The Vikings went into the belly of the beast in Philadelphia to take on the Eagles—in the same field where they last were thrashed 38-7 in the 2017 NFC Championship. The season was in the balance at this early point in the schedule, and the Vikings put together a great defensive performance, another great quarterback performance and, in the end, a tough kicking performance to beat the Eagles 23-21.
The Vikings dominated early, but the Eagles weren’t going away. They battled back, but the Vikings stood up and didn’t crumble. It was a complete team win for the Vikings and really helped to take the sting out of the record from the first quarter of the season.
The Vikings are now 2-2-1 and move into a tie for second place in the NFC North with the Green Bay Packers, who were defeated by the Detroit Lions on Sunday. Next week the Arizona Cardinals come to U.S. Bank Stadium, and they just recorded their first win of the season. Next Sunday will be no time for the Vikings to let down, a la the Buffalo Bills game, and lose a winnable game.
We knew coming in that this game was going to be all about Kirk Cousins and the pass game. Pushing the worst running game up against the best rush defense in the league was a fruitless endeavor and OC John DeFilippo wanted no part of it. So, the Vikings offense decided to use the pass to set up the run. And that worked well thanks to Cousins, who made some great passes in the game (see below). On the day he was 30 of 37 for 301 yards and a touchdown and a 109.6 rating—but that was only part of the story. Cousins threw so many great passes under duress or shortly before he was smacked by the Eagles defense. Cousins has some good receivers to help him, but he is the early MVP of this team.
The defense began to look like the unit that led the league last season and not resemble the unit that when it last played on this field. They did everything that was required to win this game, and there are some decent numbers to back that up.
Turnovers—2 (one turned into a defensive score).
Bend don’t break—holding the Eagles to zero points after the Roc Thomas fumble was huge.
Pick six—or fumble recovery, whatever, it’s great to get back on the scoreboard.
Swarming to the ball—we saw a lot of it all day.
Sacks (three), hits (eight) and hurries of the opposing quarterback—those all have been missing in action, and it was great to see them return.
Head coach Mike Zimmer simplified the defense for his team, and they responded. Hopefully this is something to build upon.
There is nothing in football more fun to watch than the defensive tackle rumble for a touchdown—and Linval Joseph got the first one of his career on Sunday in Philly. Defensive end Stephen Weatherly made a great move at the line, strip sacked Carson Wentz, and then Joseph grabbed the ball out of the air for a 64-yard pick six. In the immortal words of ESPN’s Chris Berman, Joseph rumbled, bumbled and stumbled (actually, he there was little of that involved—it was a straight-line “sprint” after a nice block by Sheldon Richardson) to the endzone for the Vikings’ first touchdown. It was a fun touchdown to watch.
Adam Thielen, with a seven-catch for 116 yard-game, became the first NFL player to amass five straight 100-plus yard receiving days to start a season (since the 1970 merger). Thielen is just something else, and it is no longer just because he is from Detroit Lakes, Minn., and Minnesota State—Mankato (but it never gets old saying so). Thielen is simply an elite receiver in the game’s highest level—and for all the right reasons: great hands, excellent route running, large catch radius and an all-encompassing desire to get better. He is making tough catches look routine, just like some other Vikings receivers used to do. And the funny thing is that the receiver on the other end of the line of scrimmage from him—Stefon Diggs—is doing the same (Diggs had 10 catches for 91 yards).
Ultimately, Thielen finished off his great game by using his baseball skills (he did play some baseball in Detroit Lakes before he became a state champion golfer) to recover the final onside kick. It was a tough kick to handle, but he went down to his knees like a shortstop, took a tough hop off the chest and made the play. Thielen is a great athlete.
Kicker Dan Bailey . . . really? He missed a 28-yarder on the opening drive. At least he followed it up with a made 37-yarder. The first one had to give Zim heartburn. (But at least it wasn’t of the nature of heartburn that Packer coach Mike McCarthy was experiencing, after his veteran kicker missed four field goals and an extra point on their way to a 7-point loss). But Zimmer went through that with his rookie kicker Daniel Carlson. That’s why the Vikings have Bailey.
But then Baily missed a 45-yarder. And then made an extra point. And then he kicked a 22-yard field goal and another extra point. (That’s right, we are going to chart them all until we—and Zimmer—feel comfortable with this position.) And Zimmer did get that comfort level, because he sent Bailey back out there for a chance to ice the game with a 52-yard kick. And Bailey put it through the uprights. He lives to kick another game.
Head coach Mike Zimmer called a very good game—both as the head coach, with the timely time out late in the game (and not getting sucked into calling another) and with a defensive game call that had Doug Pederson’s offense off balance for most of the game. Last time out Pederson out-coached Zimmer, but Zimmer (with 10 days to figure it out) got his defensive players in the right position and got them hustling to the ball. It is now 1-1 between the two. And they will likely meet again.
Should Be Ending
Big plays. We (and everyone else watching this team) have said it all season: they can’t give up big plays. It rarely happened last season and it has with frequency this season. The 48 yard-pass to Shelton Gibson in the second quarter made up more than half the Eagles’ yardage in the first half (91 yards) and led to a score. Those are killers. If they happen at the end of a game, you can understand with fatigue being a factor. But when they happen early, they are usually blown assignments or a miscommunication. Big plays given up early are tough to come back from, but the Vikings made a few of their own in this one . . . . and those shouldn’t be ending.
Gift penalty calls. The Vikings received one in the first half on a very weak roughing the pass call. It lead to an Adam Thielen touchdown reception, so that was a bit of a gift. Even FOX analyst Mike Pereira didn’t like it. But then those plays go both ways (see below), so the Vikings will take it. I wish the NFL would figure out these hitting rules.
No, Sendejo!!!!!!! He gave a little gift to the Eagles on their final drive—hitting a defenseless receiver with his helmet when the pass was already incomplete. It led to a touchdown for the Eagles on the next play. Andrew Sendejo has too many of those hitting penalties. He is lucky that it didn’t cost his team the game.
No running game. The Vikings rushed for 77 yards (some of which were crucial near the end of the game). But that meager output simply somehow has to end. Cousins can’t keep making up for these numbers. It has contributed to the team’s underachieving record.