MINNEAPOLIS (Nov. 6, 2005) -- Injuries forced Minnesota and Detroit to switch quarterbacks this week, and Brad Johnson renewed the Vikings' faith in their replacement.
Johnson passed for 136 yards and two touchdowns in relief of Daunte Culpepper, Michael Bennett rushed 18 times for 106 yards and Minnesota beat Detroit 27-14 to create a tie for second place in the punchless NFC North.
"It does feel good," said the 37-year-old Johnson, who started for the first time since Tampa Bay benched him after the fourth game of last season. "It's been a long time."
Johnson, who began his career with the Vikings and made 24 starts for them from 1996-98, sandwiched second-quarter scoring tosses to Bennett and Nate Burleson around rookie Ciatrick Fason 's first touchdown on a 3-yard run.
They needed only seven offensive plays for those 21 points in a span of less than 4 minutes, the last two TDs following a fumble and an interception by Harrington deep in Detroit's territory.
Suddenly, Minnesota (3-5) had a 24-0 lead and was on its way to an eighth straight win over the Lions.
"Our offense isn't doing what it's supposed to be doing," Harrington said. "A lot of different people not quite working together."
Leading rusher Kevin Jones was sidelined in the second quarter by an injured right shoulder, but Detroit (3-5) had plenty of other critical problems -- perhaps beginning Nov. 3 when coach Steve Mariucci named Harrington the starter over a banged-up Jeff Garcia.
Garcia, still bothered by a left leg he broke in the final exhibition game, started the last two games. But Mariucci indicated Garcia wouldn't be ready to practice yet by Nov. 7 -- or possibly even Nov. 9 -- leaving the position unsettled for another week.
"He's not there yet," Mariucci said.
Harrington finished 28 for 48 for 263 yards and two interceptions, plus the costly fumble, but he never looked comfortable in the pocket and threw several weak and wobbly balls. He often failed to feel out where the rush was coming from while being steadily pressured by a revived Minnesota defense that switched back to a 4-3 scheme after three weeks using the 3-4.
Scottie Vines caught nine passes for 109 yards, but Harrington clearly missed his top targets. Rookie Mike Williams, already fighting a knee injury, turned his ankle during the game and wasn't at full strength. Roy Williams, who missed the past three weeks with a strained quadriceps, was only able to give the Lions a couple of plays. And Charles Rogers, out the past four games during a drug suspension, didn't practice well enough during the week to be activated.
"Of course I'd love to have them in there, but it's just something you deal with," Harrington said. "We've been in this situation before."
Starter Mewelde Moore, who sprained his right wrist in the fourth quarter and finished with 11 carries for 49 yards, watched Bennett re-establish himself as a featured back -- for one afternoon, at least. This was his first 100-yard game since Dec. 7, 2003, against Seattle.
Johnson went 15 for 22 with one fumble and just one completion longer than 20 yards in relief of Culpepper, who sustained a massive season-ending injury to his right knee in last week's loss at Carolina.
The Lions came to life with a nine-play, 75-yard drive late in the first half -- highlighted by Vines, who beat Ralph Brown and hauled in a 40-yard pass from Harrington at the 1.
Artose Pinner plunged into the end zone on the next play to make it 24-7. The Vikings were stagnant in the third quarter, and Harrington cut the lead to 10 on a 23-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Pollard on the first play of the fourth.
But that was the end of Harrington's -- and Detroit's -- success.
"You put pressure on him, and he gets happy feet back there. Then he's not as accurate," said Antoine Winfield, whose interception set up Burleson's nifty, one-handed TD catch in the second quarter. "I think I would've went with Garcia, but he's hurt."
The Vikings won't have that kind of choice, because Culpepper is on injured reserve. Johnson gives them confidence, though, that they can stay in contention down the stretch.
Notes: The Vikings had been outscored 94-10 in the second quarter of their first seven games. ... Jones rushed for 15 yards on seven carries.