Six days after the Minnesota Vikings had one of their most humbling defeats in recent memory, a performance so bad that head coach Mike Zimmer said he didn’t recognize the team he saw on the field, they bounced back in a big way Sunday, blasting the Detroit Lions 26-16 in a game in which the defense was looking for some redemption.
“Especially after what happened last week, I said about a thousand times this week that we wanted to make sure people knew that’s not the kind of defense we are,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “I think today was a little more indicative of who we really are. We swarmed the football better and all 11 guys did their job better.”
The Vikings had control of the game throughout and the points that the coaches were stressing during the week came back to bite the Lions, as the Vikings controlled both sides of the ball for the entire game.
“There were two things,” safety Harrison Smith said. “On defense, we stopped the run and executed what the coaches called. Offensively, we did a great job of controlling the clock and the controlling the game by running the ball.”
The difference in the game could be boiled down to the running numbers. The Vikings ran 42 times for 199 yards, averaging 4.7 yards a carry and rushing for a pair of touchdowns – led by 134 yards from Adrian Peterson.
The Lions, on the other hand, were awful running the ball – on those rare occasions when they did run. Their leading rusher was quarterback Matthew Stafford, who gained just 20 yards. Running back tandem Ameer Abdullah and Joique Bell combined to carry 10 times for just 11 yards.
“I thought we did a good job out there, but it was just the defense,” linebacker Gerald Hodges said. “The offense and special teams did their parts too. We were making plays in three units and this was truly a team win.”
When the Lions did move the ball, the defense came up with big turnovers to keep them from building any momentum. With the Vikings leading 17-10 early in the third quarter, Captain Munnerlyn got a turnover by ripping the ball away from wide receiver Golden Tate, which was scooped up by safety Andrew Sendejo and returned to the 6-yard line. It was the kind of play Munnerlyn is known for making and he was glad to be the man on the spot to make the play when the defense needed to establish itself in the second half.
“I’m a feisty guy and I saw an opportunity,” Munnerlyn said. “I thought it was a penalty at first because they were shielding me and blocking me before the ball was thrown. I was just trying to compete and get the ball out and I did that.”
With the Lions attempting a comeback in the fourth quarter, it was backup defensive end Justin Trattou who made the big play, leaping up to block a pass, but instead intercepting it at midfield and setting up a Vikings field goal that gave them a 16-point lead to all but put away the game.
For Trattou, who was left off the active roster last Monday, it was a chance to show what he is capable of doing for the Vikings defense and getting his first career interception in a critical spot likely earned him more chances to be on the field in future games.
“We just went back to the fundamentals and played our technique,” Trattou said. “It showed out there. It was a great feeling to help the team win. I wasn’t active last week, so I was ready to try to do something to make a contribution. I was able to make a big play and it was big for me.”
The Vikings had a trying week with fans and media blasting them over an ugly performance that embarrassed the players and coaches. They acknowledged that what people saw on Monday wasn’t indicative of who this team is on either side of the ball.
While nobody is suddenly saying that the Vikings are a Super Bowl contender, the feeling was much better than the stone cold silent plane ride they took back to Minnesota in the wee hours of Tuesday morning.
“We played bad last week,” Smith said. “We got a chance to redeem ourselves a little bit today and I think we did a good job of that. There’s still a long way to go. There’s still a lot of things to correct because we made mistakes, but this was a good win for us.”