The Minnesota Vikings’ revamped defense finally lived up to expectations last weekend. It might have a hard time duplicating that strong performance in a matchup with Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons.
Minnesota’s first step toward upgrading its defense this past offseason came with the trade of Randy Moss to the Oakland Raiders for linebacker Napoleon Harris. The Vikings then signed nose tackle Pat Williams, cornerback Fred Smoot and free safety Darren Sharper, and acquired middle linebacker Sam Cowart in a trade with the New York Jets.
Through the first two games this season, though, Minnesota’s defense looked pretty similar to the one that ranked among the league’s worst the past few years, allowing a combined 61 points in losses to Tampa Bay and Cincinnati.
But last Sunday, the unit came together.
The Vikings consistently harassed New Orleans quarterback Aaron Brooks, forced four turnovers and held the Saints to 2-for-12 on third-down situations in a 33-16 victory.
“I was pleased with a lot of things,” Minnesota coach Mike Tice said. “(But) it’s only one game. We’ve got a ways to go. We have a lot of stuff to fix.”
Despite missing two injured starters, Sharper and linebacker E.J. Henderson, Minnesota looked much more comfortable with defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell’s scheme.
“Hopefully we can build on what we did,” linebacker Keith Newman said.
The win was costly, however, as Minnesota lost safety Willie Offord to a season-ending knee injury. Compounding the loss of Offord is the status of Sharper, who has a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee.
While it’s uncertain if Sharper will play, Cottrell knows the defense needs to be as close to full strength as possible if the Vikings have any chance of stopping Vick.
“He’s a nightmare,” Cottrell said.
Vick threw for 167 yards and two touchdowns in Atlanta’s 24-16 win over the Buffalo Bills last Sunday despite the lingering effects of a strained hamstring suffered in a Sept. 18 loss at Seattle.
Vick also rushed for 64 yards against Buffalo to give him 175 on the ground this season, but he was most pleased with his passing game after delivering on a promise to coach Jim Mora.
“I told him I was going to be a different quarterback,” Vick said. “I told him I was going to keep my poise, I was going to stay in the pocket. … That’s what we’ve been looking for as an offense and it worked.”
While 167 yards passing is nothing to write home about, they were the most in seven starts for Vick.
“Now I don’t know if I saw a different kind of quarterback, because when it got right down to it, he still was able to make plays running,” Mora said. “But he did make some key plays with his arm. … You get glimpses of these great things that he’s capable of and you’re going to see it on a consistent basis.”
Vick’s teammates took notice of his all-around performance.
“He’s just out there proving people wrong,” receiver Michael Jenkins said, referring to those who call Vick one-dimensional. “Making great throws, making plays with his feet as well, he had a complete game.”
Daunte Culpepper, meanwhile, is hoping to build on a solid performance following two awful games to start the season. He threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns without a turnover against New Orleans after totaling eight interceptions and two lost fumbles in the first two weeks.
Culpepper will still be without starting wideout Nate Burleson, who sat out last Sunday with a sprained posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.