Upon further review: Vikings at Lions
Momentum can swing quickly in the NFL, a fact Minnesota and Detroit were reminded of on Sunday.
Detroit led this NFC North matchup, 17-6, late in the second quarter. Then, by the 10:19 mark of the third quarter — after Stefon Diggs hauled in a highlight-reel, 36-yard touchdown pass — the Vikings were up 22-17 and possessed all the momentum.
Minnesota eventually notched a 28-19 victory that didn’t feel as close as the final score might indicate. The positives were plentiful for the purple and gold: a season-high seven sacks, Teddy Bridgewater’s season-high 316 passing yards, and the fact Minnesota won a divisional road game for the first time in three seasons.
But this was also a game Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer will likely pick apart, pointing to the Vikings’ shaky play on third-down conversion attempts (Minnesota went a combined 5 for 14 on third and fourth downs). So, after an up-and-down three-hour contest, the Vikings own a solid 4-2 record while the Lions (1-6) seem destined for a last-place finish.
Here’s how it all went down:
— The Vikings defense, with Zimmer at the controls, rebounded after a rough start. Detroit had 160 total yards in the first quarter, as it seized an early 14-3 lead. Minnesota’s defenders played with poise from there on out, though; Detroit had just eight yards in the second quarter and ended with 274 total yards for the day. The Vikings also sacked Lions quarterback Matt Stafford seven times for 59 yards and were credited with 13 total QB hits.
— Diggs looks like the savior of Minnesota’s offense. The ascending rookie receiver had a game-high six receptions for 108 yards and one score, on nine targets. It was the Maryland product’s third straight game with at least six catches. And about that memorable, diving touchdown grab: Diggs’ 36-yard score early in the third quarter came off a double move that left a vapor trail between he and Lions corner Rashean Mathis. In a word: wow.
— Teddy Bridgewater passed efficiently. The Vikings’ 22-year-old quarterback had his best game of the season, completing 25 of 35 passes (71.4 completion percentage) for 316 yards, two TDs and no interceptions. He averaged a rock-solid 9.03 yards per pass attempt and graded out to a 118.3 passer rating. In fact, Bridgewater had 300 yards by the end of Sunday’s third quarter. The negatives: Bridgewater was sacked four times, and Minnesota was just 1 for 4 in red-zone TD opportunities.
— Blair Walsh’s wild 2015 ride continues. The Vikings’ fourth-year kicker had a major impact on this win, going a perfect 5 for 5 on field-goal attempts, connecting on a couple key field goals from beyond 50 yards. But, in a truly baffling fashion that befits his wild season, Walsh also managed to miss one of two extra-point attempts. Walsh’s fragile psyche remains a key storyline.
— Sunday’s win in Detroit was just Minnesota’s second road win versus a divisional foe since 2010. The Vikings entered the day 2-8 over their last 10 total road contests.
— The Vikings won the time-of-possession battle by a decisive margin: 36:27 to 23:33. Minnesota, the least-penalized team in the league entering the day, also committed just three penalties for 31 yards to continue its theme of playing disciplined football.
— Minnesota’s Kyle Rudolph was targeted just twice in Detroit, ending with a pair of catches for 10 yards. He did reel in a 1-yard, second-quarter TD grab, though. Rudolph, who turns 26 on Nov. 9, already ranks third in Vikings history for receiving TDs by a tight end (20 TDs), trailing only Steve Jordan (28) and Visanthe Shiancoe (24).
— Rookie tight end MyCole Pruitt notched his first career reception in impressive fashion. With 2:33 left in the third quarter, the Southern Illinois product — whom the Vikings drafted in the fifth round last spring — registered a 13-yard catch-and-run on a third-and-12 play. It was Pruitt’s only catch of the day, but a memorable one.
With the win, the Vikings are now 4-2 and are two games over .500 for the first time since 2012. They have three seemingly winnable games between now and mid-November — at Chicago, versus St. Louis and at Oakland — before the schedule stiffens considerably. In other words: Minnesota can’t afford to rest on its laurels after this road win.
While Bridgewater smoothly dealt the ball out to 11 different receivers on Sunday, Diggs seemed to truly spark the Vikings’ offense. With a game-high 108 receiving yards, the 21-year-old rookie outperformed superstar Calvin Johnson (five receptions, 86 yards, one score) on "Megatron’s" home turf — no small feat.
The Vikings’ defense had no shortage of playmakers in this road duel, as stalwarts like Harrison Smith (game-high nine total tackles, one sack) and Everson Griffen (1.5 sacks) continued to star. But rookie linebacker Eric Kendricks made the biggest impact among Minnesota’s defenders, producing six solo tackles, two sacks and three tackles for loss, along with three total QB hits. Kendricks’ best play on Sunday was a sack with 12:31 remaining in which Stafford wasn’t even given enough time to complete his drop-back in the pocket.
Diggs’ 36-yard TD grab inspired the most oohs and ahhs during Sunday’s game, but Adrian Peterson’s lengthy run at the 8:01 mark of the third quarter was the game’s biggest play. Peterson, who had been bottled up to that point, uncorked a 75-yard run down the right sideline for his longest jaunt of the season. That set up a short field goal that gave the Vikings a decisive, 25-17 lead. Peterson ended with 98 yards on 19 carries.
1 for 12. That was Detroit’s combined conversion rate on third- and fourth-down attempts on Sunday. Stafford often had pressure in his face in those key situations, which halted multiple Lions drives.
"Usually, I just try to run under it. I was just trying to lay out for (the 36-yard TD reception)." — Diggs, via the Associated Press
"Everyone told us that this team couldn’t win a road divisional game, so this was big for us." — Zimmer, via the AP
"Our prayers and condolences go out to Flip Saunders’ family. . . . It’s really a tough day in the Twin Cities, with losing a guy like that." — Zimmer, regarding the death of Timberwolves boss Saunders
Minnesota visits division rival Chicago next Sunday at noon. The Bears, who were idle in Week 7, are 2-4 this season, including an 0-2 mark against NFC North opponents.
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