Halftime: Vikings down 24-17 against new-look Browns
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings opened with a bang against the Cleveland Browns, converting on running back Adrian Peterson's fourth touchdown of the season to cap an 11-play, 80-yard drive for their third straight 7-0 start of the season.
But just like the last two games, the momentum died quickly against a Browns team that started a new quarterback, running back and got its star receiver back from suspension.
Third-string quarterback Brian Hoyer came out slinging, hitting receiver Josh Gordon for a 47-yard touchdown pass over cornerback A.J. Jefferson, who was in for an injured Chris Cook (groin). Cook's return was downgraded from probable to questionable in the second quarter.
Hoyer then got his second score on an impressive touch pass to tight end Jordan Cameron for 19 yards over safety Jamarca Sanford. Sanford's rough first half also included a missed tackle on a Gordon reverse that went for 22 yards.
After consecutive three-and-outs, quarterback Christian Ponder responded with a nine-play, 80-yard drive that he capped with a six-yard touchdown run off a shotgun, spread receiver set.
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave put a little flavoring into his otherwise vanilla gameplan, allowing Ponder to take downfield shots to rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson -- one converted for 37 yards on a back-shoulder throw down the sideline.
However, the issues fell onto the Vikings secondary and special teams.
The Vikings first put in Jefferson for Cook and ultimately switched to cornerback Marcus Sherels, their fifth cornerback on the depth chart. Sherels impressed with a few open-field tackles, one that saved a first down as Gordon fell inches short at midfield in the second quarter.
Regardless of the cornerback issues, the Vikings stayed in their nickel defense most of the half -- bringing out linebacker Desmond Bishop on a handful of occasions in base.
But special teams play came to bite the Vikings for the second week in a row after allowing Chicago Bears' return man Devin Hester to break his own yardage record with 249 in returns last week.
The Browns put 10 points on the board off of a fake punt that went for 34 yards and a fake field goal that went for a touchdown, Cameron's second of the day. It appeared safety Robert Blanton had missed a tackle on the fake punt and everyone looked duped on the fake field goal.
In their two previous losses, the Vikings' defense and special teams played the part of hero and goat at the same time -- scoring touchdowns and allowing them. Sunday was no different, at the Vikings recovered a muffed punt return, but coach Leslie Frazier gets flagged for unsportsmanlike after trying to challenge the play. You can't advance a muffed punt anyway, making the challenge even that more erroneous.
The 15-yard penalty all but ruined the Vikings chances at a touchdown and they converted on a 43-yard field goal to draw within 24-17. However, former NFL head of officiating Mike Pereira tweeted that Frazier shouldn't have been flagged, but instead had a timeout removed if available and it was.
Safety Harrison Smith grabbed his second interception of the season as Hoyer threw into coverage with a minute left in the first half. Ponder drove down the field, but came up empty after a sack-fumble ended the drive. The score stands at 24-17.