Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
After Minnesota’s 33-31 victory Sunday over Baltimore, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:
In trying to convey the chance nature of this victory, I glossed over the career-changing performance of receiver Sidney Rice. His 58-yard reception in the fourth quarter not only set up the eventual game-winning field goal, but it also gave him the first 100-yard receiving game of his career. Rice has developed an indisputable connection with quarterback Brett Favre; on the 58-yard reception, he adjusted a 12-yard comeback route into a straight go route. Favre followed Rice’s thinking and was rewarded for giving him a chance to make the catch in traffic. With a 6-foot-4 frame and a near 50-inch vertical leap, Rice makes it extraordinarily difficult for cornerbacks to beat him to the ball. Once pigeon-holed as a red zone specialist, Rice has now emerged as an all-field threat.
Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe has 12 touchdowns since the start of the 2008 season, second only to Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez (13) over that span. But if Minnesota had its way, his 1-yard scoring reception Sunday would never have happened. The Vikings had the wrong personnel on the field for the formation, according to Favre, and coach Brad Childress tried to call a timeout. Fullback Naufahu Tahi, for one, had never been used in the play before. But Favre pushed on and ran the play anyway. “I knew by [Tahi’s] look that he had no clue,” Favre said. “He hadn’t run that play. You just have to be able to adapt sometimes. I thought we did a good job at it. … I feel real confident with our guys that we can do things like that.”
Runs of 26 and 58 yards helped tailback Adrian Peterson to his first 100-yard game since opening weekend, an especially impressive statistic considering the opponent. Yes, the Ravens had allowed 127 yards to Cincinnati’s Cedric Benson a week before. But Peterson’s 143 yards Sunday were an 11-year high against a Ray Lewis defense, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Lewis has missed some games over his career, but the last time he played in a game in which an opposing runner had a better day was in 1998, when Chicago’s James Allen rushed for 163 yards.
And here’s one question I’m still asking:
What’s the prognosis for cornerback Antoine Winfield? The Vikings’ top cornerback left Sunday’s game in the first half and did not return. The injury was first reported to be a turf toe, but Winfield said afterward it was an injury “to the top of my foot.” He lobbied to return to the game, but the Vikings considered it significant enough to keep him on the sideline even with Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco on his way to a 244-yard second half. The Ravens often targeted Winfield’s replacement, Karl Paymah, as the Vikings decided to keep Benny Sapp in the nickel position. Few teams have a suitable replacement for a No. 1 cornerback, but I think you got a pretty good picture of how important Winfield is to the Vikings’ pass defense after he departed.