Bucs' Defense Meets Challenge By Stuffing Peterson
Adrian Peterson had a great view of Minnesota's 19-13 road loss to Tampa Bay. That's because Peterson spent most of the final two quarters Sunday doing the same thing as visiting golfer Tiger Woods on the Bucs sideline: Standing around.
With the Vikings running only 21 second-half offensive plays, Peterson's string of 100-yard rushing games was snapped at four. The Vikings (5-5) also slid into a three-way tie with Chicago and Green Bay atop the NFC North.
"We didn't have too many opportunities to run the ball," said Peterson, who had just six second-half carries in an 85-yard overall effort. "They took us totally out of our game."
Peterson said he couldn't remember ever playing in such an unbalanced half. Don't blame him for trying to forget this one, either.
When the Vikings weren't imploding with two fourth-quarter turnovers, Tampa Bay (7-3) was chewing up the clock with its own ball-control offense. The Bucs should have run away with the victory but struggles inside the red-zone—a season-long problem—forced Tampa Bay to settle for four Matt Bryant field goals.
Yet with such a strong defensive effort, Tampa Bay prevailed with a familiar formula that defensive tackle Chris Hovan called "Buc Ball."
"Play great defense, score  points and you're going to win," Hovan said.
Hovan and his fellow defensive linemen did their part by notching three of Tampa Bay's five sacks and consistently pressuring Vikings quarterback Gus Frerotte. But stopping Minnesota begins and ends with Peterson, who entered as the NFL's only 1,000-yard rusher.
"They came with a stud running back and a high-powered offense," Hovan said. "We needed to shut him down."
Easier said than done. Peterson was on pace for a 204-yard effort after a Madden-like first quarter.
Peterson unleashed a 360-degree spin move to avoid blitzing cornerback Ronde Barber and charge down the sideline for a 22-yard gain. In the second quarter, Peterson made three separate cuts and dodged two leg tackles on a nine-yard burst.
He can even make the mundane look spectacular, like when future Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks bounced off Peterson like a rubber ball on a three-yard reception. Peterson entered halftime with 13 attempts for 71 yards, more than half of which were gained after initial contact by a Bucs defender.
"We had to gang-tackle him because we didn't want a lot of one-on-one challenges," Bucs strong safety Sabby Piscitelli said. "A guy like that, you expect him to get a couple runs. But I think we did a great job of regrouping."
The Bucs did that by remaining disciplined in run defense, which has become one of their biggest strengths. Six of the NFC's top 10 rushers have faced the Bucs and none have gained more than 89 yards, including standouts like Atlanta's Michael Turner (42), Chicago's Matt Forte (89) and Dallas' Marion Barber (71).
"He's a beast," Bucs defensive end Kevin Carter said of Peterson. "He's big, strong, fast—everything you want.
"But when there's one guy who slows you down a little bit and immediately there's someone else hitting you, someone else hitting you, someone else hitting you," Carter continued, slamming his hand on his locker for emphasis, "and we're getting hats on the ball and swarming, that's how you stop a great running back. He's great, so we had to get that done."
The Bucs were at their best on Minnesota's first second-half possession. Peterson punched the turf in frustration after being held to a one-yard gain on a 3rd-and-2 near midfield. Vikings coach Brad Childress went for it on fourth down, calling a play-action fake to running back Chester Taylor and sending Peterson on a downfield route out of the backfield.
Peterson had a step on Brooks, who has slowed in his 14th NFL season. But what Brooks may now lack in speed can be compensated with savvy. Without looking back at Frerotte's pass, Brooks managed to grab one of Peterson's arms while stripping the football with the other.
While the Vikings sideline was irate that a pass interference penalty wasn't called, Peterson refused to use contact with Brooks as an excuse for the incompletion.
"I really feel like with everything that went on I've still got to bring that ball in some way, somehow," Peterson said. "I don't have much to say about whether a call should have been made. I'll leave that up to everyone else to think what they want."
The play was a harbinger of things to come. Peterson didn't gain a single yard from scrimmage in the fourth quarter. He was used on a kickoff return for the first time this season but gained only 16 yards.
The only chance Peterson had on offense came on an incomplete pass. Two snaps later, Peterson inexplicably wasn't on the field as a Frerotte pass to wide receiver Sidney Rice fell incomplete on 4th-and-3.
Frerotte entered with a 5-2 record as Minnesota's starter but struggled to find a rhythm Sunday, especially when the Vikings were forced into becoming one-dimensional. Frerotte was sacked three times on his final nine passing attempts.
"It's not like we felt we played terrible in the first half but we gave them some opportunities," Barber said. "The second half was the way we like to play football. We came out of the locker room saying, 'Put it on us.' We finished today. That was as important as anything in winning this game."
Not to mention bottling Peterson.
"The guy's tough to deal with," Barber said. "When you think you've got him down, he's still breaking tackles. There are not a lot of guys off the top of my head who are better than him. But we knew what our challenge was."
Consider it completed.
This article originally published on FOXSports.com.
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