Cardinals vs. Vikings: Minnesota's Biggest Winners & Losers from NFL Week 7
For the Cardinals and Vikings, their Week 7 matchup at the Mall of America Field was about validating a surprising 4-2 start. For both teams, a win would erase the bad taste of an ugly loss from Week 6.
While many Vikings' fans may lament another ugly win, let's not forget that this would be the type of the game the Vikings would have found a way to lose last season.
When the game ended, the Vikings once again found themselves in first place of the NFC North with a 5-2 record. Even though that lead may only last until the Bears win on Monday, raising their record to 5-1, it's still somewhat of a surprise to see Minnesota at the top of the division.
Here are the biggest winners and losers from the Vikings' ugly win.
Winner: Minnesota's Defense
Coming into the Arizona game, the Vikings; defense had 15 sacks while the Cardinals; offense had yielded 28, the most in the NFL.
In this game, four Vikings sacked Arizona quarterback John Skelton seven times.
The defense also came up with two turnovers and scored the Vikings' only points in the second half on a 31-yard interception return for a touchdown by rookie safety Harrison Smith.
The Vikings also limited Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald to four catches for 29 yards.
Loser: Minnesota's Defense
Heading into this game, the Vikings' defense was ranked 10th against the run and Arizona running back LaRod Stephens-Howling had a career total of 318 rushing yards in four NFL seasons. In five games this season, he only had 23 yards on 23 attempts.
But against the Vikings, Stephens-Howling rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. He also had four receptions for another 45 yards. That's a total of 149 yards for a player who entered the game with only 37 total yards this season.
Winner: Percy Harvin, the Global Leader in All-Purpose Yards
If not for a block-in-the-back penalty, Percy Harvin would have had a monster day. He opened the game with a 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that was nullified by the Marvin Mitchell penalty.
On a day when Christian Ponder looked more like Donovan McNabb from last season, completing only eight passes, four went to Harvin for 37 yards and a touchdown.
He also added 10 yards on two carries and 23 yards on two kickoff returns.
Loser: Marvin Mitchell, a Not-so-Special Team Player
As a backup linebacker and special teams player, it's not good when you're number is called by an official. It usually means you're being flagged for a penalty.
That was the case for Marvin Mitchell on the opening play of the Cardinals-Vikings game.
As Percy Harvin fielded the kickoff three yards deep in his end zone, he sprinted up the middle, broke free to the left and sprinted to the end zone, giving the Vikings a six-point lead only 12 seconds into the game.
On the play, Mitchell was flagged for a block in the back. Six points were wiped off the board and the ball was placed on the Vikings' 8-yard line. The result was a three-and-out for the Vikings and a punt.
Fortunately for Mitchell, the Vikings didn't need that touchdown for the victory,
Loser: Toby Gerhart, One Yard Short on the Afternoon
Supposedly Toby Gerhart was going to have a larger role in the Vikings' offense this season. Of course, when you're backing up Adrian Peterson, the best running back in the NFL, there shouldn't too many chances.
Against the Cardinals, Gerhart got exactly one carry. It came on a 3rd-and-2 from the Vikings' 11-yard line with 2:34 left in the first half and the Vikings leading 14-7.
Gerhart was held to one yard, forcing the Vikings to punt. He never touched the ball again.
Winner: Antoine Winfield Leads the Defense
Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE
Antoine Winfield has a reputation as a solid tackler. He backed that up in Sunday's game, leading the defense with 10 tackles.
The biggest came with the Cardinals facing a 4th-and-2 from the Vikings' 18-yard line midway through the third quarter.
Arizona quarterback John Skelton was looking to complete a short pass as he rolled to his right. Winfield had the coverage on the play. But when Skelton decided to run, Winfield tackled him for no gain and was credited with a sack.
It preserved the Vikings 21-7 lead and gave the ball back to the offense.
Loser: Bill Musgrave, Offensive Coordinator
How does an offense get called for an illegal formation?
This is a frustrating penalty, as it occurs because the players are not properly positioned before the ball is snapped.
Midway through the third quarter, this penalty cost the Vikings a 19-yard gain on the only pass caught by Kyle Rudolph.
On another note, how is it that Rudolph did not catch a pass in this game? Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave needs to put together a simplified game plan that protects his young quarterback and maximizes the talents of the weapons he has on offense.
Winner: Harrison Smith Scores a Defensive Touchdown
Harrison Smith has been a force on the Vikings' defensive backfield. His hard-hitting style has helped to improve the Vikings' pass defense.
Last season they finished 26th in passing yards allowed. Heading into the Arizona game, the Vikings were ranked 11th in the same category.
Against the Cardinals Smith gave the Vikings a huge lift on the third play of the third quarter. He intercepted a John Skelton pass and returned it 31 yards for a touchdown. At the time, it gave the Vikings a 21-7 lead, providing the final margin in the Vikings' victory.
Winner: Brian Robison and His Monster Day
The Vikings' defensive line had to be licking its chops entering this game. The Cardinals had allowed an NFL-worst 28 sacks, and the Vikings were quick to capitalize on that weakness.
Three of the Vikings' front four had a sack, led by Brian Robison who had three.
His first came on a crucial play late in the first quarter. With the Vikings leading 7-0, the Cardinals were driving deep into Vikings territory. On the 14th play of a drive that started on the Cardinals' 12-yard line, Robison sacked John Skelton at the Vikings' 19-yard line, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Kevin Williams.
Loser: Christian Ponder and His Two Interceptions
After not throwing an interception in the first four games, Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder has thrown two in each of the last three games.
Against the Cardinals, Ponder completed seven of 10 passes for 54 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in the first half.
He only got worse in second half. Ponder completed only one of seven passes for four yards. He finished 8-of-17 for 58 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. It resulted in a QB rating of 35.5.
If the Vikings are going to make any push for the postseason, there are going to be games where they will need Ponder to win the game. Fortunately, Sunday was not one of those games.
Winner: Adrian Peterson Running Wild Against the Cards
Adrian Peterson likes to face the Arizona Cardinals. In his last three games against them, all in the Metrodome, he has 356 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
On Sunday he finished with 153 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown—his first since Week 1 when he scored two against the Jaguars.
On the season he has 652 rushing yards and is on a pace to finish with close to 1,500 yards. If that happens, it would be the second-most yards in a season for Peterson in his career.
Just like the game last year when he won the game with three rushing touchdowns, Peterson put the team on his shoulders and carried it to victory.
It was only fitting that the last play of the game was an eight-yard run by Peterson to give the Vikings a first down and run out the clock.