For the first three games of the 2016 season, the Minnesota Vikings seemed to be winning despite their offense, not because of it. But, in front of a national TV audience on Monday Night Football, the Vikings offense dominated the game, running the ball 33 times and controlling the clock.
Just about every offensive player who saw the field did his part to humble the New York Giants 24-10, converting on 50 percent of their third downs and keeping the clock in their favor – especially in the second half.
Head coach Mike Zimmer challenged his offense to hold up their end of the bargain after struggling the first three games to be consistent. It was a theme that resonated Monday night.
“We talked about it all week,” wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson said. “We’ve got to do something with the offense. Defense has been winning the games for us. It was our game plan all week. The offense put up a show this week.”
The key was not gassing out the Vikings defense, which had been forced back onto the field too often. Sustaining drives was the biggest concern, but the Vikings rolled up 22 first downs against the Giants and held the ball for 35:32 of the game’s 60 minutes.
To say it was gratifying was an understatement.
“Coming into the week, Coach (Zimmer) told us we needed to get a lot of first downs,” wide receiver Adam Thielen said. “We were able to do that tonight – put together some long drives, work time off the clock and score when we got in the red zone.”
In the first half, the Vikings strung together a nine-play drive that led to a touchdown and had three second-half drives of eight plays or more than kept the clock rolling down as the offense looked to protect the lead it had established early.
“It felt good to go out there and do what we were supposed to do,” guard Brandon Fusco said. “Our defense has done a great job of carry its end of the load all season. It was great for the offense to finally sustain drives and do our part for a team win.”
The performance of the O-line wasn’t without yet another injury. Jeremiah Sirles was pressed into duty once again when Andre Smith went down with an elbow injury in the first half (Zimmer said he wasn't concerned about the injury).
Last week, Sirles held up well in relief of left guard Alex Boone. This time it was right tackle that needed him in there – and a date with New York’s Jason Pierre-Paul. Sirles wasn’t perfect, but held up well and controlled JPP for most of the game and forced the Giants back in the red zone when they needed to close out the game with a rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“I had some plays I would like to have back, but overall I thought I played pretty well,” Sirles said. “I thought we were especially strong when we got near the goal line and closed out drives on the ground. That’s Vikings football and we needed it tonight.”
The Vikings offense was its most dominant in the third quarter, holding the ball for 12:36 of the 15 minutes and keeping the Giants offense watching from the sideline instead of being able to mount a comeback as time evaporated with each passing snap.
“The time of possession we had in the second half was the key for us,” Asiata said. “We wanted to dictate the pace and work the clock and we kept our defense fresh for the fourth quarter. We knew we could do it, it was just a matter of putting it all together.”
For an offense that hasn’t been awful but hasn’t been great either, the Vikings put together their best full performance of the 2016 season.
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After three games of being along for the ride with the defense, it was encouraging for players to see the offense step up in its own right and let the rest of the NFL know that, if games get higher scoring, the Vikings offense can get its job done as well.
“This was the kind of game we’ve been looking for all year,” wide receiver Stefon Diggs said. “It took a while to finally get one, but I think we showed that we can be a good offensive team to go along with being a good defensive team. When you get those both working together, you become a team that is pretty hard to beat.”