Notebook: Vikings' rookie DBs come up with huge interceptions in win
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MINNEAPOLIS -- After not scoring a touchdown in four seasons at Notre Dame, Harrison Smith apparently is making up for lost time in his rookie season with the Minnesota Vikings.
The free safety returned a third-quarter interception 56 yards for a touchdown on Sunday -- his second score this season -- in the Vikings' 21-14 victory over the Chicago Bears at the Metrodome.
It was one of two big plays by a Vikings rookie defensive back in the game.
The other came in the opening quarter, when cornerback Josh Robinson picked off a Jay Cutler pass at the Bears' 49-yard line and raced 44 yards to give the Vikings a first-and-goal from the Chicago 5. Three plays later, Adrian Peterson scored on a 1-yard run to give the Vikings an early 14-0 lead.
Robinson, who plays in the nickel defense, initially was credited with a touchdown but a review showed he stepped out of bounds at the 5.
"The fact that we've had to play a lot of young guys early, you hope that that's going to pay dividends in the month of December," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "I think it's beginning to show. We have some young guys that are playing a lot of football for us, first- and second-year guys, who are making a lot of plays for us.
"That's what you want to see at this time of the season. ... We actually talked about this (Saturday) night with some of our offensive players and others that you can't hide behind the fact that you're a rookie anymore. You (are) 12 games into the league now -- let's start playing like veterans in a lot of ways. We challenged some of our young guys last night to step it up and they did."
Smith, who was selected by the Vikings with the 29th pick in the first round of last April's draft, returned his first interception of the season 31 yards for a touchdown in an Oct. 21 victory over Arizona at the Metrodome.
"It might sound a little cocky, but every time I get my hands on the ball, I think I'm going to score," Smith said.
Smith's third-quarter pick -- his second interception in two games -- came on an overthrown pass over the middle by Cutler that was intended for wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
"I just saw the ball was overthrown and got my hands on it," Smith said. "From that point on, I just started running. There's not like there's any magic behind it. You just run and then just count on the blocks of the rest of the guys and they helped me out and got me into the end zone."
Robinson, a third-round selection by the Vikings, said his pick of a pass intended for wide receiver Alshon Jeffery came as the result of a good disguise by the defense that did not enable Cutler to know what the Vikings planned to do.
"I was able to step right in front of it and then the guys did a great job of blocking," Robinson said.
Robinson saw Jeffery fall on the play and was worried a penalty flag might be thrown.
"I thought they were going to call a penalty on it just because we were so close to each other," Robinson said. "But it all worked out well."
Admitting his mistakes
Robinson also was in coverage for the Bears' two touchdowns.
The first was a 23-yard reception by Jeffery on a Cutler pass in the second quarter and the second was a 16-yard catch by Marshall on a pass from Jason Campbell in the fourth quarter.
Robinson said he should have done a better job at the line of scrimmage to slow down Jeffery, "so he's not that quick on the safety."
As for the Marshall catch, Robinson said: "He's a big guy so anytime you get a guy like that he's going to just try to box you out and that's what he was able to do."
The 6-4, 230-pound Marshall finished with 10 catches for 160 yards and was the target of 19 passes on Sunday.
"You always want to try to disrupt a guy like him," said Robinson, who is 5-10, 199 pounds. "You don't want him going deep, full speed, so you want to try to slow him up at the line of scrimmage."
Marshall did have a few drops, including a key one on third-and-8 from the Bears' 37 in the third quarter on a play in which cornerback A.J. Jefferson came in late to help knock the ball out of Marshall's hands.
"We all let the team down," Marshall said. "I dropped that third down. I have to make that play. That was a momentum play. If we move the chains, the game is probably different. I have to do better. I let my teammates down (Sunday)."
Everson Griffen could be making out a check to the NFL for the second week in a row.
The Vikings defensive end was fined $15,750 last week for a late hit on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. On Sunday, Griffen was called for a helmet-to-helmet hit in the fourth quarter on Cutler.
Cutler remained on the turf after the hit and was replaced by Campbell on the Bears' finale series because he was dealing with neck stiffness.
It was a tough play for Griffen to avoid the hit because Cutler was under pressure and going to the ground as Griffen approached to try to complete the play. It was at that point their helmets collided.
"Jared (Allen) had him wrapped up and he was going down," to the ground, Griffen said of Cutler. "He had the ball like he was throwing the ball and I just went to hit him and wrapped him up and they called a helmet-to-helmet for some reason. It's weird when the quarterback is going to the ground. They call everything helmet-to-helmet. I just don't get it."
Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder hasn't taken many deep shots this season, but he took one in the second quarter Sunday, when he aired out a 45-yard pass to wide receiver Devin Aromashodu in the end zone.
The ball was well thrown and Aromashodu, with two defenders on him, failed to jump in an attempt to make the play. The ball fell to the ground incomplete.
"I kind of misjudged it a little bit and just wasn't able to haul it in," said Aromashodu, who played for the Bears from 2008 to 2010. "It happened so fast. I had a deep post route so I saw the safety leave the middle of the field so we knew it was going to be open.
"I kind of was looking at it, I was judging it. It was in the air for a little while. ... (The defensive back) kind of came in late. It's a play I definitely could have made. Just try to make it next time."
Ponder said the Vikings saw some things on film from the Bears defense that they thought they could take advantage of on that play.
"I knew we could probably only run it once and they would probably take it away the next time," Ponder said. "It was close and I wish we could have made it, but we had to keep stretching the field and keep putting pressure on the defense to cover down the field. Although it wasn't completed, I think it kind of woke them up so they had to play softer. I think their safeties did start playing higher and it kind of opened up the run game."
After catching 18 passes in the past three games, tight end Kyle Rudolph did not have a reception on Sunday and was the target of only two passes from Ponder.
It's been an odd season for Rudolph, who is second on the Vikings with 45 catches and leads the team with eight touchdown receptions, but has now gone three games this year with no catches.
Asked about being shut out Sunday, Rudolph said: "That's something you have to ask Coach Musgrave about."
That would be offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.
Rudolph, who clearly was frustrated, said, "I definitely want to contribute. I practice all week to contribute. I love to do everything I can to contribute."
Frazier said the Vikings wanted to get the ball in Rudolph's hands, although it did not happen.
"It wasn't like we weren't looking for him," Frazier said. "They did a good job of covering him. Kyle's been a big part of our pass offense throughout the season and we won today without him having any catches. If you had told me that would be the case, I would have said, 'That's not going to happen because we're going to target him and he's going to have catches.'"
The boss speaks
Vikings owner Zygi Wilf addressed the team on Friday, according to Frazier.
So, what was Wilf's message?
"He just came in and expressed his desire and his passion that he has for this team," running back Adrian Peterson said. "Just, 'I'm here to back you guys up through thick and thin. We've been through a lot, taking a shot with Percy (Harvin) going down (because of a sprained ankle) and not being with this team for the remainder of the season.' The guys responded in a positive way."
• Vikings left guard Charlie Johnson appeared to be hobbling to the sideline after injuring his left ankle in the second quarter Sunday, but when the veteran realized the bench wasn't aware he was trying to come out, Johnson stayed in the game. "I was just going to go get (it taped) up really quick," Johnson said. "I just twisted it a little bit. I don't think anybody saw it." Johnson said playing with an ankle issue is more "annoying than anything," for a lineman. Johnson said he doesn't expect the ankle to be a problem going forward.
• Vikings right tackle Phil Loadholt was called for three false start penalties Sunday. "That's just on me," Loadholt said. "It's a lack of focus. We can't afford to do that. It puts the offense in bad situations, puts the quarterback in a bad position. It's just a lack of focus on me and luckily we were able to overcome those today."
• Bears kicker Robbie Gould suffered a left calf strain in pregame warm-ups and did not handle kickoff duties. Instead, punter Adam Podlesh was used to kickoff. Gould did kick both extra points for the Bears but did not attempt a field goal. Late in the first quarter, the Bears sent Podlesh out to punt on fourth-and-14 from the Vikings' 40, meaning it would have been a 53-yard field-goal attempt.
• The Vikings' victory ended a streak of six consecutive losses to the Bears that dated to the second meeting of the 2009 season. Frazier, who played for the Bears, was 0-4 as a head coach against his former team before Sunday. "I know this is huge for Coach Frazier," Ponder said. "I don't think he'll ever admit it, but for him to beat his old team is huge."