Another stellar performance by head coach Mike Zimmer’s defense, the emergence of running back Latavius Murray and a steady leg from kicker Kai Forbath all added up to a stress-free 24-16 win for the Minnesota Vikings over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
The game never felt like it was in reach for the Ravens, even when they briefly held a 3-0 lead in the first quarter, oddly enough.
That’s because of the constant, suffocating pressure Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter and the rest of Minnesota’s front seven forced on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, making his first trip to U.S. Bank Stadium one to forget.
Griffen was explosive off the edge all game long, both against the pass and the run. He finished with six total tackles — one for loss — and two sacks, as well as a pair of quarterback hurries and a forced fumble. In other words, the only thing he didn’t do on Sunday was kick a field goal.
The 29-year-old has recorded a sack in all seven games in 2017 and ranks third in the league with 9.0, already surpassing his total of 8.0 last season and just one behind Jacksonville’s Calais Campbell for the league lead. With nine games to play, Griffen only needs three sacks to tie his career-high of 12.0, set in 2014.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME
The “Tay Train” has finally left the station. Murray, Minnesota’s big free-agent signing who was the Vikings’ initial replacement for Adrian Peterson before they drafted Dalvin Cook in April, looked healthy and had his best afternoon in purple to date. Murray rushed 18 times for 113 yards and a 29-yard touchdown, which was bested only by his 35-yard scamper on the first play from scrimmage in the second half.
Murray proved he’s capable of carrying the load of the Vikings' running game, which looks like it will go with the hot hand rather than feature a main back. Jerick McKinnon starred in the backfield last week against the Packers but was held to a 3.4 average on 14 carries on Sunday.
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Minnesota won the coin toss and deferred, opting to let Griffen and the Vikings defense set the tone right away. That’s exactly what happened.
After the first two plays from scrimmage totaled five yards, Flacco’s offense faced a third-and-5 from its own 30-yard line. The Vikings rushed four, and Hunter beat his man around the left side to sack the former Super Bowl MVP for a loss of eight yards, sending U.S. Bank Stadium into a frenzy. Flacco never regained his composure or comfort level in the pocket. He finished 27 of 39 for 186 yards and a touchdown, a meaningless score as time expired in the fourth quarter.
24 — The combined tackles against Baltimore for linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. Kendricks leads the Vikings in tackles on the year, with 52. Barr, one year removed from a lackluster season that drew criticism and speculation about his effort level from Zimmer, is playing his best football since his rookie year in 2014.
THEY SAID IT
“I’m just in a good place mentally; I think that’s the biggest part. Physically will come and go but mentally, I just feel like I’m in a really good place. I’m confident, like you said, and it’s a testament to my teammates and my coaches because they continue to believe in me and I believe in myself and it’s paid off.” — Anthony Barr, Vikings linebacker
"We get to pin our ears back and rush and that is what we do best. [Joe] Flacco was getting the ball out real fast in the beginning and he wouldn’t let us get back there. Then towards the end, he was holding the ball and we were able to get back there.” — Everson Griffen, Vikings defensive end
“No, four was the most. It is fun to be a part of this.” — Kicker Kai Forbath when asked if he’d ever tallied six field goals in one game
“I know everyone wants to know, we don’t go in saying alright Jerick [McKinnon] is going to get this many, he’s going to get this many. Sometimes it’s just the style of run that we have, the runs that we like that week. Sometimes it’s who’s got the hot hand.” — Head coach Mike Zimmer on the Vikings' plan in the rushing game
The Vikings pack up their Helga horns for a trip across the pond to London, where they’ll face the 0-7 Cleveland Browns at Twickenham Stadium. Don’t call it a guaranteed win, but a 6-2 record heading into a bye in Week 9 is very, very probable.