An appetite for picks makes Vikings healthy

  • Article by: JUDD ZULGAD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 25, 2007 - 8:18 PM

Darren Sharper, Dwight Smith and Chad Greenway returned interceptions for touchdowns in a post-Thanksgiving defensive feast.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Darren Sharper ordered his meal from Angelino's Pizzeria on Saturday night. Sharing the food with Dwight Smith, Sharper explained the restaurant held a special place in his heart.

"I told him when we were eating, the last time I had this meal, I had three picks here and returned one," Sharper said. "[Smith] said, 'Well, I need to get some of this. I actually left the room and when I came back, he had eaten half the food."

The dining choice proved to be a good one for both veteran safeties, as they combined for three interceptions and two touchdowns off Giants quarterback Eli Manning in the Vikings' 41-17 victory Sunday.

No word on what linebacker Chad Greenway ate, but he also returned a pick for a score as the Vikings set a franchise record and became the ninth team to have three interceptions returned for touchdowns in a game. The NFL record of four was set by Seattle in a 45-0 home victory over Kansas City on Nov. 4, 1984.

Smith finished with two interceptions, returning his second pick 93 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown that registered as the third-longest return in franchise history.

Sharper, who had three interceptions and a touchdown against Manning in 2005 at Giants Stadium, got things started when he stepped in front of a pass intended for tight end Jeremy Shockey. Sharper fell after catching the ball, but he had the presence of mind to get up and complete a 20-yard jaunt into the end zone to give the Vikings a 14-7 lead.

"I was a little discombobulated," Sharper said. "I didn't want to run the wrong way like Jim Marshall did, but I ran to the left and was able to just kind of sneak into the end zone."

Actually, Sharper high-stepped it into the end zone, holding the ball up in his right hand beginning at about the 10-yard line.

It was the eighth interception return for a touchdown of Sharper's 11-year career, tying him for fifth in NFL history. Rod Woodson is No. 1 with 12. It was Sharper's fourth TD return in his three seasons with the Vikings and his first since that game against the Giants two years ago.

"You don't want to worry too much about personal stats during the season, but I've just been blessed to be in the right position a lot of times," Sharper said. "... It's a lot of film study and knowing where the ball is going to be and catching the ball and making something happen."

Although the Vikings did not blitz on that play, they did apply nearly constant pressure on Manning and caused him to make several bad decisions.

Smith took advantage in the second quarter when he intercepted a pass that was intended for Plaxico Burress. Smith caught the ball at the Giants 27-yard line and returned it 19 yards, setting up an 8-yard touchdown run by Chester Taylor on the next play.

"I should have scored," Smith said. "I think I got complacent with being happy with the interception. But I probably should have scored."

He made up for it in the fourth quarter. With the Giants facing third-and-10 from the Vikings 11, Manning again looked for Shockey on a short pass. The problem was that linebacker Ben Leber tipped the ball, enabling Smith to pick it off and race down the sideline.

"Once I caught it it was me and the end zone," Smith said. "These guys weren't going to let me live it down if somebody would have caught me, so I had to get there."

Greenway gave the defense its third TD of the day and 12th since the start of the 2006 season on the following possession when he intercepted another pass for Shockey and went 37 yards.

Afterward, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier was asked if he had a favorite among the three returns.

"All of them," he said. "A score on defense is like having three kids. You love all of them. I loved all three of them."

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