The Vikings were faced with the first of three consecutive NFC North games on the schedule Sunday afternoon, and in what was shaping up as a must-win for the Purple, they did just what they had to do—soundly defeating the visiting Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium. The final score was 24-9, but the Vikings dominated the Lions more than the score indicated.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins had another nice afternoon, but the story was really the defensive dominance. They bent and did not break all afternoon, surrendering just three field goals to a Lions team that had won the past two games in Minnesota and five of eight versus Mike Zimmer during his tenure as Vikings head coach.
The win moved the Vikings to 5-3-1 keeps them at just a half game behind the Chicago Bears (who soundly defeated the Buffalo Bills on Sunday) for first place in the NFC North. The Vikings now go into their bye week and have some time off to prepare for those Bears down in Chicago, where that game on Nov. 18 will be for the lead of the division.
The Vikings defense played another great game in stoutly defending their home turf against the Lions. Despite some injuries to the entire unit coming in (Anthony Barr and Andrew Sendejo were out, and Xavier Rhodes was nearly ruled out before the game), they demonstrated the unit’s depth and continued its precipitous rise back to form. Often just rushing four linemen, the Vikings defense put a hurting on Lions QB Matthew Stafford. The Lions came into the game with Stafford being hit the second least in the league, and the Vikings hit him 17 times and sacked him 10 times (with Danielle Hunter leading the way with 3.5 sacks)—the sacks set a team record for the game. The Vikings defense simply shut down a decent Lions offense all afternoon—including late in the game when Hunter scooped up a botched lateral for a defensive touchdown. Hunter, and the defense, each had a monster game.
“Good win today,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “Obviously, I think the defense played very well. Ten sacks, team record, a lot of that had to do with coverage. I think our guys covered well on the back end. Obviously, the guys up front were very diligent in their rush, the way they rushed the quarterback and their desire to get there.”
Dalvin Cook returned after missing most of the season with a nagging hamstring; Cook was injured in the second game of the season and has been seldom seen since then. But in the second quarter he busted a run off left tackle and raced down the sideline for a 70-yard blast (and thankfully didn’t come up holding his hamstring).
“[Cook] actually said that he was thinking about his hamstring and only kept it in fourth gear,” Zimmer said. “Hopefully there’s another gear there somewhere.”
We hadn’t seen that kind of run from him in a long time, and it was a great sight for the home crowd. On the game, Cook had 10 rushes for 80 yards and four receptions for 20 yards, but he made one mistake when he didn’t look a lateral into his hands and coughed it up to the Lions. Overall, however, it was a decent return for the second-year running back.
The offensive line, which got Riley Reiff back at left tackle, started Danny Isidora at left guard and Brian O’Neill at right tackle, had one of their best games of the season. They gave Kirk Cousins (18 for 22 for a 164 yards, and a 93.9 rating) plenty of time in the backfield (he was sacked and hit just once each on the afternoon) and opened plenty of holes for the running game. O’Neill was a surprise start (to some) and seems to be building a case for making the position his. While it wasn’t perfect game for him, look for him to remain there even when Rashod Hill is fully healthy.
Adam Thielen came into the game needing one more 100-yard receiving performance to bypass former Lion Calvin Johnson and set the all-time league record. But Lions defense had their former player’s back. With the help of a missing Stefon Diggs, the Lions were able to double Thielen all afternoon and take away a lot of targets (he had seven). As a result finished the game with four catches for 22 yards. He did grab a two-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter—helping the team to an early lead. In the final analysis, Thielen has a share of the record and is probably pleased to never have to be asked about it again. He is happier with wins than his own personal stats.
“That means nothing,” Thielen said of the record. “That W feels great. We had so many guys step up and I’m so proud of everybody. The defense, the offense, special teams. We’ve just got to keep moving, and keep getting better.”
With a rib injury holding Stefon Diggs out, rookie wideout Chad Beebe got the promotion from the practice squad to the active roster and made it onto the field in the first series of the game—where he made two catches, including one for a first down that extended the drive. The son of former Buffalo Bills great Don, Chad Beebe caught three passes for 21 yards and for a time was the team’s leading receiver. It was a nice start for a player, who may carve out a decent career on the team.
Latavius Murray had the Vikings first touchdown of the game on a one-yard run in which he stretched the ball over the line, fumbled, but was awarded the score anyway. It was not exactly the prettiest score to watch, but we shouldn’t ignore the contributions of Murray all season. Murray now has a touchdown in last four consecutive games, for the first time in his career. He has really helped propel the rushing game in recent weeks for the Vikings in Cook’s absence, and should help make the duo a decent one-two punch the rest of the way.
Should be Ending
This should be ending, but probably won’t be: another member of the old guard of Minnesota Vikings passed away. We lost Fred Zamberletti earlier this season and now Bill “Boom Boom” Brown joins him in the choir of angels. Sad news for all Vikings fans, but particularly for us old timers, who grew up watching Brownie bang holes open in the line like a bowling ball. RIP Bill, and thanks for the memories.
Choreographed sack dances now? Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter converged on Matthew Stafford late in the first half (to help stall a potential scoring drive that resulted in a field goal) and following it they performed some sort of sack dance in which Griffen, who had missed some time, looked sadly behind in the routine. I like the sharing of the sack—the more the better back there—but perhaps just a high five in a shared sack situation will fire up the crowd more. Then again, there were 10 on the day, so maybe some sack celebrations were warranted.
We can’t yell at the Vikings too much about penalties (they had three for 15 yards in the game), but we can bring up the turnovers. They had two—when Cousins threw a pick (forcing a pass into double coverage of Thielen) and another on a botched pitch to Cook (Cook’s fault). They lost the turnover battle but won the game—which has been rare for the team—but the one turnover they got was a defensive score that iced the game.