They didn't make it easy. . .something that their fans are used to. . .but the Minnesota Vikings put together what might have been the most thrilling victory of Week 1 with a 26-23 overtime victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.
Things got off to a really slow start for the Vikings, as they didn't really move the ball much in the first half. Jacksonville scored the first nine points of the game, starting things off with a 19-yard field goal from Josh Scobee in the first quarter to make it 3-0, and a 1-yard touchdown pass from Blaine Gabbert to Marcedes Lewis to make their lead 9-0 early in the second quarter. It was only a 9-0 lead rather than 10-0 because Vikings' safety Mistral Raymond appeared to get a hand on Scobee's extra point attempt, causing it to go wide left.
Quarterback Christian Ponder, who struggled mightily early on, put together a very nice drive to end the first half for the Vikings, moving the team 59 yards in seven plays, setting up Adrian Peterson's first touchdown run of the season. The two-yard plunge by the returning Peterson allowed the Vikings to cut the lead to 9-7 going into the locker room at halftime.
The Vikings wasted little time getting on the board in the second half, as Gabbert fumbled a snap from center Brad Meester to give the Vikings the ball on the Jacksonville 44-yard line. Four plays later, Adrian Peterson was making his way into the end zone again, this time from two yards out to give Minnesota a 14-9 lead early in the third quarter.
From there, the teams seemed content to exchange field goals. Scobee hit one from 26 yards out to make the score 14-12, but Blair Walsh answered with one for the Vikings from 20 yards away to increase the Vikings' lead back to five at 17-12 early in the fourth quarter. On the next drive, Scobee connected from 47 to make it 17-15 in favor of Minnesota, but then Walsh hit another as well, as his 42-yarder once again put the Vikings ahead by five points at 20-15.
Then, all heck broke loose.
On the Jaguars' last possession of regulation, Gabbert drove the Jaguars 76 yards in six plays in under a minute with no time outs. The final play of the drive saw Gabbert hit Cecil Shorts for a diving, tumbling touchdown from 39 yards out to make the score 21-20 in favor of the Jaguars. When Gabbert hit rookie Justin Blackmon for a two-point conversion with 20 seconds left on the clock, it looked bleak for the Vikings.
But the Vikings weren't finished.
After the Vikings took the kickoff to the Jacksonville 35-yard line, Ponder found Devin Aromashodu for a 26 yard completion to the Jacksonville 43-yard line. Ponder then found tight end Kyle Rudolph for six more yards to the Jacksonville 37. From there, Walsh came in for the biggest kick of his young career, a 55-yarder from the right hash. Walsh left no doubt, drilling the kick down the middle with room to spare, tying the game at 23 and sending the 2012 NFL season opener into overtime.
Minnesota won the overtime coin toss and elected to take the ball first. Adrian Peterson picked up 33 yards on the first three plays of the extra frame (30 on the ground and a three-yard reception) and Ponder then hit Aromashodu for another 17 yards down to the Jacksonville 25-yard line. However, the drive stalled from there, and Walsh was called upon again for his fourth try of the afternoon. He connected once again from 38 yards out to give the Vikings a 26-23 lead.
Per the new overtime rules, the Jaguars got an opportunity to have the football, and started from their own 23-yard line. Gabbert threw incomplete on first down, and Maurice Jones-Drew gained eight yards on second. Rookie safety Harrison Smith made a diving pass breakup on third down to bring up a fourth down situation for the Jaguars, and Gabbert inexplicably threw deep into double coverage on fourth down. The pass fell incomplete, and the Vikings escaped with a 26-23 victory to start the 2012 season.
Peterson made a definite impact in his return, carrying the ball 14 times for 84 yards and the two touchdowns. Those 84 yards make him the Vikings' all-time rushing leader with 6,836 yards. Going into the day, Robert Smith was the Vikings' all-time rushing leader with 6,818 yards. While Smith needed 98 career games to amass that many yards, Peterson passed him in his 74th game as a Viking. Congratulations to Peterson on his accomplishment.
Ponder, much maligned by his critics for most of the off-season, completed 20-of-27 passes for 270 yards and, though he didn't have any touchdown passes on the day, did a very good job of running the offense, particularly in the second half. Percy Harvin led the Vikings in receiving on the afternoon with six grabs for 84 yards, and Kyle Rudolph chipped in five catches for 67 more.
The Vikings are currently in a tie for first place in the NFC North, as the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions also won their games this afternoon. Next week, the Vikings will travel to take on the team that the Bears defeated on Sunday afternoon, the Indianapolis Colts and rookie quarterback Andrew Luck.