MINNEAPOLIS Jared Allen stood near his locker, a nasty gash across his nose from having his helmet pushed off during Thursday's game, looking every bit like he took the full brunt of a punishing fight.
Allen talked about a complete defensive letdown the likes of which Minnesota hadn't had this season. He gave credit to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for Thursday's 36-17 win and setting the tone by running the ball at the Vikings' once-proud run-defense.
"Hats off to them, they came in here and kicked our butts," Allen said. "Just top to bottom, I don't know if we overlooked them or not, but it's an embarrassing game for us."
Minnesota's defense, which keyed the team's surprising start, had been shredded by little-known rookie running back Doug Martin. Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman hit just enough big passes, especially on third downs, to leave the Vikings (5-3) scratching their heads for answers into a long break following the Thursday night game, the only scheduled national TV appearance for them this season.
The Buccaneers, who had two of the top-10 offensive-yardage performances in team history the past two weeks, added 416 yards against Minnesota's ninth-ranked defense, the most yards allowed by the Vikings this season. Minnesota entered Thursday allowing 319.7 yards-per-game and 18.3 points-per-game.
Martin, the 5-foot-9, 215-pound rookie back selected in the first round in April, was the one doling out the punishment Thursday with 29 carries for 135 yards and added an explosive 64-yard touchdown catch on a screen pass. The Vikings, who were once ranked in the top five in run-defense, have allowed Martin and Arizona's LaRod Stephens-Howling to each surpass 100 yards rushing in back-to-back games and left defenders on the ground from missed tackle after missed tackle. The Buccaneers (3-4) ran for 159 total yards Thursday.
"These little backs are killing us," Minnesota defensive end Brian Robison said. "I mean, short stature, I don't know if guys are trying to tackle high and getting stiff-armed or what it is. We have to look at the film obviously. Last two weeks is not where we want to be in the run game, not where we've been this year, just not pretty, not pretty football at all."
The inability to corral Martin kept Allen and Robison from doing what they do best get after the quarterback. And Freeman was calm in the pocket, finishing 19 of 36 for 262 yards and three touchdowns. He was sacked once and was on point as Tampa Bay finished off Minnesota with a 16-play, 87-yard drive that ended in a 1-yard touchdown run for Martin with just over seven minutes left in the game.
Freeman was 4 of 5 on the drive, connecting on all of his four third-down passes as the Buccaneers were 5 of 5 on third-downs.
Road teams were the ones that had struggled on Thursday nights this season.
Minnesota was the lethargic team this Thursday. This wasn't the physical, aggressive Vikings' defense that led the team to a three-game winning streak earlier this season when Minnesota tackled everything in sight and played its own punishing brand of defensive football. Instead, the Vikings came out of Thursday bloodied and overwhelmed.
"Bottom line is they did a good job of pretty much beating our brains in," Robison said.
The Vikings' defense was put in bad spots early on Thursday as Tampa Bay's first three-scoring drives all started from the Buccaneers 42-yard line or in Vikings' territory following two poor punts and a turnover.
Allen, the defensive star, tried to resurrect Minnesota late in the third quarter. After an altercation with Tampa Bay left tackle Donald Penn that left Allen bloodied and fired up, Allen followed through with a sack and the Metrodome was as loud as it's been since 2009. Unfortunately for the Vikings, the emotion and motivation didn't come three quarters earlier.
And after Allen's sack, which was his seventh in six games, Minnesota's offense ended up with yet another three-and-out, sapping the energy out of the home crowd.
"You think, 'Alright, here we go. We got some momentum on our side,' " Allen said. "And then something happens. Credit them. They weathered our storms."
Now the Vikings try to weather their biggest storm of the season, losses in two of the last three weeks, surrendering the most yardage and second-most points all season with four extra days to think about Thursday's loss.
"It's just bad fundamental football from top to bottom," Allen said. "There's not one person that's responsible for this. Everybody will own it, get better, tighten the ship up and we'll get back to work."
Said linebacker Chad Greenway: "You can't panic."
But you sure can wonder which Vikings team will show up on Nov. 4 when it travels to Seattle the tough, defensive-led squad that racked up three quality wins earlier this season, or the team that hasn't been able to gain rhythm, offensively or defensively, in the past three weeks.
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