A Vikings team built upon the bedrock of defense, special teams and Adrian Peterson was having a rough go of it through the first 15½ minutes of Sunday night’s grand opening of U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Packers led 7-0 after blocking a Jeff Locke punt and marching 52 yards with the help of 41 yards of penalties on cornerback Terence Newman. So much for favorable field position and defending every plastic blade of fake grass.
The first quarter ended and the second one began with Peterson being dropped for a 4-yard loss. So much for the running game. Again. Peterson had minus-3 yards on five carries at that point.
We’ll never know what Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner said up in the press box at that point. But it probably went something like this:
“The $#@$ with this. We’re throwin’ it.”
From that moment on, the Vikings became Slingin’ Sam Bradford’s team en route to beating the Packers in consecutive games for the first time since Brett Favre did so in 2009. And Stefon Diggs, with nine catches for 182 yards and a touchdown, became the league’s happiest receiver and the first Viking to top 100 yards receiving in Weeks 1-2 since Cris Carter in 1997.
Told after the 17-14 Vikings victory that he called nine straight pass plays to tie the score 7-7 after Peterson’s 4-yard loss, Turner sounded surprised.
“Did we?” he said. “Well, they were really overcommitted to the run, and we needed to make something happen. … I think you just get into a game and there’s a point where you say, ‘We got to go.’ We hadn’t been doing a lot.”
Amazing. Fifteen days after arriving from Philadelphia following Teddy Bridgewater’s season-ending knee injury, Bradford took the game over and was joined quickly by Mike Zimmer’s smothering defense.
Turner said Bradford didn’t surprise him.
“No, because I really trust and believe what I see in practice,” he said. “Sam’s played a lot of games, and he’s been really impressive in the way he’s picked it up and gotten more comfortable in what we’re doing. It’s a tribute to him because it’s hard to do what he did. That’s a really good defense. He took some shots and got up.”
When Peterson was dropped for the 4-yard loss, Turner had called six runs and nine passes but no more than three consecutive throws. What followed were passes to Kyle Rudolph for 19 yards, Adam Thielen for 12, Thielen for 9 and Diggs for 4 on fourth-and-1.
Then came the Vikings’ second and third false starts of the game. The unforced errors on right guard Brandon Fusco and right tackle Andre Smith made it first-and-20 from the Green Bay 24.
This felt like a typical Vikings red-zone stall followed by a breath-holding Blair Walsh field goal attempt. But Bradford threw to Peterson out of the backfield for 7 yards. Then, out of an empty backfield with Peterson in the slot, Bradford fired a 9-yard pass to Diggs. Then Air Norv launched the 8-yard touchdown pass to Rudolph on third-and-4.
Bradford walked away having gone 6-for-9 for 68 yards and a touchdown while converting two third downs and a fourth down with his arm.
Bradford ended up throwing 31 times with a 121.2 passer rating and a few lumps, bumps and bruises from four sacks and several knockdowns.
“He had a big smile on his face, so I was less concerned [about his health] when I saw him,” Turner said. “It’s part of playing that position. [Aaron] Rodgers took some shots, too. We’re always going to work to protect him. Mix our protections, help our offensive line and be balanced.”
If the Vikings succeed this season under Bradford, it will be that drive — the fourth possession of Sunday’s game — when this became a passing team.
Of course, the Vikings might not have a choice. Peterson left the game because of a knee injury with 3:16 left in the third quarter. He had 19 yards on 12 carries.
But it didn’t matter, at least for this particular game. A minute later, Bradford hit Diggs for a 25-yard touchdown and a 10-point lead.
“We had Diggs playing unbelievable, and other guys making big catches,” Rudolph said. “So I don’t know that we abandoned the run. Once we got those guys back on their heels defensively with the pass, [Turner] just kept the pedal to the metal.”
Mark Craig covers the NFL and the Vikings for the Star Tribune. firstname.lastname@example.org