The Minnesota Vikings continuously shot themselves in the foot throughout the game by committing uncharacteristic errors and penalties that put them in unfavorable positions.
But there were some positives for the Vikings to draw, one of the biggest being tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Coming into the season, Rudolph was expected to have a breakout year, which has been the storyline for three seasons now. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner has shown throughout his career in the NFL that he loves to utilize big, athletic tight ends and at 6-foot-6, 265-pound Rudolph fits well into that category. He is also healthy once again after having surgery on a sports hernia a year ago.
The big games have been hard to come by for Rudolph, however, as he has had to stay on the offensive line too often to help block. There have been a lot of changing parts along of the line this season and that has led to protection issues.
Before last Sunday’s game against the Packers, Rudolph’s best receiving game came Week 1 against the San Francisco 49ers when he had five receptions for 53 yards. But he was finally able to break out against the Packers going for a career-high 106 yards and a touchdown on six receptions.
“Those are things that we got dialed up. Haven’t really ran a whole lot of (seam routes) yet this year, but like I’ve said before, we’ve talked about it all year how my role can change every week,” Rudolph said. “This week my role was to make plays in the passing game, and whenever that comes up I have to be ready.”
It was a seam route that led to Rudolph’s longest reception of the day, and of his career. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was able to float the ball up over the defender and right into Rudolph’s hands down the field. The tight end was able to break a tackle, and once he did that there was no one to stop him as he made his way to the end zone for a 47-yard reception.
It is a play that the Vikings have been looking for all season long from their tight end and quarterback, and the early score gave them a lead over their division rivals.
That wasn’t the first time these two have connected – they had three touchdowns prior to that reception, but all of them had been red zone attempts. This was the first one where they were really able to take advantage of a team deeper down the field.
Rudolph was thankful Bridgewater continued to have trust in him after his red zone blunder a week ago. The tight end was wide open in the end zone and Bridgewater was able to get the ball to him after scrambling to avoid pressure. It should have been one of the easiest touchdowns of his career, but instead he dropped the ball.
“I owed Teddy from last week after that drop,” Rudolph said. “He just showed that he never lost trust in me and that he’s still going to throw the ball to me. When my number is called in the pass game, I have to be ready to make plays.”
Rudolph proved against the Packers that when he is given the opportunity he has the ability to make game-changing plays for his team. The question now is how often he is going to be used in the passing game.
The Vikings decided to have him release from the line and go out for passes often against the Packers, but the offensive line also struggled protecting Bridgewater for much of the night. As long as the offensive line continues to struggle, Rudolph will likely be asked to stay in and help block.
That hurts the passing offense since Rudolph has proved what kind of a weapon he could be, but keeping their quarterback is a primary concern for the Vikings.