The Minnesota Vikings' passing attack was awful last Sunday, but running back Adrian Peterson and the defence did enough to compensate in the win.
Peterson tries to lead the Vikings to their first 5-0 home start since 2009 on Thursday night against a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that's dropped nine straight on the road since its last trip to Minneapolis.
With Christian Ponder throwing for a season-low 58 yards and getting intercepted twice for the third consecutive week, Minnesota (5-2) totalled a season-low 209 yards in last Sunday's 21-14 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. The Vikings had just two first downs outside their two first-half touchdown drives and punted five consecutive times in the second half following rookie Harrison Smith's 31-yard interception return for a score.
However, Peterson ran for a season-high 153 yards and a TD and the defence registered seven sacks to lift its season total to 22 — tied for third in the NFL.
Ponder has connected with Percy Harvin 53 times and tight end Kyle Rudolph already has five TDs, but the team is 27th in the league in passing with 203.4 yards per game. The Vikings, though, are off to their best start since opening 6-1 in 2009, thanks to Petersen spearheading a running attack that's ranked seventh in the league (132.3 ypg) and a defence ranked ninth at 319.7 yards allowed per contest.
"You want to be able to throw the ball as well as run the ball effectively, but there are times where something is being taken away you have to be good in other areas," Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier said. "Fortunately for us, we're at a point as a team where we can make up for deficiencies in other areas."
Many thought the running game would be a weakness with Peterson just 10 months removed from a torn ACL and MCL, but the four-time All-Pro back is tied for third with 652 yards — seven behind league-leader Arian Foster.
"We're definitely relying on our run game and that's not a bad thing," Frazier said.
'Peterson is as good as they get'
Peterson, who ran for 120 yards and two TDs in last year's 24-20 home loss to Tampa Bay, could set a Vikings record with a 30th 100-yard rushing game.
"Peterson is as good as they get," Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano said. "He runs with an attitude.
"We need to play run defence with an attitude. We have and we will."
Tampa Bay's run defence is third-best in the league, allowing 76.0 yards per game. However, the club is 31st in pass defence (323.0 ypg) after yielding 377 in last Sunday's 35-28 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
The Buccaneers (2-4) couldn't hold on to a 21-7 first-half lead as they failed to score in two second-half red-zone opportunities, but the offence is showing some positive signs behind quarterback Josh Freeman.
'Offence is clicking well'
Freeman threw for a career-best 420 yards against the Saints and has 748 with six TDs in the last two games. Tampa Bay has 976 yards in these contests after totalling 513 last Sunday. That was the second-most in club history, behind only a 573-yard effort in a 38-30 loss at Minnesota on Nov. 16, 1980.
"The offence is clicking well," Buccaneers rookie back Doug Martin, who ran for 85 yards and a TD against New Orleans.
"That all comes with guys doing their jobs and consistently doing their jobs. When everybody does that, the offence is very successful."
Smith, Antoine Winfield and the rest of the Vikings' secondary will have to keep an eye on Vincent Jackson, who is third in the league with 21.7 yards per catch and sixth with 586 receiving yards. Jackson set a Bucs record with 216 yards last Sunday, including a team-record 95-yarder in the third quarter that failed to lead to any points as Tampa Bay came up short on its next four plays.
The Buccaneers were far more efficient in the second half of last season's win over Minnesota, outscoring the Vikings 24-3 to erase a 17-0 halftime deficit.
Tampa Bay has won five straight in this series since a 20-16 road loss Sept. 30, 2001, but it has been outscored by an average of 18.2 points during its current road losing streak.