, and having a vastly improved receiver corps, Ponder managed three interceptions, and could have had two more. Even his completions weren’t pretty. Jerome Simpson made a circus catch for a 47-yard completion on a ball that Ponder overthrew, and Greg Jennings had to
corral two passes off his shoelaces on balls that were thrown behind him. Ponder tends to stare down his receivers, is equally inaccurate and erratic on deep balls and short routes, and looks a lot like Warren Beatty when he’s yukking it up on the sidelines.
The play that ultimately changed the game was vintage Ponder. The Vikings were leading 14-6 with minutes left in the first half and were in Lion’s territory looking to increase their lead. Ponder rolled to his left and was hit by Ndamukong Suh on the arm as he released the ball. Ponder says he was trying to throw the ball out of bounds, although it appeared he
was trying to go downfield to Greg Jennings. The result looked like an audition for “Duck Dynasty.” Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch tucked away the floater for an interception, and Detroit went on to score a touchdown in the final seconds before the half.
So, were there any bright spots? Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes, and the young secondary got better as the game progressed, and Jerome Simpson caught 7 passes for 140 yards. Rookie wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson showed flashes of his potential on a 10-yard catch for a first down. Blair Walsh limited the Lions’ field position with his touchbacks, and extended his streak to 11 consecutive 50-yard field goals to start his career. The passing game thrived when the offense was in the “pistol” (Ponder in the shotgun with Peterson behind him) formation, which gives us some meager hope for the future.
Things aren’t going to get any easier. The Vikings travel to the unfriendly confines of Soldier Field in Chicago to take on the Bears next week. If Minnesota doesn’t start playing with some creativity and “hair on fire” urgency, they could have an 0-2 record and be looking up at the rest of the NFC North in their home opener against Cleveland on September 22.