By Dave Campbell, AP Sports Writer
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota's defense is filled with feisty, alpha-male personalities, a proud group of veterans determined to prove they're still one of the NFL's best despite their age.
They were in prime form against Detroit on Sunday, whether swarming rookie running back Jahvid Best, covering Pro Bowl wide receiver Calvin Johnson tight, or trading trash talk and shoves with the frustrated Lions.
Brett Favre and the Vikings are still trying to get their passing game going, but the defense has done its part with only 38 points allowed in three games. In Sunday's 24-10 victory over Detroit, the Vikings forced three turnovers and seven punts and held the Lions to 63 yards rushing. Ben Leber and Antoine Winfield each intercepted passes by Shaun Hill in the end zone in the closing minutes.
"I think it's just everybody believing in the defense," Leber said, "and working to make plays."
That's sure made easier when the entire starting lineup returns from last season and when defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier is in his fourth year in charge. The majority of this defense has been together since head coach Brad Childress was hired in 2006. Though five of the starters are now 29 or older, it has been clear -- in September, at least -- that talent, experience and confidence are enough to trump any decline in skills that comes with age.
"We do such a good job, as far as discipline," Leber said.
Leber was referring to assignments during the play, particularly the way the Vikings hounded Best before he left the game with a toe injury. Best had 26 yards on seven carries and a total of 39 yards from scrimmage, after accumulating five touchdowns and 268 yards over his first two NFL games.
"We kind of wanted to surround him. He's a 'Where's Waldo?' kind of guy," Childress said.
The Vikings did appear to lack some discipline at times, including a 15-yard penalty on defensive tackle Pat Williams for unnecessary roughness and during the scrum late in the third quarter following Adrian Peterson's touchdown run that put them up by 14.
Lions quarterback Shaun Hill and Vikings defensive end Jared Allen were jawing at each other, and Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards was actively pushing some of his foes.
"I don't really know what started it, but we're going to defend our guys and not be pushovers," defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. He added: "We knew, coming in, the way Detroit was going to play. We saw it on film, the extra stuff they do."
Allen said he was elbowed in the head by one player and speared by another.
"I don't know why everyone thinks I started it. I didn't start anything. I was just on the ball," Allen said. He added: "It's just big boys doing big-boy things."
Said Hill: "We are not going to be anybody's punk out there."
Perhaps the best news for the Vikings was the reappearance of cornerbacks Cedric Griffin and Chris Cook. They each missed the first two games recovering from knee injuries.
Griffin played nearly the entire afternoon and declared himself comfortable, confident and rust-free in his return.
"We play as a team, so if one section of our team is down we hope the other section can pick it up," Griffin said.
Cook had a significant hand in limiting Johnson to six catches and 56 yards.
"I like being challenged, and it was just time for me to step up when he lined up across from me," Cook said. "I was ready."