Vikings defense shuts the door: ‘Not again!’

The Vikings defense is putting last year behind them and figuring out ways to close out games late.

The Vikings knew back in training camp in Mankato that they had the defensive talent to make the plays that could win games. Over the past four games, the Vikings have shown that they can pressure quarterbacks and keep opponent points to a minimum.

But, over the last two games, the Vikings have proved they can close out games. After winning the Tampa Bay game with a huge defensive play, the Vikings closed out Washington for a 29-26 win at TCF Bank Stadium.

Safety Harrison Smith has seen the incremental improvement of the Vikings defense over the past month. It has been asked to carry the team during the transition from one quarterback to another. Sunday’s game represented a turning of the corner as both the offense and defense came together.

“It was nice, really nice,” Smith said. “That was a team win right there. It was just a matter of the guys believing in what we do and getting the job done. We starting to put things together and we’re building momentum.”

The turning point for the Vikings came in their last-second loss to Buffalo 15 days ago. In 2013, the Vikings lost leads in five games during the final minute. The Vikings had a defiance following the Buffalo loss that history wouldn’t repeat itself this time around.

“It definitely helps us to know we can win these close games and finish,” free-agent acquisition Captain Munnerlyn said. “Last year, they had a problem winning those closer games. It’s a big thing. After that Buffalo game, we had a sour taste in our mouth and we were like, ‘Not again! This isn’t going to happen this year.’ Last year was last year. Let’s leave it there and move forward.”

While far from a textbook form of dominance, it was arguably the most complete game the Vikings have played on both sides of the ball since Week 1 at St. Louis. Everson Griffin, the NFC Defensive Player of the Month in October, started making his case for getting the nod in November, adding to his team-high sack total with his ninth sack of the season.

Griffen has had the confidence that the team could overwhelm opponents, but over the last few games they’ve started to show a killer instinct and Sunday’s win was an example of being able to get enough out of the offense to win games and the defense to shut an opponent down and close them out.

“We looked good,” Griffen said. “We’ve still a long way to go to get where we want to go, but we’re looking good. We’ve got to keep working, stay hungry, stay humble and let’s go out there and win. After the Buffalo game, that week during practice, it was all ‘finish, finish, finish.’ That’s what we’ve been doing – finishing and winning. I don’t care if it’s one or three points, win. It’s hard to win in the NFL and we’re winning.”

Not everyone was giddy about the performance of the defense. Veteran Brian Robison was upset that the Vikings had penalties that sustained Washington drives that turned into 14 points. But, for the most part, especially at the end of the game, the Vikings are showing the signs that Mike Zimmer’s defensive scheme can take over games.

“It just shows that we’re still a work in progress, but we’re making progress,” Robison said. “If we go out there and all 11 guys are doing their job, we have an opportunity to be a very good defense in this league. That’s what we were able to do today at the end. We’ve got to cut down on the penalties and the little mistakes, but at the end that’s how we feel we can play ball.”

With the Vikings heading into their bye week, a loss on Sunday could have been disastrous for the psyche of the team. But the combination of the offense coming up big late in the game and the defense sealing the deal is a good sign moving forward for the franchise.

“I think it means that we’re learning how to win at the end of games,” linebacker Chad Greenway said. “That’s on the offensive side of the ball as well as the defensive side of the ball. It’s also a matter of getting confidence in what we’re doing. The biggest thing is that once you get it going in your direction, you’ve got to keep that momentum on your side. With the way our front is rushing, we have the chance to do some really good things coming out of the bye week. I can’t wait.”

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