By Tom Pollin
CHFF”s Thursday Night Fight Writer (@tjpollin)
The Minnesota Vikings lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 36-17 on Thursday Night Football. The loss was their sixth straight to the Buccaneers dating back to the time when both were a part of the NFC Central division in 2001.
It was the sixth time in seven games this season that Tampa Bay jumped out to an early lead. This time they opened up a 13-0 lead and made it stand up to improve their record to 3-4 while the Vikings slipped to 5-3 for the year.
As the Vikings head back to the drawing board to start planning for their next game a week from Sunday in Seattle, here are five things we learned from this game.
1. Thursday Night Football turned into the Doug Martin Show.
Martin rushed for 106 yards in 14 carries for a 7.6-yards per carry average to help stake the Buccaneers to a 20-10 lead at the end of the first half. For most running backs that would be a full game’s work.
As an encore, Martin came back out after the half and took a short pass from Josh Freeman 64-yards to stretch the Buccaneers’ lead to 27-10. Martin finished the scoring in the fourth quarter with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Martin was the Buccaneers first round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft (No. 31 overall) and Thursday night was the first 100-yard rushing game in his career.
While it’s definitely a bit early to compare Martin’s talent and running style to Adrian Peterson and an all-time great like Emmitt Smith (which Mike Mayock did at one point in the NFL Network broadcast), he’s showed enough talent to make it easy to see him putting together many more 100-yard games in his career.
2. Adrian Peterson is the real deal.
True, this isn’t a revelation to anyone but it’s asking a lot to compare a rookie to Adrian Peterson when the real one is standing on the other sideline. Peterson followed up his extraordinary game last weekend against the Cardinals by gaining 123-yards for an 8.2-yards per carry average and a 64-yard touchdown run of his own against the team that was No. 1 in Defensive Rushing Yards per Attempt.
The one carry Peterson would like to have back though was a 6-yard gain with seven minutes left in the second quarter when Ronde Barber stripped the ball that the Buccaneers recovered at the Vikings’ 37-yard line. Six plays later Freeman hit Mike Williams for a 3-yard touchdown pass to extend their lead to 20-7.
The three turnovers the Vikings committed in the game moved them to -10, tied for No. 29 in the league with the Dallas Cowboys.
3. Josh Freeman continued his above average play at quarterback in 2012.
Freeman threw for 257-yards and made them count with a 7.1-Real Passing Yards per Attempt average and three touchdowns. Thursday night was the third straight game that Freeman threw 3 TD passes in a game.
Freeman targeted eight different receivers in the game and completed passes to seven of them. He finished the game with a 104.2 Offensive Passer Rating.
4. Christian Ponder played a better game than last week.
But somehow he still looked completely ineffective in leading the Vikings offense Thursday night. Ponder threw for 229-yards, a 6.5 Real Passing Yards per Attempt average, 1 TD and 1 INT for a 74.8 Offensive Passer Rating but couldn’t overcome the Vikings’ turnovers.
One major problem the Vikings have that will prevent them from becoming a legitimate playoff contender is they have no receiver that can give Ponder a downfield threat to throw to. Wide receiver Jerome Simpson was supposed to fill that role but has underwhelmed so far in 2012.
Simpson spent most of the game unable to free himself from coverage by the Buccaneers’ secondary. One point that Mayock made during the game was Simpson’s inability to give Ponder room on the sideline to get him the ball. He needed to be running the sideline seven to twelve feet inbounds to give Ponder more room to catch the ball.
The Vikings were No. 27 in the league last season with a 5.29 Real Passing Yards per Attempt average. So far in 2012 the Vikings are No. 29 with a 5.86 Real Passing Yards per Attempt average. Until the Vikings have a receiver on the roster who can be a true deep threat they’re going to struggle to win games.
Until they come up with that receiving threat it’s going to be next to impossible to evaluate whether Ponder can actually throw the deep ball at all.
5. The Vikings defense failed to make an impact.
The Vikings didn't record a sack in the first half and were only credited for two quarterback hits. It wasn't until the middle of the third quarter that a confrontation with Buccaneers left tackle Donald Penn raised the emotions of defensive end Jared Allen.
Penn and Allen jawed opposite each other for another minute while the officials attempted to restore order. Allen took advantage of the situation to incite the crowd to make more noise than they had most of the game.
When the ball was finally snapped for the third down play Allen drove inside of Penn and dropped Freeman for a sack. It was the only sack the Vikings would record all game. They only added one more quarterback hit the rest of the game.
The Vikings defensive front did very little to slow down a Tampa Bay offense that started the night No. 9 in the NFL with an average of 26.3 points per game.
Next week the Bucs travel to Oakland in an attempt to even their won-loss record to 4-4 against the Oakland Raiders.
Things don't get any easier for the Vikings next week. They travel to Seattle to take on the Seahawks and their twelfth man in one of the toughest places they can play to try and stop their slide.
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