Vikings 31, Cardinals 26

Sunday, November 26th 2006, 3:53 pm
By: News On 6

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Brad Johnson and the Minnesota Vikings' offense finally started pulling its weight, giving the defense all the help it needed.

Kind of like when Arizona's Dennis Green was the coach here.

Johnson threw for 271 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 31-26 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Chester Taylor added 136 yards rushing and a touchdown for the Vikings (5-6), and the defense delivered its usual solid performance, forcing 5 turnovers and allowing just 17 yards rushing to snap a 4-game losing streak.

The Cardinals (2-9) got a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by J.J. Arrington on the opening play of the game and a 99-yard fumble return for a score by Adrian Wilson in the 4th, but couldn't overcome the turnovers, penalties and a suddenly productive Vikings offense.

Rookie Matt Leinart played well for Arizona, completing 31 of 52 passes for a career-high 401 yards and 2 interceptions, but managed only 1 TD, a 5-yard pass to Anquan Boldin with 39 seconds to play, that came too little, too late.

The Vikings sure know how that feels.

Minnesota had scored just 4 offensive touchdowns during the 4-game losing streak, and some of the defensive players were growing increasingly impatient with a unit that constantly came up short in the red zone.

Johnson was drawing much of the criticism, having thrown 9 interceptions and just 1 touchdown during that span.

But he came back on Sunday against his former coach, connecting with Marcus Robinson, Billy McMullen and Jeff Dugan for scores in his first 3-touchdown game since November 27th of last season, a span of 16 games.

The Cardinals made things interesting after Leinart hit Boldin for the late score. Darryl Blackstock recovered the ensuing onside kick, but Leinart's desperation heave into the end zone as time expired was intercepted by Dwight Smith to seal the win.

All Green could do was stare blankly at the field as he watched his young team give away another game. Green last coached a regular season game in the Metrodome on December 23, 2001, a 33-3 loss by the Vikings to Jacksonville that was the beginning of the end of a stormy 10 years in purple.

He racked up an impressive 97-62 record, but lost both times the Vikings appeared in the NFC championship, including a 41-0 drubbing to the Giants after the 2000 season.

In his third season in the desert, Green's job security is in question again.

The Cardinals entered the day tied with Detroit and Oakland for fewest wins in the league, and in three years in the Arizona, Green has been unable to recapture the high-flying offense that got him so many wins in the Dome.

Larry Fitzgerald Jr., who starred at Holy Angels High School in Richfield, Minnesota, and was a Vikings ball boy under Green, had 11 catches for 172 yards and Boldin had 9 catches for 136 yards for the Cardinals.

Arrington got Arizona off to a promising start when he took the opening kickoff, stutter-stepped at the 20, and squirted through a hole at the 30 to race for a touchdown, giving the Cardinals a 7-0 lead just 16 seconds into the game.

The Vikings came right back, driving 70 yards in 9 plays to tie it. Behind an offensive line that was missing starting right guard Artis Hicks (ankle) and right tackle Marcus Johnson (ankle), Taylor had 4 carries for 50 yards on the drive, including a 1-yard scoring run.

After Neil Rackers kicked 2 field goals, Robinson made a leaping catch in the end zone over David Macklin for a 17-yard TD that gave the Vikings a 14-13 lead at halftime.

Leinart's only mistake of the game, an interception by Smith on a poorly thrown ball in the 3rd quarter, set up a field goal by Ryan Longwell to give the Vikings a 24-13 lead.

Former Viking Troy Walters then fumbled a punt with just seconds left in the 3rd, setting up Johnson's 3-yard TD to Dugan that put the game out of reach.