Banyard earned final-drive opportunity

Jerick McKinnon has been the starter since Week 6, but Joe Banyard earned the “hot hand” title, more playing time and final-drive duties on Sunday.

Toward the end last Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers, the Vikings offense needed to take the ball down the field and punch it into the end zone so they could have a shot at winning the game. There was 8:34 left to play when the drive began, and this has been something that Vikings fans have seen multiple times this year – Teddy Bridgewater taking control of the team late in the game and scoring when needed most.

There was something different about this drive, however, as there was a key player missing from the offense. Rookie running back Jerick McKinnon did not see the field during the final 79-yard drive. Instead, it was the second-year back out of Texas-El Paso, Joe Banyard.

The drive seemed like the perfect spot for McKinnon to be playing, an athletic player with good hands. He would have the opportunity to catch passes out of the backfield and make people miss. When asked, he was not sure why he was not on the field, but it was not his decision to make.

“I’m not sure,” McKinnon said when asked if there was a reason why he didn’t see the field during the final drive. “That wasn’t my choice, my decision, but I was on the sidelines cheering on Joe and the whole offense making sure we got down there and scored.”

Banyard made a big splash for the Vikings during the preseason, especially during the Tennessee Titans game when he rushed for 111 yards on 18 carries. After the preseason, and when it was decided Adrian Peterson would have to miss time, it was thought that maybe Banyard’s role on the team would increase, but it never did .. until Sunday.

He saw time in Week 5 when he caught two passes out of the backfield, but other than that it was not until Week 11 that he got much of a chance to play. He tried to make the most of his limited role – five rushes for 26 yards and three receptions for 19 yards in 29 offensive snaps.

The running back was also able to impress head coach Mike Zimmer while he was in there, which is a good sign if he hopes for more playing time.

“I thought (Banyard) did some good things,” Zimmer said. “His yards after contact was good, had some good runs – had a good run on the one third down – caught the ball a couple times, and the ball was not exactly in the right place, and made catches, and continued to help keep drives alive.”

It was surprising to some that Banyard saw the field as the Vikings just claimed running back Ben Tate off waivers. One of the reasons that Tate did not see the field is because he had less than a week to learn the offense while Banyard had been with the team since the start of the season – he was signed to the active roster in Week 2 after spending opening week on the practice squad.

Zimmer said it was nothing against Tate not being ready, he just decided to go with the hot hand, and McKinnon and Banyard were playing well.

“I thought Joe did well when he was in there,” Zimmer said. “He made some extra yards after contact a bunch of times. He looked like he had some juice running and carried his pads low. He deserved to keep playing.

“I think Banyard had the hot hand at the time, and MicKinnon ran the ball better in the second half, as well, I thought.”

Even though he did not get to play during the final offensive series for the Vikings against the Packers, McKinnon was still happy for Banyard. He sees how hard he works, so it was nice for him to see a teammate having success.

“In the preseason (Banyard) showed a lot of promise and what he brings to the table,” said McKinnon. “He’s a good running back, and I guess you’ve seen from last game what he can do. I mean, he can get those hard yards, and then from preseason he can break those long runs as well.”

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