MINNEAPOLIS -- Wait. Weren't Thursday night NFL games supposed to make winning on the road next to impossible?
Apparently not, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers proved in a 36-17 victory over the Minnesota Viking at Mall of America Field on Thursday.
Only one Thursday night road team previously had won this season.
Tampa Bay handled the host Vikings in every important way. The Bucs ran the ball, they threw it when they had to, and they forced turnovers.
The Buccaneers (3-4) turned two poor early Minnesota punts and two first-half Minnesota fumbles into 20 points while nearly running the Vikings (5-3) out of their own stadium. Afterward, the Bucs talked as if maybe they'd found their rhythm.
The Vikings? They talked as if they'd lost their mojo after a surprising start to the season.
"I thought the guys did a good job," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. "I think the guys are getting more comfortable with what we're trying to do and with each other. I think we're getting better."
The Bucs were the aggressors from the start, and it started with rookie running back Doug Martin. He ran the ball 29 times for 135 yards and a touchdown; he had 106 yards by halftime. He also caught three passes for 79 yards, including a 64-yard catch-and-run on the first possession of the second half that gave Tampa Bay a 27-10 lead.
"They came in and kicked our butts," Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said. "I said if we couldn't stop the run, we won't have a chance to get after the QB. ... We knew what they were going to do and couldn't stop it. Top to bottom, it's an embarrassing game for us. But one thing I know for sure -- we will come back. We will learn from this. We'll be a better team for it."
While the Vikings eventually figured out a way to slow Martin, by that time Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman was warming up. He threw for 262 yards and three touchdowns, one each to Martin, receiver Mike Williams and fullback Erik Lorig. On a 16-play drive for the game's final score, Freeman completed first-down passes on four consecutive third-and-long situations to put the game away.
"We definitely didn't play well in any phase," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "I didn't do a good job of getting our guys prepared for this. We did not play well. We have to learn from it."
In a classic case of stats not telling the story, Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder was 19-for-35 for 251 yards and a touchdown. However, he also threw an interception, and he failed to move his team early. Ponder had 125 passing yards at halftime and just 9 in the third quarter.
Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson had his second consecutive 100-yard game, and he ripped off a 64-yard, third-quarter scoring run that cut Tampa Bay's lead to 13, but it wasn't enough to make up for the Vikings' mistakes.
"Our passing game has to improve," Frazier said. "It's hard to continue to just pound it. There are games where you're going to need to throw it. We did a good job running the ball on occasion, but there are times you need to complete some balls down the field."
Said Ponder: "I have high expectations of myself and high expectations for this team; 6-2 would have sounded a lot better than 5-3. Going into this weekend, we have to take a look at ourselves."
The Vikings let the game get out of hand quickly.
The second punt by Minnesota's Chris Kluwe was a 20-yard shank that put the ball near midfield, setting the Bucs up for a drive that ended in the first of Connor Barth's three field goals. Another short Kluwe punt resulted in a 48-yard touchdown drive that ended with Freeman's 1-yard pass to Lorig.
The Vikings' next possession ended in Jerome Simpson's fumble after a short reception, and Barth hit from 40 yards 10 plays later.
The Vikings cut the lead to 13-7 on Ponder's 18-yard pass to Percy Harvin (seven catches, 90 yards), but later in the first half, Peterson's fumble led to yet another touchdown and a 20-7 lead. When the Bucs came out and scored on the first possession of the second half, Tampa Bay had a 27-10 lead, and the game was all but over.
"Preparation," Bucs linebacker Lavonte David said. "We had a short week, we had to travel, but we tried to work together, studying the film. We just came out and did what we needed to do. That was the plan -- start fast."
And finish strong. Tampa Bay took it to the Vikings all night long.
"We were just a physical, nasty monster," Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said.
NOTES: Former Vikings linebacker Matt Blair was inducted into the team's ring of honor at halftime of Thursday's game. Blair played all 12 seasons of his career with the Vikings, being named to six Pro Bowls and being named all-Pro once. He played in two Super Bowls. He becomes the 20th member of the ring of honor. ... There were no surprises in the Vikings inactives; rookie receiver Jarius Wright was inactive for the eighth time this season. ... The Buccaneers activated defensive end Da'Quan Bowers from the physically unable to perform list hours before the game. He injured his right Achilles' tendon during off-season workouts in May. ... Vikings cornerback Chris Cook broke his right wrist in the second half and did not return. ... Peterson's 64-yard TD run in the third quarter was the fifth longest of his career. He had his franchise-best 30th 100-yard game. ... The only previous road team to win on a Thursday night this season was the New York Giants, who routed the Carolina Panthers 36-7 in Week 3.