Minnesota Vikings: 5 Things We Learned in 20-13 Win over Lions

Bill Hubbell@@billyhubbellContributor ISeptember 30, 2012

Minnesota Vikings: 5 Things We Learned in 20-13 Win over Lions

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    Wasn't this supposed to be a quarterback's league?

    If you were told that the Lions' Matthew Stafford would throw for 319 yards on Sunday and his Vikings counterpart, Christian Ponder, would throw for just 111, you'd assume the Lions would win, right?

    How about if you were also told that the Vikings offense would generate under 230 yards and no touchdowns?  

    It was another strange NFL Sunday in Detroit, as the Vikings matched their win total from 2011, beating the Lions 20-13 in a game that, numbers aside, was really never in doubt.

    In the end it, was a couple of big plays by the Vikings special teams that were the difference in a game where the Vikings offense was plodding and methodical and the defense made enough plays to win. 

    Percy Harvin took the opening kickoff back 105 yards for a touchdown and Marcus Sherels returned a punt 77 yards for another score. The offense and defense played relatively mistake-free football as the Vikings broke an 11-game losing streak in the NFC North.

    No one in Minnesota is complaining, as after a miserable 2011 season, the Vikings will take wins any way they can get them. We take a look at five things we learned in the Vikings' 20-13 win over the Lions. 

Momentum Is Everything in the NFL

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    It's impossible to measure how big the Vikings' win over the 49ers was last Sunday.

    Obviously, it only goes down in the standings as one win, but for a franchise that was desperate for a jump start, beating the big, bad 49ers gave the Vikings so much more than one win. It gave them a reason to believe in themselves. It proved to them that they have the ability to play with anybody.

    In a league where mindset and momentum can take you very far, the Vikings have come improbably far after their disappointing loss to the lowly Colts in Week 2.

    In an almost startling change from a year ago, the Vikings went into Detroit and played composed, smart football. They kept the mistakes, both physical and mental, to a minimum. In what might be the biggest change from the 2011 version of the Vikings, they looked like they knew they were going to win.

    Full credit must be given to a coaching staff that had a massive task ahead of them. A team that is coming off of a 3-13 season has an understandably fragile psyche, and after starting the season with two highly emotional games that could have gone either way, the Vikings have bounced back with two impressive victories.

    Everyone knows momentum can swing from week to week or even play to play in the NFL, but for now, for the first time in a long time, it's certainly going the Vikings' way.

Christian Ponder Continues to Improve

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    One of the most overused phrases from the mouths of NFL analysts is that quarterbacks need to "manage the game." While it can become hyperbolic, and the more it's used, the less in tends to mean, at its center is a simple truth: The less mistakes your quarterback makes, the greater your chance of winning.

    Christian Ponder had one of the more blah games you'll ever see from a winning quarterback on Sunday, and I'm sure he couldn't care less. No touchdown passes? Who cares; no interceptions and no fumbles mattered more.

    Just 111 passing yards and half as many completions as the guy on the other side of the ball? Who cares; we won. 

    Ponder completed just 16 passes for a paltry 4.3 yard average, but he did all he had to do to win the football game. Given big plays by the special teams, the offense wasn't asked to win the game; they were only asked not to lose it. They didn't. 

    It was a day that the Vikings ran the ball 28 times and passed it only 26. Adrian Peterson was solid if not spectacular, and Ponder made safe, stay-out-of-trouble throws. The offense just needed to stay out of its own way on Sunday, and they did just that.

    Christian Ponder hasn't thrown an interception in four games, and his team is 3-1. We'll take it.

Percy Harvin Is an MVP Candidate

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    Percy Harvin caught just three passes for 22 yards on Sunday, but once again, he proved that he's among the most valuable players in the NFL.

    Harvin took the opening kickoff five yards deep in his end zone and set off on a scintillating 105-yard touchdown return that gave the Vikings an immediate lead that they would never surrender.

    Harvin followed his perfectly blocked opening lane, made a nifty cut that left two Lion tacklers out of the play and then outraced all of the pursuit for his fifth career kickoff return for a score.

    Harvin continues to be dominant force as a receiver, returner and running back for the Vikings, giving them big plays seemingly every time they need one. Harvin's attitude might be the most valuable asset of his many, as his fierce determination to play every snap to its fullest is rubbing off on the rest of the squad.

    Harvin is a winner, and through one quarter of the season, there hasn't been a more valuable player in the NFL.

Adrian Peterson Is 98 Percent Back

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    This was the Adrian Peterson of old.

    You can almost see the rust falling off of Peterson as his cuts become quicker and his confidence grows. A physical freak of nature, Peterson returned to game action just eight months after a complete reconstruction of his left knee. 

    Sunday against the Lions, Peterson was again in beast mode, rushing for 102 yards on 21 carries and seemingly all of it after first contact. Peterson was hit at the line on countless carries, but his spins and cuts and power left no doubt who was the most dominating physical presence on the field Sunday afternoon. 

    Peterson made something out of nothing on countless occasions and helped extend drives on a day where it felt like the Vikings were trying to kill the clock for most of the afternoon.

    Peterson came just a stride or two from breaking off huge runs several times on Sunday, or his rushing total would have been well over 150 yards.

    If you've watched Adrian Peterson his whole career, you can see that those long runs are coming. He's almost all the way back.

The Vikings Defense Might Be the Most Improved Unit in the League

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    We know that Matthew Stafford can put up some huge numbers as a passer. We'd heard that the Detroit Lions had found the power back with some speed that they've been looking for for years. We know that Calvin Johnson is the best wide receiver in football.

    The Vikings defense straight up whipped them.

    Yes, Stafford ended up with 319 passing yards, but over 200 of them were when the Vikings were in "bend but don't break" mode. The new running back, Mikel Leshoure, was held in check all day long, kept to just 26 yards on 13 carries, and his biggest gain of the day ended in a fumble that the Vikings recovered.

    The Vikings defense hit and hit and hit some more. Chad Greenway, Antoine Winfield, Harrison Smith, Letroy Guion and Everson Griffen all did enough to earn game balls Sunday. And they weren't alone.

    The Vikings defense doesn't look even remotely like the group that played in 2011. The rotation of defensive linemen seems to be working perfectly, and the defensive backs are making plays all over the field.

    It's easy to argue that the Lions offense laid an egg on Sunday, but much of that had to do with the Vikings smothering offense.

    3-1 and atop the NFC North is where it's gotten them. So far, so good.