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Updated: September 9th, 2012 7:17pm
Pelissero: Vikings know they can't overcome so many errors every week

Pelissero: Vikings know they can't overcome so many errors every week

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- Chris Cook never got his head around to see the football.

The Minnesota Vikings were playing three-deep coverage, leaving Cook one-on-one against Jacksonville receiver Cecil Shorts III, and he looked the wrong way as Blaine Gabbert's throw drifted to Shorts' outside shoulder.

Shorts contorted his body and hauled in the ball before careening over the pylon for a 39-yard touchdown reception with 20 seconds ago, hushing the partisan crowd and appearing to seal the type of defeat the Vikings talked all offseason about avoiding.

"I said, 'Man, this shouldn't be happening,'" Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "It just should not happen."

Then, Josh Scobee's poor kickoff allowed up-man Matt Asiata to reach the 31-yard line. Devin Aromashodu ran free through the Jaguars' Cover-2 for a 26-yard reception. Kyle Rudolph ran a little out route for 6 more to set up Blair Walsh's tying 55-yard field goal.

And in overtime, it was the Vikings who drove 55 yards in eight plays for a go-ahead field goal, then got the four-and-out stand they needed for an improbable 26-23 victory in Sunday's season opener -- one they had approached all week as a must-win.

"Coach Frazier's two words are to execute and finish," quarterback Christian Ponder said. "It was a fourth-quarter football game into overtime, but we finished. We finished in the right way and on top."

Make no mistake: this wasn't the way the Vikings intended to erase the memory of last season's 0-4 start, which included four of their nine losses by seven points or fewer and an overtime defeat against Detroit by the same score on the same Metrodome field.

Too many moments looked like something out of the 2011 playbook, from sloppy defense on the Jaguars' endless opening drive to the offense's stagnant effort for the first 27½ minutes to a Ponder fumble deep in his own territory to puzzling red-zone sequences to Cook's lack of awareness on the deep ball that could have put the game away.

"It was like a snapshot of our whole last season, especially the first four weeks," linebacker Chad Greenway said.

"And honestly, we can't put ourselves in (that position). We get the win, and that's great and we're all happy. But you look at it realistically and you can't do it. If you do it again next week, it's proven over time you're not going to win a lot of those."

There were positive signs, though -- most important, that one of the NFL's youngest teams bounced back again and again to beat a 3½-point underdog it was supposed to.

Booed by the announced crowd of 56,607 as the Vikings' first four drives netted only 58 yards and two first downs, Ponder completed 17 of his last 20 passes and finished 20-of-27 for 270 yards and a 105.5 rating.

That included the seam route to two completions that got the Vikings into field-goal range late in regulation, as well as a 17-yard strike to Aromashodu on the first drive of overtime to set up rookie Blair Walsh's 38-yard winner.

"It starts with me, and I didn't play that well (early), to be honest with you," Ponder said. "I don't know why, but then I changed my attitude about the game and decided that I needed to pick it up and create a sense of urgency -- get out of the huddle and start letting the ball go."

Percy Harvin was typically dynamic, shifting in and out of the backfield and amassing 104 yards on 11 touches.

Adrian Peterson not only played eight months and change after left knee reconstruction, but ran 17 times for 84 yards (4.9 average) and a pair of touchdowns.

Rudolph had 67 yards on five catches, including a 29-yarder that set up another score -- a 20-yard Walsh field goal that gave the Vikings a 17-12 lead early in the fourth quarter.

The teams exchanged field goals on their next two drives before the Vikings got a stop, forcing the Jaguars to punt for only the fourth time all day at the 2-minute warning.

Three consecutive run plays netted only 3 yards, though, giving the ball back to the Jaguars at their 24-yard line and setting the stage for Gabbert's strike to Shorts in the final minute of regulation.

"We were saying, 'We can't lose this one,'" Harvin said. "(Michael) Jenkins came in the huddle and said there's enough time."

Walsh hit one field goal to tie it, another for the lead, and the Vikings defense -- needing one more stop because of the NFL's new overtime rule -- halted Jacksonville in four plays, with rookie safety Harrison Smith making a diving pass break-up on third down and Gabbert inexplicably throwing deep into double coverage on fourth.

It all left the Jaguars answering questions about a collapse in their locker room while owner Zygi Wilf emerged from the Vikings' with a wide grin, wiping mock sweat from his brow, his team above .500 for the first time since the end of the 2009 season.

"We went 3-13 last year," end Brian Robison said, "but that was last year, and this is a new team and we're confident in the 2012 Minnesota Vikings. We got a win in Week 1 and did it in a fashion we wouldn't like to do it, but the bottom line is we got it (done)."

The Vikings know they can't get away with this every week. Most weeks, giving up a go-ahead touchdown with 20 seconds to go is going to mean defeat -- and most teams the Vikings will see this season will be better than the Jaguars, too.

But with everything the Vikings have been through the past two seasons, it's hard to blame them for enjoying this one before preparing for next week's trip to face with another bottom-feeder, Indianapolis, which lost its opener 41-21 on Sunday at Chicago.

"I think every week's going to be a test for us," Greenway said. "We'll just keep playing."

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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