Bud Grant is back coaching Minnesota and the Vikings are up to their old tricks--using big plays on defense and special teams.
They did it in their season opener against San Francisco, and they did it again Sunday in beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 31-16.
“There are a lot of ways to win a football game,” said Grant, who was lured out of retirement after the Vikings went 3-13 in 1984. “It’s a different script every week.”
This time, former USC safety Joey Browner returned an interception 15 yards for a touchdown and cornerback Rufus Bess set up two touchdowns with a fumble recovery and a blocked punt as the Vikings improved to 2-0, their first 2-0 start in 10 years.
The Buccaneers, under first-year Coach Leeman Bennett, dropped to 0-2 despite James Wilder rushing for 113 yards in 22 carries and catching 13 passes for 71 yards.
Minnesota, which took advantage of seven turnovers during a 28-21 season-opening upset of the defending Super Bowl champion 49ers, recovered two Wilder fumbles and intercepted Steve DeBerg twice in addition to Bess’ block of a Frank Garcia punt.
Bess, who forced three fumbles against San Francisco, recovered Wilder’s first fumble midway through the first quarter on the Minnesota 30. The Vikings then advanced to the two on a 19-yard pass from Tommy Kramer to Steve Jordan and a 17-yard run by Darrin Nelson. Allen Rice ran over from the two to give Minnesota a 7-0 lead.
Browner, who recovered three fumbles against the 49ers, intercepted a pass intended for Tampa Bay tight end Jimmie Giles and ran up the left sideline for his touchdown and a 17-3 lead with 1:29 left in the first half.
“It’s a new beginning after last year when we were getting whipped by everybody,” said Browner. “We’re trying to improve each game. We don’t go into a game expecting things to happen. You’ve got to make things happen. And then when the opportunity comes, you just go for the ball.”
Bess’ blocked punt came on the fourth play of the third quarter. Teammate Chris Martin scooped up the ball and ran 13 yards to the Bucs’ five. Two plays later, Alfred Anderson scored from the one to increase Minnesota’s lead to 24-3.
After the Bucs closed to 24-16, the Vikings put the game away when Kramer teamed with Ted Brown on a 54-yard touchdown pass play with 5:59 left in the game.
Kramer completed 18 of 28 passes for 183 yards. DeBerg, the Tampa Bay quarterback, hit 26 of 38 for 237 yards.
Bennett, the Tampa Bay coach, said: “The bottom line of this game is we did a poor job of coaching. We cannot continue to make the mistakes we made out there and expect to win. We gave the game away.”