Maligned Vikings line rebounds to dominate

The Vikings offensive linemen had heard the criticisms and rebounded in a big way during the 41-28 win.

As part of their job, offensive linemen are by design supposed to be unsung heroes. They’re the players who do the dirty work to open holes in the running game and protect the quarterback to make plays in the passing game.

Over the last couple of weeks, the Minnesota Vikings offensive line has been anything but anonymous. It was the subject of harsh criticism from the local sports media and fans who felt that the O-line hadn’t been holding up its end of the bargain all season.

The maligned line got a measure of revenge Sunday in the Vikings 41-28 win over Atlanta – a win that included 558 total yards of offense, a whopping 241 rushing yards on 44 carries, as well as a 300-yard passer, a 100-yard rusher and a 100-yard receiver.

For the members of the offensive line, Sunday was a chance for redemption and keeping true to what has made the Vikings O-line one of the better units in the NFL over the last few seasons.

“We talked all week about having faith,” center John Sullivan said. “It just showed that Coach Zimmer has faith in us and our offense that we’re going to go out there and dominate the line of scrimmage. We’ve done our best to not pay attention to the outside noise. We’ve focused on the guys that are here and we went out and executed.”

It hadn’t been that way in the previous couple of games. The Vikings had struggled badly without Adrian Peterson as their offensive workhorse, not scoring a TD in the previous seven-plus quarters and having critical injuries that had some questioning whether the 2014 season could be going into the tank almost before it had a chance to get fully underway. The players, however, never wavered in their belief and it was rewarded Sunday, as Matt Asiata pounded in three touchdowns, Jerick McKinnon rushed for more than 100 yards and they gave Teddy Bridgewater the protection he needed to post his first NFL win.

“There were a lot of people that were wondering how we would be without No. 28 back there, but we never lost faith,” Loadholt said, referring to Peterson. “We knew what guys like Matt and Jerick could do and knew that if we gave Teddy time, he could do some special things.”

On Sunday, the Vikings didn’t give up a sack and allowed only one quarterback hit.

Perhaps nobody took the brunt of the criticism more than left tackle Matt Kalil. Over the past week, it was pointed out that websites that grade out player performance had Kalil listed as the last-place offensive tackle in the NFL. The criticism thrown his way was often brutal and frontal – in effect saying he may have been a bust with the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft. But Kalil has learned to hit the mute button on critics and remained confident that what fans saw Sunday was much more indicative of the style the Vikings play.

“We don’t pay any attention to that,” Kalil said. “We know how we play as an offensive line. We’re a physical group and there is a high expectation of how we should play. That’s what we pride ourselves on – stepping up and making plays.”

It wasn’t to say that Kalil was oblivious to the deficiencies that were pointed out by the stat gurus and his vocal critics in the media. Nobody was more upset that they weren’t executing as expected than the linemen themselves and it was a relief to finally have the type of game that can shine a positive light on the group.

“We know what we’re capable of and the only frustration we had was that we weren’t playing with the consistency we expect of ourselves,” Kalil said. “We’re our own harshest critics. We expect to have games like we had today. It’s when we don’t have days like this that we’re surprised.”

Although the Vikings had showed the ability to dominate the line scrimmage, it seemed to come more in spurts than it did over the full course of the game. Having a dominating performance from start to finish is always the intention, but it was gratifying to have a full game played at a high level like the Vikings did on Sunday.

“It’s always a good feeling,” Loadholt said. “I thought this was the first game in which we played well for the full 60 minutes. We showed up today and everybody did their part to get the job done. It was truly a team effort and everybody did their part to get the win.”

For the time being, the same writers, radio and TV talking heads and fans will likely be lauding the offensive line instead of maligning them because their performance was so dominant. It’s part of the “what have you done for me lately?” world of the NFL. But the Vikings are going to take the same approach to their newfound supporters as they did to recent naysayers – which, unfortunately are often the same people.

“What people think of us is not really our concern,” Sullivan said. “The media, the fans – we appreciate the fans showing up and the job you guys (in the media) do – the opinions of what this team can do belongs to the guys that play on the field, the coaches and our front office. Those are the people we’re concerned about.”

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