Vikings running back Adrian Peterson gets through Cardinals defenders Patrick Peterson and Clark Haggans for one of his three touchdowns Sunday.
MINNEAPOLIS – Larry Fitzgerald dropped the pass on the very first play in his hometown, and perhaps that was the Cardinals' omen for the afternoon.
Omens were unnecessary, really. What turned the game was a meltdown early, with turnovers and mistakes and poor play that allowed the struggling Vikings to pile up 28 points in the first quarter Sunday. For a winless Minnesota team and their fans at Mall of America Field, it was desperately needed.
For a Cards' team heading into the bye week, the 34-10 rout was exactly what they didn't need.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt was admittedly angry when he began his postgame press conference – specifically pointing out the Fitzgerald drop as the wrong way to start the game –but eventually caught himself as he talked about his team going forward.
"We have to look at what we are doing and who we are doing it with," Whisenhunt said, before clarifying that he meant more of the situations players were being asked to perform within and not necessarily lineup changes.
Asked if that included better coaching from the staff, Whisenhunt replied, "nobody is exempt from that."
The frustration was evident. Safety Adrian Wilson waved off a reporter approaching him for comment. Quarterback Kevin Kolb said the nightmare first quarter was something he had never been a part of. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said the Cardinals (1-4) certainly did not want to head into the bye on a four-game losing streak, but the general sentiment was that the Cards probably need such a break.
"We need to regroup and find ourselves," running back Beanie Wells said quietly. "What we want to do, and who we want to be."
The game spun from their control quickly. The crowd was willing to turn on the Vikings (1-4) and certainly on quarterback Donovan McNabb. Two of McNabb's first three passes could have been intercepted by the Cards, and the chants for rookie backup Christian Ponder started early.
But with the Cardinals' offense unable to move the ball at all, a line-drive punt by fill-in Ben Graham gave the Vikings possession at the Arizona 18-yard line, where Adrian Peterson took over and the Vikings took off.
Peterson ran the ball in on three carries for a touchdown, and then, after Kolb was intercepted on a tipped pass on the very next snap, Peterson ran in a touchdown from 24 yards out. Kolb was sacked and lost a fumble two plays later, setting up a drive of a mere 25 yards and a McNabb four-yard touchdown run.
As an exclamation point, the Vikings had a "real" drive of 73 yards after the following Arizona punt, capped by a Peterson 14-yard touchdown run through a gaping hole and running over cornerback Patrick Peterson into the end zone.
It was 28-0 with 2:41 left in the first quarter, and while the Cardinals (1-4) briefly brought a scare into the fan base with a Beanie Wells touchdown that cut the lead to 28-10 in the third quarter – the Vikings had blown three significant halftime leads already this season – brief was all it was.
There were moments that could have changed things. Kolb missed wide-open rookie tight end Rob Housler for what should have been a touchdown in the second quarter, which would have cut the lead to 28-10. Kolb took a 17-yard sack on the next play to knock the Cards out of field-goal range.
In the second half, a touchdown pass to Early Doucet was negated on a penalty by tackle Jeremy Bridges, and the Cards – forced to go for it on fourth down trailing by so much – didn't get points there either.
Whisenhunt lamented more than the offense. The defense didn't tackle well early. Dropping the near-interceptions before Minnesota scored could have changed things too.
"That (start) took the air out of us a little bit," said cornerback A.J. Jefferson, who could have had one of the turnovers.
Peterson ended up with 122 yards on 29 carries. It will undoubtedly bother the Cards that it wouldn't have taken much more to slow the Vikings; McNabb wasn't good (10-for-21, 169 yards), but then, he didn't need to be.
Kolb finished 21-of-42 for 232 yards and two interceptions before Richard Bartel relieved him on the final possession. Fitzgerald was held down – four catches for 66 yards – while the Cards were forced to look Early Doucet's way often (eight catches for 92 yards on 16 targets).
"I think everyone needs to clear their minds," Kolb said, adding, "you won't find non-belief in this locker room."
That may be true, but that doesn't change Sunday's result, or the fact the Cards are fighting uphill just five games into the season.
"This is not a good way to go into the bye," Fitzgerald said. "The plays are there to be made. It's human error."