The Browns went into Minnesota with questions surrounding where the franchise was going in the wake of the Trent Richardson trade while the Vikings were just trying to get a win and start gaining some momentum. In a game that featured a good amount of tough defense, it also ended up with some big risks taken by the Browns that paid off and an unlikely impact player for the Vikings in Christian Ponder, but not with his arm as much as it was with his legs.
The Vikings started the game with a good script and went down the field on an 11 play, 80 yard drive for a touchdown and put them up 7-0. Everything was all set for the Browns to roll over and die after they had a quick three and out where they only gained one yard. They did not. After a three and out stop by the Browns defense, they scored on their next four consecutive drives. Josh Gordon was a huge spark for the Browns offense and had 99 total yards and a touchdown just in the first quarter. Brian Hoyer was able to take advantage and make some nice plays early on that resulted in some points. He threw touchdowns first to Gordon and then to Jordan Cameron on the second touchdown in the corner of the end zone.
The Browns went all-out on special teams and it was a huge part of how they scored their third touchdown. On fourth-and-two, the Browns had Josh Aubrey run a fake punt up the middle that resulted in a big play and extending the drive. The Vikings held up later on the drive and forced the Browns to try a field goal attempt, but the Browns managed to have Cameron on the right side all alone and forgotten by the Vikings defense and Spencer Lanning, the Browns holder and punter get up and throw a touchdown to Cameron, completely catching the Vikings by surprise.
Adrian Peterson was able to rack up a total of 115 total yards, 88 on the ground and the first touchdown, but he also lost a fumble caused by D’Qwell Jackson. Early on, Ponder was able to make some passes to move the football down the field including a great catch by rookie wide receiver and first round pick Cordarrelle Patterson with Buster Skrine blanketing him. Ponder’s legs ultimately became a huge X-factor in this game as he scored their second touchdown on a quarterback draw called by Bill Musgrave the Browns defense was not in position to defend.
Ponder continued to make plays with his legs both running the ball (5 carries for 46 yards and 2 touchdowns in all) and extending passing plays as the Vikings defense started having a great deal of success against the Browns in the form of three Hoyer interceptions by Harrison Smith, Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson deep in Browns territory after pressure clipped Hoyer’s arm into a quasi-punt that Henderson caught. Ponder again capitalized with another rushing touchdown.
The Browns was able to gain momentum and really harass Ponder with their blitz packages including 5 sacks and a strip sack from Jabaal Sheard moments before the half which Craig Robertson recovered. Sheard would later leave the game with a knee injury which resulted in Barkevious Mingo entering the game. Mingo was able to secure his second sack in as many games while causing another sack that went to Billy Winn. John Hughes and Phil Taylor were also able to notch sacks for the Browns defense.
The Vikings countered with some roll outs and continuing to take advantage of the legs of Ponder while taking advantage of Browns turnovers to come back from a 24-17 halftime deficit and take the lead, 27-24. Although the Browns still found ways to get the ball to Gordon, the Vikings defense really worked to clamp down on the Browns offense and shut down the Browns offense and hold them scoreless in the second half. Their run defense in particular was strong as the Browns were able to cobble together over 100 yards on the ground, but 56 of those yards were accounted for between Aubrey’s run on the fake punt and an end-around to Josh Gordon.
The fourth quarter came down to a force of wills on defense and both offenses struggled to move the football and gave away opportunities. The defenses really clamped down and held the offenses in check. The Vikings scored a field goal early to take the lead. Brian Hoyer and the Browns offense was able to put together one final scoring drive, primarily throwing to Gordon that came down to the last minute. In all, Hoyer threw the ball to Gordon 19 total times with Gordon catching 10 for 146 yards and a touchdown along with 22 on the ground. With 47 seconds to go, Hoyer found Cameron in the end zone to take a 31-27 lead. Due to a pulled muscle, Billy Cundiff, the kicker, held the extra point for Spencer Lanning, the punter. Lanning had actually had experience in preseason kicking due to a similar circumstance with then kicker Shayne Graham. Lanning made the extra point and forced the Vikings to try to make a final desperate drive to the end zone.
On the last drive of the game, Ponder was able to lead the Vikings down the field, but a pair of ill-advised throws in the middle of the field served to eat up a large amount of clock and cost them their final time out. With 10 seconds to go, Ponder went ahead and took a shot to the end zone that was knocked down after Jerome Simpson got his hands on it, momentarily. The Viking still had 4 seconds left and one final snap. After the Browns took a time out to set their defense, Ponder moved up into the pocket where Desmond Bryant wrapped him up and made the Browns’ sixth sack to end the game. The Browns won 31-27, the first of both Hoyer’s and Rob Chudzinski’s careers as starting quarterback and head coach respectively. The Vikings fall to 0-3.