The Vikings were a seven-point favorite to beat Tampa Bay on Thursday night.

One reason they were favored was that since the NFL Network's Thursday night game became a weekly feature this season, only one road team had managed a victory -- the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants beat a weak Carolina Panthers squad 36-7 in Week 3.

But having only one day of practice and having to travel from Tampa Bay to Minnesota didn't seem to bother the Bucs, who might have played their best game of the season as the Vikings defense gave up 416 total yards.

The Bucs were led by rookie running back Doug Martin, who contributed 214 total yards (135 rushing, 79 receiving) against a Vikings defense that never had an answer.

With the toughest part of the schedule coming up, including four of their next five games against NFC North opponents, this was a game the Vikings almost had to win if they want to be a playoff contender.

But it seemed that the Bucs, even with having to travel and limited time to get ready for the game, were much more prepared and mentally ready for the game.

The Vikings were dominated by a team that had struggled and was 2-4 this season coming into Thursday night, and the Vikings, entering at 5-2, had seemingly played much better earlier this season.

But that wasn't the story Thursday.

The Bucs had field position most of the night, and the Vikings defense could not stop the Bucs offense. Fumbles by wide receiver Jerome Simpson and Adrian Peterson also led to 10 Tampa Bay points. Christian Ponder was sacked three times and had to hurry throws most of the night as he completed 19 of 35 passes for 251 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.

After Peterson scored a 64-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to cut the Bucs' lead to 30-17 and the defense forced a Bucaneers punt, the Vikings offense couldn't get going and Tampa Bay pulled away with another TD with 7:09 left in the game.

Now, the one good thing is the Vikings don't have a game for 10 days and have time to get ready for a road game at Seattle on Nov. 4.

Gophers line suffering

Gophers offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Matt Limegrover said one of the team's big problems since winning their first four games has been injuries to starting offensive linemen. That led to three redshirt sophomores and two redshirt freshmen starting against an experienced Wisconsin defensive line last week.

Against Wisconsin, the Gophers' only offensive lineman who had started the first four games was redshirt freshman tackle Josh Campion.

Ed Olson, Tommy Olson, Zach Mottla, Zac Epping and Campion were the starting linemen for the first four games of the season. But the Gophers suffered a number of injuries against Syracuse in their fourth game, so at Iowa for their first Big Ten game they didn't have left guard Tommy Olson (ankle injury) and replaced him with redshirt freshman Jon Christenson. Caleb Bak, a redshirt sophomore, replaced Epping at right guard when he moved over to replace Mottla (ankle) at center.

Against Northwestern that lineup remained in place, but left tackle Ed Olson was sidelined during the game because of an ankle injury. Redshirt sophomore Marek Lenkiewicz replaced Olson against Wisconsin, against whom the Gophers started three redshirt sophomores and two redshirt freshmen on the line.

The Gophers will be younger and lighter along the offensive line against Purdue this Saturday, and against most opponents for the rest of the season.

Jottings

• If there's a silver lining in the Gophers' recent football struggles, it's that the team's young secondary is ranked sixth in the nation in pass defense, allowing only 154.4 yards per game. The only NCAA teams ranked better are Arizona State, Alabama, Michigan, Vanderbilt and LSU.

• Longtime NFL executive Joe Browne was at a banquet at the downtown Hilton Hotel here Wednesday night to honor former Vikings linebacker Matt Blair, who was inducted into the Vikings Ring of Honor at halftime of Thursday's game against Tampa Bay. Browne also praised the Wilf family, owners of the Vikings, for their leadership in getting a new stadium.

• Among the many Vikings alumni attending the banquet honoring Blair was Fred McNeill, a 12-year linebacker here who was a standout player in two Super Bowls and also a prominent lawyer for some time in the Twin Cities after graduating from William Mitchell College of Law. McNeill, now 60, has battled health issues as he deals with memory loss and the affect that has had on his family, but he appeared healthy at the banquet.

• There were several people in the Tampa Bay organization here Thursday that had Minnesota ties. General Manager Mark Dominik was born in St. Cloud. Former Gophers and Vikings offensive line coach Steve Loney is an assistant offensive line coach. Offensive line coach Bob Bostad was a Gophers graduate assistant coach under Jim Wacker. Ex-Gophers quarterback Adam Weber, who had been with Denver, is now on the Bucs' practice squad.

• Nick Davidson, a former Eden Prairie All-State tackle and son of Vikings offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, is being redshirted at Stanford as a freshman this year.

• Purdue, the Gophers' opponent on Saturday, came close to pulling out road victories at Ohio State and Notre Dame, losing by a combined 10 points -- 20-17 to the Irish and 29-22 to Ohio State in overtime. However, they lost 38-14 at home to Wisconsin, giving up 467 yards rushing. The Gophers gave up 337 yards rushing to the Badgers. The Boilermakers are 0-3 in the Big Ten but beat Eastern Kentucky 48-6, Eastern Michigan 54-16 and Marshall 51-41 -- three impressive victories.

• Vikings wide receivers coach George Stewart was asked what he expects from tight end John Carlson, who signed a five-year contract for $25 million, and from wideout Jerome Simpson, who had a great year with the Bengals last season, because both have been sidelined this year because of injuries. "That's down the road, [because] Jerome has been injured and Carlson is coming back from an injury, but those guys are going to help tremendously and do a great job for us," Stewart said.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com