Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson threw a career-high two touchdown passes and completed at least 75 percent of his passes for the third consecutive game. But one of his better decisions might have been a throw he never attempted.
It was third-and-7 from the Lions 15-yard line with 3 minutes, 32 seconds left in the first half. Receiver Robert Ferguson was lined up wide left for a slant pattern and was Jackson's first option on the play.
Jackson, however, recognized that cornerback Keith Smith was going to blitz over the blind side. So in a blink, Jackson decided that the angle on Smith's blitz would close the passing lane to Ferguson.
"It was a different look that we really hadn't seen [Detroit] give before," Jackson said. "I knew [Smith] was coming off the edge, and I wasn't quite sure where the safety was. So I just stayed front side, and just went out and made a play."
The Vikings failed to pick up the blitzing Smith. But it didn't matter. Jackson knew he had to get out of the pocket in a hurry and did so, gaining 10 yards to the Detroit 5. Two plays later, Jackson threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Bobby Wade as the Vikings took a 28-10 lead en route to a 42-10 victory.
"I know the play you're talking about, and I think it shows that Tarvaris is starting to get a sense of what's going on around him," running back Chester Taylor said. "He's starting to understand that pocket presence. And he's a great runner out of the backfield, which is a great attribute to have once you get that sense of what's going on around you."
Jackson has just begun to get that sense in recent weeks, although even supportive teammates and coaches admit he's far from perfect. On Sunday, for example, Jackson took an early sack while holding the ball too long, threw a third-quarter interception in the red zone and was just 2-for-5 with an interception on third downs.
"Nobody is ready to crown Tarvaris king," Vikings coach Brad Childress said when asked if the proverbial light bulb has come on for Jackson. "The whole thing is a process, and it's a long process to learn how to be a quarterback in this league. ... It has to be the toughest job in athletics to do because there is so much that goes into it. And he's going to continue to evolve. I'm not foolish enough to think there's not a bad day out there."
Sunday wasn't one of them. Jackson completed 75 percent of his passes (18-for-24) for a season-high 204 yards and a 110.4 passer rating. He led the offense on five consecutive touchdown drives as Minnesota built a 42-10 lead with 10:12 to play in the third quarter.
"I think it was a huge game in his development," said fullback Tony Richardson, a 13-year veteran. "The only place a young quarterback can learn pocket presence is during a game. You just can't simulate in practice a cornerback coming in unblocked off the blind side. You can try, but that young quarterback knows he's not going to get hit in practice."
Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell wants Jackson eventually to have the poise to hit the slant behind the corner blitz.
"That's going to come one day," Bevell said. "But in this case it was nice to see that he was able to move around and make a play with his feet."