Notebook: Jhurell Pressley, C.J. Ham spark Minnesota Vikings to win over Rams

The clear odds are that running backs Jhurell Pressley and C.J. Ham won't make the final 53-man roster, but, for one night in a 27-25 win over the Los Angeles Rams, they were the stars of the game.

During the Adrian Peterson era, the Minnesota Vikings have had a history of keeping few running backs on the roster, which can be bittersweet for the Joe Banyards and Jordan Todmans of the world.

In Thursday night’s 27-25 win over the Los Angeles Rams, two of the Vikings young running backs – Jhurell Pressley and C.J. Ham – were front and center.

Ham led all rushers with 15 carries, gaining 59 yards and scoring a touchdown. While Pressley’s rushing numbers weren’t impressive – 14 carries for 29 yards – he was the game MVP in other ways. He led all receivers with four catches for 49 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown, and gave the Vikings what turned out to be the knockout punch with a 106-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

Both players know that the chances of them making the 53-man roster are almost nonexistent when cuts are made Saturday, but both felt they had something to prove and did what was needed to make their case for practice squad consideration or a long look from another team.

“I knew that this game was important because it was going to give me a chance to showcase what I can do,” Ham said. “I just went out there focused on doing my job right and playing hard.”

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Pressley felt much the same way, saying that he has been a playmaker his entire football career, although it was gratifying to make big plays at the NFL level.

“I knew coming in that I was going to be on the field a lot tonight and knew I had to step my game up a notch,” Pressley said. “At the end of the day, I’ve been playing football for a while, so all I was doing was doing what I know how to do.”

Pressley used one iconic feature of U.S. Bank Stadium to assist his long touchdown run – using the big screen as eyes in the back of his head as he looked to avoid the defenders chasing him down.

“I was watching myself and watching the guys who were trying to chase me,” Pressley said. “It helped me because I knew when to move a little to my left or right when I saw a guy closing in me. That big screen was great because I was able to use it to my advantage.”

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Both Pressley and Ham know the deck is stacked against them for making the final roster. The Vikings have made it a habit the last couple of years to keep three pure running backs – Peterson, Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata. That isn’t likely to change this time around.

That is a realization that both are dealing with and aren’t holding out any delusions, but they are looking to put enough on tape to get other teams interested or the potential practice squad callback from the Vikings. Both can look at their performances Thursday and make the rightful claim that they did just about all they could to make a statement that they belong in the NFL – whether with the Vikings or someone else.

“I knew coming in that there are some very talented backs here and that it would be an uphill climb for me,” Ham said. “All I can do is control those things that I’m in charge of. The Vikings are going to do what they’re going to do and I feel like I put everything out there in these four preseason games and now all I can do is sit back and wait. My family will be with me and whatever happens will happen.”

GAME NIGHT NOTES 

  • With Thursday’s win, the Vikings finished the preseason with a perfect 4-0 record and, in Mike Zimmer’s three years as head coach, the team has posted a 12-1 preseason record.
  • In Vikings history, they have finished undefeated in the preseason eight times – six from 1961-2013 and twice in Zimmer’s three seasons.
  • Thanks to some big special teams plays and turnovers, the Vikings were outgained offensively by the Rams 286-182.
  • The Vikings offense had its share of struggles, gaining just 2.9 yards per play Thursday.
  • Pressley’s 106-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was the only one of Greg Zuerlein’s five kickoffs that wasn’t a touchback.
  • The Vikings didn’t commit a turnover, while the Rams committed four.
  • Most first overall picks are sitting in the preseason finale, but not Jared Goff – who has struggled badly in training camp and the preseason. Thursday was no exception. He completed just 6 of 16 passes for 67 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
  • Goff’s replacement, Sean Mannion, completed 15 of 23 passes for 135 yards in one touchdown in the second half.
  • Joel Stave completed 9 of 18 passes for 76 yards before leaving the game after being placed into the concussion protocol – although it appeared as though he could have returned. Brad Sorensen completed 4 of 9 passes for 53 yards and a touchdown in relief of Stave.
  • Only six different Vikings caught passes, led by Pressley with four. Twelve different Rams caught at least one pass.
  • The Vikings didn’t have an offensive drive that gained more than 31 yards.
  • In his first drive of the game, Mannion led the Rams on a 13-play drive that ate 7:31 off the clock, but the team had to settle for a field goal, keeping the Vikings ahead with a 13-10 lead.
  • Both teams struggled badly on third down in the first half on third down. The Vikings converted just three of 10 chances, while the Rams made good on just two of eight chances.
  • The Vikings outgained the Rams 82-23 in the second quarter, primarily because Los Angeles held on to the ball for just 4:11 of the second quarter.
  • After completing three of his first four passes for 53 yards to start the game, from that point until halftime, Goff completed just three of 12 passes for 14 yards and an interception.
  • The Vikings had five first downs in the second quarter, while the Rams managed none.
  • The complexion of the game changed dramatically in the final four minutes of the first half. As the Vikings punted to the Rams, the ball hit a Rams blocker and was recovered by Jayron Kearse. The Vikings didn’t gained much offensively, but were close enough for Blair Walsh to hit a 30-yard field goal to put the Vikings on the board. Three plays later, Goff fumbled a snap that was recovered by Stephen Weatherly on the Rams 9-yard line. The offense again couldn’t get anything going, but Walsh hit another field goal with 55 seconds left to cut the deficit to 7-6. After a 42-yard kickoff return kept the Rams from running out the clock, Goff was intercepted on a pass tipped by Justin Trattou and pulled in by Toby Johnson at the Los Angeles 28-yard line. On the next play, Sorensen threw a short check-down pass to Pressley, who scampered 28 yards for a touchdown to give the Vikings their first lead at 13-7.
  • The Vikings scored 13 points in the span of 2:06 of game time, including the last 10 points in just 22 seconds.
  • Stave took a big hit with less than five minutes to play and was replaced by Sorensen, who was sacked on his first play on the field.
  • Thanks to a big opening drive, the Rams dominated the yardage in the first quarter, despite holding the ball for just 6:48 of the quarter. Los Angeles outgained Minnesota 85-43. Both Goff and Stave completed five of nine passes, but Goff gained 61 yards and had a touchdown in his five completions and Stave had just 35 yards on his completions.
  • The play was sloppy in terms of penalties in the first quarter. The Vikings had four penalties for 40 yards in the first quarter, while the Rams had three penalties for 21 yards.
  • Laquon Treadwell struggled badly early, dropping a pair of passes in the first half that were spirals right in his hands. He finished the game with five targets, but just one reception for five yards.
  • Both teams struggled to move the ball in the first quarter following the opening drive. The Vikings had just three first downs in their first three possessions and, after an impressive first drive, the Rams had just one first down the rest of the quarter.
  • The Rams got things started early, as Goff completed three of four passes, including completions of 22 and 30 yards. His third completion was a 1-yard touchdown to veteran Kenny Britt to give the Rams a 7-0 lead three-and-a-half minutes into the game.
  • The announced attendance was 66,262, but there were plenty of empty seats.


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