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Updated: December 4th, 2011 3:24pm
Ponder's late miscue helps Broncos rally for victory over Vikings

Ponder's late miscue helps Broncos rally for victory over Vikings

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -Andre Goodman intercepted a Christian Ponder pass with just over a minute remaining to set up Matt Prater's 23-yard field goal with two seconds left in the fourth quarter Sunday and the Denver Broncos rallied for a 35-32 victory over the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome. 

The loss was the Vikings' fourth in a row and dropped them to 2-10 on the season. The Broncos improved to 7-5 and have won six in a row. Quarterback Tim Tebow improved to 6-1 as the team's starter.

Denver rallied from an eight-point deficit twice in the second half. The Vikings defense held the Broncos to 48 yards of offense in the first half, including 35 rushing and 13 passing. In the second half, the Broncos generated 288 yards of offense, with 173 coming through the air.

"Obviously there's glaring issues that have to be corrected," Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said. "You see even when we're playing terrible we're in this thing until the end.

"That was probably one of the worst second halves we could have played and we're in it right to the end. It comes down to fundamental things. We've got to tackle, people got to be in their gaps, we can't turn the ball over and we've got to create turnovers."

Ponder threw for a season-high and Vikings rookie record 381 yards, completing 29 of 47 passes with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Tebow completed 10 of 15 passes for 202 yards and two scores.

The skinny

The Broncos made halftime adjustments that worked to perfection on their opening drive of the third quarter.

Tim Tebow found Eric Decker for a 17-yard gain on first down and then the Broncos run game began to go after the Vikings defensive tackles. Willis McGahee gained 11, 14 and 9 yards on consecutive carries.

Facing a third-and-9 from the Vikings 21, Tebow spotted a wide open Demariyus Thomas in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown to pull the Broncos within one point.

The Vikings responded as Ponder directed a six-play, 85-yard drive that ended with a 52-yard touchdown pass to Percy Harvin. Harvin was able to get a shove on Broncos cornerback Chris Harris that knocked him down coming off the line of scrimmage.

Harvin caught the pass and raced toward the end zone getting a nice block from wide receiver Devin Aromashodu that tied up corner Andre Goodman. The Vikings appeared to have some breathing room with a 22-14 lead but that didn't last long.

Quan Cosby had a 63-yard kickoff return to put the ball at the Vikings 41 and on first down Tebow made something out of nothing.

Scrambling to his right, linebacker Erin Henderson had the quarterback forced to the sideline. But Tebow looked back at the last second and saw Thomas wide open. He caught the ball at the 27 and made it over the goal line with at least one Viking trying to tackle him.

Harvin got his second touchdown of the game to make it 29-21 with 9:41 left in the fourth quarter when he caught a short Ponder pass at the Broncos 47. Harvin did all the work as he went down the far sideline, cut around safety Kyle McCarthy with a nifty move around the 34 and went in for the score.

Denver was far from done.

In typical Tebow-like fashion, the Broncos came right back and Tebow again found Thomas for a 42-yard gain to the Vikings 24. McGahee did the rest of the work on the next play for a touchdown and the Broncos tied as Tebow scored on a 2-point conversion.

The Vikings and Broncos then exchanged field goals with Ryan Longwell hitting from 39 yards out with 3:06 left and Prater making one from 46 yards with 1:33 remaining. The Prater field goal was set up by Tebow's 40-yard pass to Thomas that put the ball on the Vikings 28.

After Vikings' opening drive of the game stalled at their 48, Chris Kluwe launched a punt with enough back spin that it went dead at the 1-yard line and was downed by Eric Frampton.

The Vikings capitalized on this when McGahee was handed the ball in his own end zone on first down and was almost immediately hit by Jared Allen for a safety.

The Vikings got the ball at their own 35 off the Broncos' free kick. An 18-yard pass from Ponder to Harvin and a pass interference penalty on linebacker D.J. Williams against Kyle Rudolph helped the Vikings get a first-and-goal at the Denver 9-yard line.

On third-and-goal from the Broncos 8, Ponder dropped back to pass and lost the ball when he was hit by safety Brian Dawkins. Defensive end Jason Hunter recovered the ball while on his feet and got to midfield before he was tackled by Phil Loadholt.

The Broncos went three-and-out but that didn't stop them from getting points shortly thereafter.

Ponder's pass on second-and-8 from his own 9 for Devin Aromashodu was telegraphed enough that linebacker Mario Haggan jumped in front of the ball and returned it 16 yards for a touchdown and a 7-2 Broncos lead.

The Vikings pulled within two points on Ryan Longwell's 40-yard field goal with 1:24 left in the opening quarter. The Vikings started their drive at the Broncos 36 after McGahee fumbled on a first-down carry and safety Jamarca Sanford recovered.

McGahee initially was ruled down but the Vikings challenged and referee Terry McAulay overturned the original call.

The Vikings regained the lead with 3:33 remaining in the half as Ponder found Rudolph on a 19-yard connection on which the rookie tight end made a nice catch over Quinton Carter even though the safety was interfering with Rudolph.

The Vikings started the drive at their 5. Ponder had completions of 20, 13 and 18 yards to Aromashodu, with the latter two coming on third down. Toby Gerhart also had a 16-yard run on second-and-10 to put the ball at the Denver 19.

Longwell gave the Vikings a 15-7 lead with a 25-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter. That was set up by a Tebow fumble that came as he was trying to scramble away from Allen and lost the ball as he hit the ground at his own 21. Allen also recovered the ball.

Turning point

Goodman's interception of Ponder with just over a minute left set up the Broncos to get the victory.

Numbers game

4: Career safeties forced by Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, tying an NFL record held by Ted Hendricks and Doug English.

14.5: Allen becomes the first Viking to post that many sacks in a season three-plus times. Carl Eller had 15 sacks in 1969 and 1977 and Chris Doleman had 14.5 in 1992 and 21 in 1989.

13: Career forced fumbles by Cedric Griffin, second all-time by a Vikings defensive back. Joey Browner had 18 from 1983 to 1991.

277: Fran Tarkenton's record for most passing yards in a game by a Vikings rookie, a mark set against San Francisco in November 1961. Ponder broke that mark on Sunday.

Health watch

Defensive end Brian Robison suffered concussion-like symptoms early in the third quarter and did not return.

Running back Adrian Peterson (high ankle sprain) and cornerback Asher Allen (shoulder) were inactive Sunday. It was the second consecutive game Peterson has missed. He was replaced by Toby Gerhart as the starter.

Cornerback Asher Allen also was inactive after injuring his shoulder last Sunday at Atlanta. Benny Sapp got the start in his place.

Wide receiver Percy Harvin missed practice Friday because of an illness but was active for Sunday's game.

Right guard Antony Herrera returned after missing four games because of a knee injury.

Odds and ends

Joe Webb started the game for the Vikings at wide receiver and then on second down was used at quarterback as Ponder split out wide left. Webb completed an 8-yard pass to Harvin and the Vikings got an additional 15 yards as Denver was called for a roughing penalty on Webb. Webb caught a third-quarter pass but was called for pass interference because he pushed off Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey.

The Vikings healthy inactives included cornerback Chris Cook; safety Andrew Sendejo; offensive linemen Brandon Fusco and DeMarcus Love; and defensive end D'Aundre Reed.

Marcus Sherels returned the opening kickoff for the Vikings.

Rookie Brandon Burton, a fifth-round pick, saw extensive time at the left corner position, with Sapp playing inside in the nickel package.

SCORING PLAYS

First Quarter

Denver: Willis McGahee tackled in end zone by Jared Allen for safety, 12:39. Vikings 2, Broncos 0

Denver: Mario Haggan 16-yard interception return of Christian Ponder pass, 5:42. Broncos 7, Vikings 2

Vikings: Ryan Longwell 40-yard field goal, 1:24. Drive: Six plays, 14 yards, 2:21. Broncos 7, Vikings 5

Second quarter

Vikings: Kyle Rudolph 19-yard pass from Ponder, 3:33. Longwell kick. Drive: 12-96-5:57. Vikings 12, Broncos 7

Vikings: Longwell 25-yard field goal, 0:00. Drive: 4-15-0:39. Vikings 15, Broncos 7

Third quarter

Denver: Demaryius Thomas 21-yard pass from Tim Tebow, 11:18. Matt Prater kick. Drive: 9-78-3:42. Vikings 15, Broncos 14

Vikings: Percy Harvin 52-yard pass from Ponder, 3:12. Longwell kick. Drive: 6-85-3:23. Vikings 22, Broncos 14

Denver: Thomas 41-yard pass from Tebow, 2:48. Prater kick. Drive: 1-41-0:24. Vikings 22, Broncos 21

Fourth Quarter

Vikings: Harvin 48-yard pass from Ponder, 9:41. Longwell kick. Drive: 4-77-1:36. Vikings 29, Broncos 21

Denver: McGahee 24-yard run, 8:52. Tebow 2-point conversion. Drive: 2-66-0:49. Vikings 29, Broncos 29

Vikings: Longwell 39-yard field goal, 3:06. Drive: 13-59-5:46. Vikings 32, Broncos 29

Denver: Prater 46-yard field goal, 1:33. Drive: 7-52-1:33. Vikings 32, Broncos 32

Denver: Prater 23-yard field goal, 0:00. Drive: 6-10-1:25. Broncos 35, Vikings 32

Coming up

The Vikings will play the Detroit Lions next Sunday at Ford Field.

The Lions rallied for a 26-23 overtime victory over the Vikings in Week 3 at the Metrodome. The Lions trailed 20-0 at halftime but outscored the Vikings 23-3 in the second half.

The Vikings lead the all-time series 66-32-2 but have lost two in a row to the Lions.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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