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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Vikings Defense May Be Gelling; Vikings Over Ravens 30-7 -- NFL.com

One year after the great makeover, the Vikings defense may be comings together at the right time -- before the regular season

Vikings shut down Ravens 30-7

NFL.com wire reports

MINNEAPOLIS (Aug. 26, 2006) -- Fred Smoot turned a fast move on Steve McNair's pass into six points. The Baltimore Ravens weren't nearly that sharp.

Smoot highlighted a big night by Minnesota's defense with a 69-yard interception return for a touchdown as the Vikings blanked Baltimore's first-team offense and beat the Ravens 30-7.

"We're just playing team ball. It's not a hero defense. Everybody's making plays, not just one person," said Smoot, who forced one of four Ravens turnovers. He bruised his ribs trying to make a tackle in the second quarter, but said later he was fine.

McNair, the new Baltimore quarterback, gave another efficient performance (13-for-17 for 80 yards) but showed his age a bit in the pocket.

He took two sacks, by Pat Williams and Kenechi Udeze.

And a slow throwing motion on his second-quarter toss toward the sideline to Mark Clayton made it possible for Smoot to jump the out route and sprint untouched for the score. Coach Brian Billick said Clayton ran the wrong pattern, and McNair said he could have thrown the ball more in front of his receiver.

But Baltimore's problems went much further than that play.

"The hesitation. The lack of execution. The mental errors. Preseason or not, you can't dismiss it," said Billick, who returned to Minnesota for the first time since he was the offensive coordinator here from 1993-98. "That was a regrettable performance."

About 15 pounds heavier and humbled by a bad first year with the Vikings, Smoot will be an important part of their new Tampa 2 scheme under defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin.

After picking off McNair and wrestling the ball away from Clayton, the sixth-year cornerback raced untouched, cocked his right arm with the ball in hand against his helmet, struck a Heisman pose with his left arm for the final 20 yards and finally bowled the ball through the end zone in an elaborate preseason-game celebration.

Mark Clayton couldn't catch Fred Smoot, and the Vikings ran away from the Ravens.
The Vikings certainly had reason to praise their defense. Both teams' first units played until halftime, and the Ravens gained only 86 yards while falling behind 10-0. Mike Anderson and Musa Smith managed 7 yards rushing apiece with Jamal Lewis resting a strained hip flexor muscle. Perennial Pro Bowl tackle Jonathan Ogden returned to action after missing most of training camp following his father's death.

"The whole offense struggled tonight. When you struggle up front, it's not a good night for the running backs, and that's what happened tonight," Smith said.

Minnesota's front four put plenty of pressure on McNair.

"He didn't have much place to step up and throw that football," coach Brad Childress said.

McNair was more concerned about correcting his own offense.

"It wasn't about them. It was more about us," McNair said. "I think we made too many mental mistakes for the third game."

Minnesota's Chester Taylor couldn't find running room for the third time this preseason, carrying 10 times for 27 yards against his old team. He's gaining 2.8 yards per rush.

Brad Johnson went 9-for-15 for 95 yards, with three completions for 43 yards to Troy Williamson, but Baltimore's defense was stingy as usual and yielded only a 45-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell -- who made three of his four three-point kicks.

Jason Carter, also a punt returner who is fighting for one of the last receiver spots on the roster, was the only offensive star for the Vikings. He caught two passes for 107 yards, including a 77-yard score from rookie Tarvaris Jackson in the fourth quarter to make it 20-7.

Wendell Mathis rushed 10 times for 41 yards, taking advantage of some extra snaps in a thin Minnesota backfield. Ciatrick Fason hurt his left shoulder in the first quarter and didn't return, and Mewelde Moore missed his second successive game because of a knee injury.

McNair has completed 31 of his 40 preseason passes, and this was his first interception. Acquired in a trade with Tennessee this summer, the oft-injured, three-time Pro Bowl pick is trying to give the Ravens the stability they've lacked at quarterback for years.

Kyle Boller, whom he replaced, went 9-for-15 for 105 yards with second-stringers. He guided an eight-play, 77-yard drive in the third quarter -- topping it off with a 1-yard scamper for a touchdown by sneaking the ball with his left hand just inside the pylon.

Boller had success with Clarence Moore, who made two impressive catches for 60 yards -- including a one-handed grab over Dovonte Edwards at the Minnesota 2 to set up Boller's score.

Third quarterback Brian St. Pierre struggled, throwing an interception to Willie Offord and fumbling after Ray Edwards' hit. The ball was scooped up by Khreem Smith and returned 29 yards for a touchdown with 1:30 remaining.

"I think this was the best game for the defense this preseason. We made a lot of splash plays," Offord said.


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