MINNEAPOLIS (Nov. 26, 2006) -- Arizona coach Dennis Green expected to see a bumbling, mistake-prone Vikings offense upon his return to Minnesota.
Instead, the unit welcomed Green back with the kind of prolific performance that fans took for granted when he was the coach here, finally giving the Vikings defense the help it has so desperately needed.
Brad Johnson threw for 271 yards and three touchdowns, Chester Taylor rushed for 136 yards and a score and Minnesota snapped a four-game losing streak with a 31-26 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
The win was as long overdue as the touchdowns.
The defense delivered its usual solid performance, forcing five turnovers and allowing just 17 yards rushing.
"The defense did a great job again," Taylor said. "We knew we had to start getting points for them. ... They created turnovers and this time we capitalized with touchdowns and points off them."
"This is the first time we've played pretty well on the road and had a chance to win at the end," rookie quarterback Matt Leinart said. "I thought we showed a lot of fight as an offense and as a defense, and special teams contributed. All around I thought it was a great effort, we just ran out of time."
Leinart threw for a career-high 405 yards and two interceptions, but managed only one TD -- a 9-yard pass to Anquan Boldin with 39 seconds to play -- that came too little, too late.
Minnesota had scored just four offensive touchdowns during the four-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 nine interceptions and just one touchdown during that span.
But he came back on Sunday against his former coach, throwing TDs to Marcus Robinson, Billy McMullen and Jeff Dugan, a tight end who was converted to fullback when Tony Richardson was lost for the season.
"Two weeks ago, Jeff Dugan was holding the clipboard and this week he's scoring a touchdown," center Matt Birk said. "That's what we need."
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 Dec. 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.
The Cardinals entered the day tied with Detroit and Oakland for fewest wins in the league, and Green has been unable to recreate the high-flying offense that got him so many wins in the Dome.
Green was curt during the postgame press conference, saying this game was no different than any other he's coached in a career that spans three decades.
"Just a game that we hoped to win that we didn't win," he said.
"This was a huge game for me, my team, coach Green, so we wanted to win this game and we fought until the end but we shot ourselves in the foot a few times," Fitzgerald said.
A relieved Johnson can sympathize with that.
"All season long, our problem is we've killed ourselves," Johnson said. "We didn't have the penalties in the red zone today. It was nice to see us score."
Notes: Cardinals K Neil Rackers booted a 21-yard field goal and a 50-yarder, but missed a 41-yarder wide left in the third quarter. ... Arrington had 220 return yards. ... Robinson had seven catches for 82 yards for Minnesota. ... It was Johnson's first three-touchdown game since Nov. 27 of last season, a span of 16 games.