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Updated: October 26th, 2012 1:56am
Pelissero: Vikings must 'stand up and be men' after beating from Bucs

Pelissero: Vikings must 'stand up and be men' after beating from Bucs

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- No one was going to come out and say it, but this matchup, this situation scared the Minnesota Vikings to death.

The talented Tampa Bay Buccaneers could stop the run, had a balanced offense and desperately needed a victory after dropping four of their first six by 22 points combined.

They had to travel some 1,500 miles on a short week, sure. But the Bucs were aggressors from the start in the raucous Metrodome on Thursday night, pounding the Vikings into exactly the type of game they can't afford to play, no matter the opponent.

"There's going to be times where the offense is going to have to be in a shootout and they're going to have to bail us out," Vikings end Jared Allen said after the 36-17 thrashing was complete.

"We were in one of these games where we had to bail them out, and we didn't. Bottom line, we got whooped top to bottom."

Instead of heading into a 10-day break with their first half a resounding success at 6-2, they're 5-3 and seemingly have seen all their luck run out at once.

They lost the game, their perfect home record and cornerback Chris Cook indefinitely with a broken wrist -- the first injury for a team that has yet to see its depth truly tested.

The Vikings play five of their last eight games on the road and still haven't faced division favorites Chicago and Green Bay.

"This set up perfectly for us to put an exclamation point on these first eight and have some days before Seattle and try to eek out a tough one on the road," Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway said.

"Now, it definitely changes your mentality. Guys have got to stand up and say, 'We've got to play our asses off in the second half if we want a chance.' We've got a lot of road games and we've got to stand up and be men about it and go play."

Questions about their ability to throw the football are louder than ever now, too, although this one qualifies as a true team defeat.

The Vikings committed three turnovers, including fumbles by Jerome Simpson and Adrian Peterson that led to 10 points as the Bucs built a 20-7 lead late in the first quarter.

Tampa ran for 159 yards on 41 carries, including Doug Martin's 41-yarder that portended a long evening of faulty gap control and lousy tackling.

Josh Freeman threw for 262 yards on 19-of-36 passing -- none bigger than the screen Martin turned into a 64-yard score to make it a 27-10 game early in the third quarter.

That forced a catch-up game on a Vikings offense that relies on running the football to set up the play-action pass and control the clock.

Peterson broke loose for a 64-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 30-17. But the offense went three-and-out on its next two possessions, allowing Freeman to ice the game by leading a 16-play, 87-yard marathon that included five straight third-down conversions.

"The bottom line is they did a good job of pretty much beating our brains in," end Brian Robison said. "With lack of a better way to explain, they just came out and they outplayed us."

It didn't help the Vikings' air attack looked more inept than ever against a Tampa defense that entered the game 31st against the pass and hadn't recorded a sack since September.

Christian Ponder was just 10-of-22 passing (45.5%) for 134 yards before Tampa went into a prevent defense in the fourth quarter.

He threw an 18-yard touchdown pass on a corner route to Percy Harvin but also took three sacks against a blitz scheme designed to test the Vikings' protection unit in one-on-ones and threw an interception in the final minute.

"When you have the momentum on your side, you have to seize that opportunity and we didn't," Ponder said. "It's frustrating, and it's frustrating for an offense to perform the whole time, the whole game, the way we did."

Even with production in two garbage-time drives, the offense finished with deficits in first downs (23-16), net yards (416-369) and time of possession (37:45-22:15).

Harvin was livid on the sideline after a shotgun snap hit the Ponder in the shin to thwart one third down. Frustration appeared to boil over after several defensive plays, too.

And the closest the Vikings came to forcing a turnover was a muffed punt Bucs return man Roscoe Parrish dived on himself.

"We tried to mix it up, and we knew once they were running the ball a lot, we were trying to get someone in the box to stop the run," Greenway said. "But that's playing with fire with the guys they have outside, because of their ability.

"They had a good scheme and they played better than us. That's not going to get you many wins in the NFL when you play like that."

Now the Vikings have 10 days to stew over everything that went wrong, even if it doesn't erase their surprising success in so many phases through the season's first seven weeks.

They visit the Seahawks on Nov. 4 and host Detroit a week later before heading into their actual bye. Then come four games against the Packers and Bears, plus visits to St. Louis and perhaps the AFC's best team in Houston.

"I didn't do a good job preparing our guys for a game like this," coach Leslie Frazier said. "We did not play well. It's extremely obvious. Have to learn from it."

Allen suggested some players had watched too much TV, heard too much about the success of home teams in Thursday games and looked ahead to their weekend off.

Other players dismissed the notion the Vikings weren't ready to match the Bucs emotionally -- "I thought we were ready to go," Greenway said, "I really did" -- and insisted nothing that happened is uncorrectable.

The crowd and the sideline came to life after an altercation with Bucs left tackle Donald Penn gave Allen a bloody gash on his nose, moments before Allen exploded for a third-down sack. But that was the only time the Vikings' rush got to Freeman and the offense promptly punted the ball back.

"It happens in the NFL," Sullivan said. "The big thing is don't get down on yourselves -- bounce back from it. Just look at it from an unemotional, cold standpoint. There are things to correct on tape.

"We'll go in (Friday), we'll see those, we'll correct them next week in practice and we'll go put on a better performance against Seattle. There's no reason to cry over it."

No, but the Vikings have seen enough go wrong the past three weeks they know things need to be fixed before they board the plane to Seattle.

Coaches who saw the possibility of this wreck coming no doubt will spend the next three days in an intensive self-scout before players returned to the field on Monday afternoon.

"There's two ways this goes," Allen said. "You either let this put you in a pit, or you eat it, you own it, you realize what your mistakes were, you fix it and you go back to work."

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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