The Minnesota Vikings have prided themselves on their defense all season, having not allowed any of their first eight opponents to get more than two touchdowns against them. That trend continued Sunday in a 21-18 overtime win over the St. Louis Rams. Despite a defensive line that was missing Sharrif Floyd, there was no stopping Linval Joseph.
Joseph had as dominant a game as he’s ever had since joining the Vikings. He was blowing up plays consistently and finished with a career-best 10 tackles, three tackles for a loss and a shared sack that buried Rams quarterback Nick Foles.
Whenever the Vikings needed a big play, Joseph was there. Following the game, he explained that just as with other games in which a teammate forces a play his way or he forces a play into the waiting arms of a teammate, it’s more about the team than any individual numbers.
“I was just trying to do my job,” Joseph said. “I love this team. Right now, everybody is playing together. That is all you can ask for. Right now we are one heartbeat and the last couple of games have come right down to the wire. We’ve got heart and we don’t give up. That’s what we’re trying to teach and coach here and that’s what we’re doing.”
A couple weeks ago, head coach Mike Zimmer said that Joseph might be the best nose tackle he’s ever coached and Joseph’s teammates shared similar accolades.
The rest of us see what he can do on Sundays. His teammates see it throughout the week.
“That’s what we see from him every day in practice,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “He’s having a Pro Bowl-type season. I am going to lobby for him just I did for Everson (Griffen) last year. He should go to the Pro Bowl. If he doesn’t, it’s a travesty.”
Even those who weren’t always able to see what Joseph was doing marveled at what they saw when they got the chance. Safety Harrison Smith spent most of his day in coverage but had an idea what was happening when plays weren’t coming his way and he heard the roar of the crowd.
“There were some of the plays I didn’t see live from my position, but I had an idea that, if we needed a play, it was probably Linval who made it,” Smith said. “I would look up at the Jumbotron and, sure enough, it was usually Linval who made the play. He is dominating his position this year and you know that if they run something his way, he’s going to make them pay for it.”
The best part about the 2015 Vikings defense is that, while big plays are a component, nobody cares about personal numbers. Joseph has set up his teammates before and, on Sunday, what goes around came around for him.
The Vikings defense is predicated on being assignment-sound, and when it came to the Rams offense, Joseph was the beneficiary of the same schematic that has led to big individual days for some of his teammates this season.
“I felt all week that this was the type of game where you make a lot of plays or you make no plays,” Joseph said. “By making plays, you have to be in the right position. Today my team helped me be in the right position. They stopped the run. They hit the gaps. They made an edge, so you had to run back in the middle. I was glad I was able to make plays when it was time for me to make plays.”
GAME DAY NOTES
- The Vikings haven’t lost an overtime game since losing the NFC Championship to the New Saints in 2009. Since then, the Vikings have played in overtime seven times, posting a record of 6-0-1
- Fans in the east end zone saw most all the scoring Sunday. Of the 39 points that were scored, 33 of them came when the scoring team had the wind at its back.
- Both teams had injury issues Sunday. The Rams were without both of their starting defensive ends – Robert Quinn and Chris Long – while the Vikings were without linebacker Eric Kendricks and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd.
- The game took a toll as the Rams continue the aggressive style of play that has come to typify defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Teddy Bridgewater got knocked out of the game with a shot to the head while he was sliding. On the defensive side, Terence Newman left the game after getting hit in the head when Todd Gurley leaped over him, and middle linebacker Audie Cole was carted off the field after a fractured ankle that was described after the game as pointing in the wrong direction when medical personnel arrived.
- The Rams outgained the Vikings 320-293, which was saying something since the two teams combined to rush for 305 yards.
- Both defenses lived up to their billing as being among the best on third down. The Vikings converted just 3 of 13 third-down opportunities and the Rams were worse, making good on just 2 of 16 third downs.
- The Rams were called for 12 penalties for 87 yards. The Vikings were flagged six times for 67 yards.
- St. Louis came in with the best red zone defense in the league, allowing touchdowns on just 31 percent of opponent opportunities. The Vikings scored TDs on two of their three trips into the red zone.
- Adrian Peterson won the head-to-head battle with Gurley. A.P. ran 29 times for 125 yards and a touchdown, while Gurley ran 24 times for 89 yards and a TD.
- Stephon Diggs led the Vikings with just three catches for 42 yards, while Kenny Britt led all receivers with 87 yards on three receptions.
- In the third quarter, Bridgewater ran in a two-point conversion, the first two-point attempt the Vikings have tried all season.
- By halftime, nine different Vikings had at least one reception. Both teams finished with nine different players catching passes.
- When the Rams kicked a field goal in the second quarter to take a 12-10 lead, it was the first time all season the Vikings had trailed at home.
- In the second quarter, Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein showed why he has the nicknames “Greg the Leg” and “Legatron,” connecting on a 61-yard field goal, a career long, with the wind at his back and it was the longest field goal ever made against the Vikings.
- Over the last month, Gurley and wide receiver Tavon Austin have combined to score the last eight Rams offensive touchdowns.
- In the first quarter, the Rams trailed 10-0 before scoring a touchdown on a Gurley 1-yard run. The Rams opted to go for two points rather than trying to kick an extra point into the wind. Gurley got stuffed by Linval Joseph to keep the score 10-6.
- The Rams defense had gone 9½ quarters without allowing a touchdown prior to Peterson scoring in the first quarter.
- The Vikings looked as though they might blow the Rams off the field early. In their first two drives, the Rams ran just seven plays for a total of 16 yards. The Vikings ran two drives – one of eight plays and the other of six plays – for 92 total yards and 10 points.
- Walsh has now made 15 straight field goals.
- Chad Greenway made his 130th career start, tying him with Matt Blair for most starts by a linebacker in franchise history.
- As part of Salute To Service Month in NFL stadiums in November, the Vikings had several veterans and active military personnel taking part in the pregame festivities. Army Master Sergeant Eric Marts of Moorhead, who served with the 34th infantry division in Fallujah, Iraq, sounded the Gjallarhorn in the pregame player introductions.
- The paid attendance was 52,406.