Detroit’s veteran quarterback was running for his life Sunday afternoon in Minneapolis, as the Minnesota Vikings defense sacked him 10 times to set a new franchise record.
Six different players -- Danielle Hunter, Tom Johnson, Everson Griffen, Mackensie Alexander, Stephen Weatherly and Sheldon Richardson -- contributed to that total, which bests the mark of nine sacks, last reached by Minnesota in 1993.
Kirk Cousins wasn’t flashy but he was accurate, completing 18 of 22 pass attempts for 164 yards, one touchdown and an interception. Adam Thielen and Latavius Murray punched in a touchdown apiece, and the defense looked like the feared unit of 2017, holding the Lions to a field goal in all three of their red-zone trips.
Behind a refreshing, dominant performance from its defense, Minnesota rolled to a much-needed 24-9 divisional win over the Motor City Kitties.
Meet your NFC Defensive Player of the Week -- and the way he’s playing, possibly Defensive Player of the Year. Hunter was an absolute monster Sunday afternoon, compiling a team-high nine tackles and 3.5 sacks, not to mention his scoop-and-score for six points in the fourth quarter. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Hunter is the second player ever to record 3.5+ sacks and score a touchdown in the same game, joining San Diego linebacker Shaun Phillips in 2010. It was Hunter’s fifth multi-sack game in his career and his second this season. The 24-year-old now has a lead in the NFL sack race with 11.5 -- 1.5 more than Los Angeles’ Aaron Donald and just one off Hunter’s career high (12.5) set in 2016.
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DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME
In case you forgot, Dalvin Cook is really good. Cook had missed four straight games with a hamstring issue and was expected to see limited action against Detroit. He was active for 28 plays Sunday (57 percent of the offensive snaps) and made a big impact, rushing 10 times for 89 yards while also catching four passes for 20 yards. He did most of his damage on a 70-yard carry in the second quarter and was clocked at 22.07 miles per hour on the run, the top speed for any NFL ball carrier this season. Sheesh.
For really what seemed like the first time all game, Detroit had a bit of momentum on its side after it converted a fourth down on a fake punt in the fourth quarter. Down 17-6, the game was still in reach for Stafford, who’s made a career of fourth-quarter comebacks -- and was 2-0 at U.S. Bank Stadium coming into Sunday’s game. But on 2nd-and-14 from Detroit’s 37-yard line, Stafford escaped the pocket and rolled right, looking to pick up yards with his legs. Stafford and tried to pitch it to a trailing Kerryon Johnson, but the ball glanced off the rookie’s hands as he fell to the ground. Hunter was all over it, scooping up the football at the 32 and sprinting into the end zone for his second career defensive touchdown. After a Dan Bailey extra point, the scoreboard read “Vikings 24, Lions 6.” Game over.
4 -- Of Minnesota’s 10 sacks of Stafford, four came inside the Vikings’ red zone and four occurred on third down. The biggest three sacks of the game were Minnesota’s initial three, all in the second quarter. Tom Johnson and Richardson combined for a sack to stop Detroit on third down from the 8-yard line, and Hunter got to Stafford twice on consecutive downs the following drive inside the Vikings’ 15-yard line. Those three sacks halted any momentum the Lions offense had and forced them to kick field goals, preserving Minnesota’s lead and setting the tone for the rest of the game.
THEY SAID IT
“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.” -- head coach Mike Zimmer on his defense
“We did it together, it wasn’t just me. It was the defensive line working together, staying in our rush lanes and just getting to that passer.” -- Danielle Hunter on Vikings’ team-record 10 sacks
“Being coachable; like I always say, if I was coachable the way he is going into my early years, maybe things would be different. He’s very coachable, he takes what he learns in the classroom onto the field with him and does his job at a high level.” -- Everson Griffen on Hunter
“The fault is on everybody. I have to get the ball out faster. When you get in the game situation like that, and you are down as many scores as we were late in the game, you are going to put your offensive line in a tough spot. We understand that, but we don’t want that. I can do my part better.” -- Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford on being sacked 10 times
“I think the first play I was out there, and I had the little out and back in. Getting that first catch definitely helped. Obviously at first there were some jitters. It’s all new to me still, I have a lot to learn. I had a pretty fun day.” -- wide receiver Chad Beebe on when it hit him he was making his NFL debut
The bye week. Minnesota catches a break at a perfect time -- right after a divisional win. The week off will allow players like Cook, Xavier Rhodes and Stefon Diggs, among everyone else, to get fully healthy for the final seven games. Out of the bye week, the Vikings visit the first-place Chicago Bears on Nov. 18 and then host Green Bay for a Sunday night clash Nov. 25.