MINNEAPOLIS — Percy Harvin gave Minnesota another big lift.
With Harvin’s variety-pack production, Adrian Peterson’s post-injury resurgence and a restored defense, the Vikings are sure soaring right now.
Harvin had one touchdown rushing and another receiving to help the Vikings keep up their commanding start to the season with a 30-7 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
“He’s the best player I’ve ever played with,” Peterson said.
Harvin caught eight passes for 108 yards for the Vikings (4-1), who have given up a combined 33 points in winning three straight games. Christian Ponder threw his first two interceptions after 143 attempts without one this year, but he still finished 25 for 35 for 258 yards and two scores against the reeling Titans (1-4), the latest team that couldn’t contain Harvin.
“A beast, that’s probably a good way to describe him,” Ponder said, adding: “We’re going to keep giving him the ball.”
Adrian Peterson charged his way for 88 yards on 17 carries for the Vikings, another strong performance on his surgically repaired left knee. That was a stark contrast to the 24 yards Chris Johnson managed on 15 tries, often stutter-stepping at the line, trying fruitlessly to find room.
“We are who we are. There’s no draft coming up. There’s no adding more players and getting new coaches,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “This is the group we have, and with this group we have to play much better.”
Once again, the Titans couldn’t keep handing their franchise runner the ball because they fell too far behind. Matt Hasselbeck, subbing for injured starter Jake Locker, went 26 for 43 for 200 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Most of those gains came near the end of the game with the outcome no longer in doubt.
“It’s kind of disappointing to be going down the same road every Sunday,” Johnson said.
Ponder didn’t complete a pass longer than 29 yards in any of the first four games, but the Vikings took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter fueled by the long throw that’s been missing. Ponder floated a perfect pass up the sideline to Harvin, who hauled in the ball in man-to-man coverage for a 45-yard gain. The fourth-year do-it-all wide receiver then took an inside handoff and pounded his way into the end zone four plays later from 4 yards out.
Harvin’s second score put the seal on this one, a highlight-reel catch and run to add to his already-impressive collection of video clips. Grabbing a quick swing pass at the line of scrimmage, Harvin used the same hesitation move twice to get overeager defenders to fly past him before bouncing into the end zone.
“A couple times they tell me, ‘Slow down, I can’t catch up,”’ Harvin said. “I look at them and laugh and say, ‘That’s my job.”’
Ponder was picked off by Rob Johnson right in front of the goal line at the end of the second quarter and again by Jason Babineaux on the first play of the second half, and with a healthy two-possession lead he settled for low-risk throws for most of the rest of the game. Except early in the fourth quarter, when he fired a 15-yard pass in double coverage that sure-handed tight end Kyle Rudolph hauled in to give the Vikings their highest score of the season.
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave had to talk head coach Leslie Frazier into approving that play, since the boss was more concerned about draining the clock. When it worked, Frazier had a huge smile on his face. Harvin had the rare opportunity to take his pads off and watch the last few minutes on the sideline.
“We’re just going to keep working and keep working,” he said, “and hopefully we’ll be sitting out a lot of fourth quarters.”
With their first three-game winning streak since November 2009, the Vikings are rolling, but ever cautious about getting too comfortable.
“If you get too excited over a 4-1 start, you’ll drop one and you can’t get that back,” Rudolph said.
After finishing 9-7 in Munchak’s first season and missing the playoffs by a tiebreaker, the Titans have regressed in year two. They entered the game with a league-most 151 points allowed, and for all the good their two turnovers did their tackling was befitting of a team that was second-to-last in the NFL in yardage allowed through the first quarter of the season.
Antoine Winfield picked off an underthrow by Hasselbeck early in the second quarter at the Titans 34-yard line, setting up Blair Walsh’s first of three field goals.
The turnover came at a price for the Vikings, because rookie safety Harrison Smith was ejected after a tussle between the two teams at the end of the play. One of the officials tugged Smith away from the pile, and Smith responded by shoving him, drawing an automatic 15-yard penalty and the dreaded disqualification.
The Vikings put enough pressure on Hasselbeck the rest of the game that the absence of one of their best players in the secondary hardly mattered. When he did get the ball out, it often sailed high or wide past his receiver.
“If you swarm to the ball and everybody’s having fun playing together, you really can’t go wrong,” linebacker Chad Greenway said.
NOTES: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell attended the game, mingling with tailgating fans before. ... Danielle Kalil, the sister of Vikings rookie LT Matt Kalil, sang the national anthem. ... Peterson rolled his left ankle on the second play of the game, blaming that for distracting his focus. “I came out and did all right in the second half, but I’ve just got to do better,” he said. ... Vikings WR Jerome Simpson was bothered by soreness near his left ankle that kept him from pushing off. ... Titans RB Javon Ringer hurt his left knee and left on a cart in the fourth quarter.