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Updated: November 28th, 2010 5:56pm
Notebook: Toby Gerhart hangs onto ball, keeps Vikings on track in win

Notebook: Toby Gerhart hangs onto ball, keeps Vikings on track in win

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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LANDOVER, Md. -- Toby Gerhart finally got a chance to shoulder the load for the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, and the rookie halfback didn't disappoint.

Replacing injured All-Pro Adrian Peterson in the second quarter, Gerhart rushed 22 times for 76 yards -- nearly doubling his totals from the rest of the season -- and scored his first career touchdown in Sunday's 17-13 win over the Washington Redskins.

"It's definitely been a while -- like a year now," said Gerhart, who averaged 26.4 carries a game as a Stanford University senior in 2009.

"I felt like I was getting a rhythm, getting stronger. The more carries I got, the better feel I got for the game."

Gerhart didn't have a run longer than 6 yards, leaving him with an uninspiring 3.5-yard average on par with his output through his first nine NFL games (24 carries, 86 yards, 3.6 average). His first crucial carry was inauspicious, too, as the Redskins dropped him for no gain on third-and-1 shortly after Peterson departed.

But Gerhart gained at least 4 yards on 13 of his rushes (59.1%), carried Washington linebacker Rocky McIntosh into the end zone for his first career touchdown on a misdirection dive play and didn't fumble one week after a costly turnover in a blowout loss to Green Bay.

"The big thing this week was let go of the past," Gerhart said. "Move forward, focus completely on Washington. Yeah, I put one on the ground last week, but I was making sure all week in practice that wasn't going to happen (again). I made sure I protected it."

Gerhart also caught two passes for 5 yards and played through a shoulder stinger that left him temporarily unable to move one of his arms. He returned on the next series, avoiding an ugly situation on a day the Vikings had No. 3 halfback Albert Young inactive.

Depending on the extent of Peterson's injury -- he hasn't missed a game since his rookie season in 2007 -- Gerhart could be in line for expanded action again next weekend against Buffalo.

"Is Toby an explosive player like Adrian? I don't think anyone is," quarterback Brett Favre said. "But I think he's pretty darn good and reliable, consistent, and now he'll -- I don't know how bad Adrian's injury is, but he'll get more reps, and I thought he did a very good job for us."

Keep on running

Despite the loss of Peterson, the Vikings finished with 38 rushes and only 23 pass attempts, plus two sacks.

The score was one factor -- the Vikings trailed for only 3 minutes, 46 seconds after Redskins tight end Fred Davis' touchdown on the opening series and never relinquished the lead after Gerhart's score with 9:48 left in the third. But players said the run-heavy attack was part of interim coach Leslie Frazier's plan in his debut.

"Yeah, that was the mentality," Peterson said. "That was one thing we focused on during the week. We were going to establish the run game and get the run game going and we were able to do that."

Rice's workload

Receiver Sidney Rice, who is coming off hip surgery, once again played the whole game but finished with only one catch for 20 yards.

The other three passes in his direction weren't close, suggesting he's still not close to regaining his timing with Favre.

"I'm still working myself back in there and I'm going to continue to do everything I can to help this football team win," Rice said.

Percy Harvin had five of eight catches by the receivers -- none longer than 9 yards -- on a day Bernard Berrian was sidelined by the groin injury that's bothered him for weeks.

"We had an idea Friday (that Berrian would be out) and then on Saturday, just went through some things with our trainer," Frazier said. "Just felt it would be better to give him another week to try to get ready."

Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe led the Vikings with 54 yards on his three catches.

Bringing the blitz

In their first game under the direction of linebackers coach Fred Pagac, the Vikings defense sent an array of blitzes while sacking Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb four times and hitting him several more.

But Frazier said it wasn't because Pagac had added some pages to the defensive playbook.

"It's the same ones we've used -- I probably just didn't call them," Frazier said. "Fred called some of those pressures that I haven't been calling, which is good."

Jared Allen, Letroy Guion and Brian Robison each had a sack. So did middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, who came free inside on a six-man pressure and took down McNabb to end the first half.

"The sack before the half, those are things we've done before," Frazier said, "but just a great job by he and our defensive staff, putting our guys in position to make plays."

Quick hits

• It took 11 games, but the Vikings finally scored a touchdown on their first offensive possession. TE Jeff Dugan converted a running play on third-and-1 -- his first carry all season -- and Peterson had 52 combined yards, including a 34-yard gain on a screen and a 5-yard touchdown to cap the seven-play, 71-yard drive. The Vikings went back to Dugan on the same play later and he was stopped for no gain.

• Henderson had an interception off a dropped pass by WR Santana Moss, increasing his season total to a career-high three.

• With rookie cornerback Chris Cook sidelined, Asher Allen returned to the starting lineup, with Frank Walker and Lito Sheppard splitting time in the nickel defense.

• Former Vikings WR Cris Carter is among 26 semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the league announced. The Hall of Fame selection committee will narrow the field to 15 finalists, with final voting the day before the Super Bowl.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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