Playoffs calling: The Minnesota Vikings’ 49-17 win over the New York Giants got them into the playoffs for the first time since 2012 and gave them a shot at the NFC North Division title when they face the Green Bay Packers next Sunday night.
The Packers have won the division the past four years, but both teams are 10-5, setting up a Sunday night showdown at Lambeau Field after the game was flexed by NBC.
Passing shutdown: After four drives, the Giants had minus-12 yards passing, two sacks and one interception. Eli Manning started the game with two incompletions on the first drive before his next pass was tipped by Xavier Rhodes in coverage and intercepted by Andrew Sendejo. That didn’t lead to points, but after a three-and-out by the Vikings, Manning had another incompletion and took a third-down sack by Danielle Hunter.
The Vikings kicked a field goal on the ensuing possession after starting at their own 46-yard line. Manning’s next drop-back saw Brian Robison drop him for a 6-yard sack, and on third down Manning missed a shotgun snap and was covered up for a 13-yard loss.
Only a screen pass the Rashad Jennings turned into a 50-yard gain saved Manning’s first-half stats, but even with the ball at the 13-yard line all the Giants could manage was their lone field of the half.
On the next possession, Harrison Smith intercepted a Manning pass and returned it 35 yards for the touchdown. Manning finished the half completing only 5 of 13 passes for 77 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions, three sacks and a paltry 19.2 passer rating.
He went 19 minutes before his first completion.
“I didn’t see it coming. I thought we’d be able go out there and move the ball, put up some points and run our offense,” Manning said. “It was tough to find completions early on, and never got into a great rhythm. They did a good job getting us off the field on third down, getting some pressure in some situations and we just couldn’t get things going and then the turnovers started to occur.”
For the game, he was 15 of 29 for 234 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions for a 50.7 rating, along with four sacks.
Defensive stalwarts: Smith returned after missing the last two games and made the most of it. He intercepted Manning and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown, but he wasn’t alone in an interception parade for the purple. Captain Munnerlyn intercepted a pass and returned it 32 yards and Sendejo got the interceptions started in the first quarter after hauling in a pass that was tipped by Rhodes.
“That first half, I think it couldn’t have gone any better,” Munnerlyn said. “The defensive line played phenomenal. They stopped the run as they pressured Eli Manning and the back end we covered the receivers up real well. That’s how defenses are supposed to be made. We executed and we dominated the game.”
Rudolph exploitation: The Giants entered the game having given up 71 receptions 911 yards and seven touchdowns to tight ends that were ranked in the NFL’s top 50 for receptions at the position, according to nj.com. Kyle Rudolph entered the game with 47 catches, tied for the team lead.
Rudolph had just one catch in the first half, but it was a 28-yard touchdown. He added another 25-yard reception on Minnesota’s first drive of the second half, breaking his career high of 493 yards in 2012. He has 495 yards receiving on the season with one game to play.
Rudolph said he saw the opportunities presented to him in his film study last week.
“Absolutely. I think we had a bunch more opportunities, but when you run the ball as well as we did today, you just have to keep going with what’s working,” he said. “There were a lot of tight ends that had success against them, and I’m glad we were able to take advantage of that as well.”
Staying on the Hunt: Hunter moved into second place among NFL rookies with his sixth sack of the season in the first half. His 6-yard sack ended the Giants’ third drive of the game and helped set up field position for the Vikings’ first points of the game.
“When you create turnovers and you put pressure on the quarterback, good things typically happen,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “I thought we put good pressure on the quarterback tonight. I thought we got him to make some bad throws and we took advantage of it.”
Peterson back out front: Adrian Peterson temporarily lost his NFL rushing lead with Doug Martin going for 49 yards in an afternoon game, but Peterson now has a 64-yard lead entering Week 16, despite being pulled in the third quarter with the win in hand. He finished the game with 104 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.
Peterson also moved into a second-place tie with Emmitt Smith for most seasons with 10 or more touchdowns. Peterson now has eight season with 10 more, bested only by LaDainian Tomlinson’s nine such seasons.
“They obviously had a lot of guys up there and things, we got a lot of 2-yard runs,” Zimmer said. “I told Norv [Turner], I said, ‘Can we break one of these in here?’ And then Adrian about that same time broke it and so it was good. You know, usually when they keep keeping all of those people in there against the run you have a chance to pop some long runs and it took a long time before we were able to get a couple of them. It’s just part of the mindset that I’m trying to develop with this football team.”