The Denver Post, John Leyba, Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS — Percy Harvin knew he'd have to give everything he had if the Minnesota Vikings were going to get the best of his old college buddy Tim Tebow.
The versatile receiver did that and more on Sunday, and it still wasn't enough to overcome Tebow's surging Denver Broncos.
Harvin caught eight passes for a career-high 156 yards and two touchdowns, but Christian Ponder turned the ball over three times in Minnesota's 35-32 loss to the Broncos.
Harvin scored on receptions of 52 and 48 yards and also rushed five times for 19 yards, but his career day provided little consolation after the Vikings (2-10) dropped their fourth straight game, extending the misery of a season that is shaping up as one of the worst in the franchise's proud history.
"We are still losing football games," Harvin said. "I'm not a big stats guy. Never have been, never will be."
Ponder set a Vikings rookie record with 381 yards passing, completing 29 of 47 passes with three touchdowns. But he lost a fumble in Broncos territory early in the game and threw two costly interceptions. To no one's surprise, Harvin was the target on Ponder's final throw of the game as he tried to move the Vikings down the field with the score tied 32-32 and about one minute to play.
But Andre Goodman intercepted the pass and returned it to the Vikings 15 to set up Matt Prater's game-winning field goal as time expired.
"It's hard to look veterans like Jared Allen in the eyes when I threw two picks and lost a fumble and cost you the game," Ponder said. "Three turnovers, you can't win a ball game in the NFL when you do that."
It was the kind of wildly up and down performance that many expected from Ponder, the rookie first-round draft pick who made his sixth career start. His fumble inside the 10-yard line squelched a promising drive early in the first quarter and, on the next drive, threw a pass right to linebacker Mario Haggan, who returned it 16 yards for a touchdown.
"We're not good enough right now to overcome certain mistakes, but that does come with being a rookie quarterback," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "That is going to happen sometimes. As he continues to mature in the position, it'll be less and less of those moments."
Ponder also threw a 19-yard TD to Kyle Rudolph to cap a 96-yard drive in the second quarter, hit Devin Aromashodu six times for 90 yards and put the ball right on the money twice to Harvin to allow the speedy receiver to do what he does best — catch and run.
Harvin's 48-yard, winding and weaving TD in the fourth quarter gave the Vikings a 29-21 lead with less than 10 minutes to play.
"He's a great player, great competitor and has no quit in him at all," Frazier said. "He's going to fight right down to the end."
But Tebow was not going to let his fellow former Florida Gator outshine him. He hit Demaryius Thomas for 42 yards to setup a 24-yard scoring run from Willis McGahee, then scored on a two-point conversion run to tie the game.
"I was sure enough hoping we were going to get him," Harvin said. "But I've been on his teams. I've seen him pull a lot of fourth quarters, a lot of last drives, a lot of two-point conversions. So I got a little worried once he got it."
Tebow and Thomas torched the depleted Vikings secondary the entire second half. Tebow completed 10 of 15 passes for 202 yards and Thomas had four catches for 144 yards and two TDs.
"When you're out there and you're professional athletes, you have to find a way to do your job and we did not find a way to do our job," Frazier said of his secondary.
Allen had a sack, a forced fumble and a safety and Toby Gerhart rushed for 91 yards on 21 carries. The Vikings held huge advantages in yards (489-336), first downs (27-13) and time of possession (37:51-22:09), but the turnovers deep in their own territory, and a couple of big returns allowed by the special teams, were their undoing.
No one, especially not Harvin, was much interested in talking about moral victories or silver linings. It's been one long season filled with losses, and everybody's patience is starting to wear thin.
"There's been too many times this year we've had leads and then had let-downs or missed assignments," Harvin said. "It's another game we feel we had control of and to somehow let it slip away, that's disgusting."
Notes: Allen's tackle of McGahee in the end zone in the first quarter was his fourth career safety, tying him with Ted Hendricks and Doug English for the NFL career record. ... Ponder hobbled through much of the game with a bruised hip, but said he expected to be fine going forward. ... Vikings DE Brian Robison left the game with a concussion and did not return. ... Vikings CB Cedric Griffin forced his 14th career fumble, second only to Joey Browner's 18 in team history.
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