Five thoughts while the Vikings were losing to the Bucs 36-17 on Thursday night at Mall of America Field:
1. Just run the ball
After starting the game with three consecutive three-and-outs in which Christian Ponder went a combined 0-for-5, the Vikings finally — finally! — turned to Adrian Peterson on back-to-back carries. He ran for 11 yards. And then he ran for 11 more to the Minnesota 42. Both times right up the middle. On the next play? Drop back with Ponder scrambling to get back to the line of scrimmage. On the play after that? A short pass to Jerome Simpson — Ponder’s first completion of the game — for a 4-yard gain and a fumble. The first half ended with Ponder dropping back to pass 20 times and Peterson running 10 times. This team isn’t built to win that way. At least not until they draft an elite receiver to team with Percy Harvin.
2. Boos for Kluwe
Fans definitely weren’t yelling “Klooowe” when punter Chris Kluwe left the field after two of the worst back-to-back punts he’s had in his stellar eight-year career. The first was a 20-yard shank out of bounds. The second was a sickly 39-yarder that was muffed and ended up as a 35-yard net. With two short fields, including one start at the Vikings’ 48-yard line, the Bucs were able to jump out to a 10-0 lead before the Vikings registered their first first down of the game. Ouch.
3. Talk about a buzzkill
Jared Allen’s seventh sack of the season had the Metrodome as loud and as rabid as it has been since the 2009 Monday nighter against Green Bay. It came with 3:15 left in the third quarter, one play after he had his helmet ripped off and the bridge of his nose bloodied in an altercation with left tackle Donald Penn, a former Vikings’ practice squad player. Allen was penalized for hands to the facemask, while Penn was flagged for unnecessary roughness. After some colorful language on both sides, some bickering amongst the Bucs’ linemen and a Tampa Bay time out to try and quiet the crowd, the 270-pound Allen bullrushed the 340-pound Penn backward and then had an open lane to the quarterback when Josh Freeman had to step up to avoid Everson Griffen’s inside rush. But the mood inside the dome died quickly three plays later when center John Sullivan bounced a shotgun snap off Christian Ponder’s left ankle. Ponder, who didn’t appear ready for the snap, fell on the ball and the Vikings punted. Talk about deflating a prime opportunity.
4. Vikes help Bucs cure third-down woes
The Bucs went into Thursday’s game ranked 30th in the league in third-down conversions. They had converted just 29.2 percent of them (21 of 72). But they sure didn’t look that pitiful on the fourth-quarter drive that KO’d the Vikings with a touchdown and a 36-17 deficit with 7 minutes, 3 seconds left in the game. The Bucs converted all five third-down situations while going 87 yards in 16 plays and 9:09 of clock time. Freeman completed a 14-yarder to Vincent Jackson on third-and-6, a 12-yarder to Tiquan Underwood on third-and-10, a 34-yarder to Mike Williams on third-and-10 and an 11-yarder to Williams on third-and-9. Running back Doug Martin took it from there, scoring on third-and-goal from the 1.
5. Where’s the tight end-friendly offense?
Whatever happened to Ponder’s so-called security blanket. You know, Kyle Rudolph? Giant catch radius? Big, soft bucket-sized hands? The guy who caught two touchdowns in the Week 3 upset of the 49ers? Suddenly, coordinator Bill Musgrave’s tight end-friendly offense isn’t so kind to Rudolph. After going without a catch last week against Arizona, Rudolph had only two catches for 17 yards, including a 5-yarder with less than 2 minutes left against the Bucs. There are a lot of things to fix with this offense, starting with getting Ponder’s head right again. And the player Ponder is most comfortable throwing to and moving the chains with is his big friend from Notre Dame.