Through the first three games of the 2016 season, nobody was sacking quarterbacks at a higher rate than the Minnesota Vikings. It was their calling card. But, it’s not what their defense is about.
In Monday’s 24-10 win over the New York Giants, the Vikings defense didn’t record a sack, but frustrated Eli Manning just as much as it did Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton when they were chasing them down and punishing them when they caught them.
The Giants had a plan in place and, to the extent Manning didn’t get hammered, it was successful. But they found out the Vikings can play coverage just as well as they attack the quarterback.
“We know that teams are looking at us and trying to do things to keep us from getting to their quarterback,” defensive tackle Linval Joseph said. “They tried to run the ball and get passes out quick so we couldn’t get to them in time. That was fine with us, because we feel like we can handle what offenses trying to throw at us. If that means the front needs to get the job done or if that means the guys on the back end have to get it done, so be it.”
Of all the great things the Vikings defense has done this season, one glaring weakness has been third-down defense. Coming into Monday’s game, Minnesota had allowed opponents to convert almost 50 percent of their third-down opportunities.
On Monday, the Vikings allowed the Giants to convert two of 12 third downs, getting off the field and ending one of the few downsides of the Vikings defense to date.
“That’s been unusual for us this year,” linebacker Anthony Barr said. “Last year we were good on third down and this year, for whatever reason, we got exposed a little bit. It was definitely an emphasis to stop them on third down and I thought we did a really good job of doing that.”
On Monday, much of the defensive onus was on the coverage group, from Xavier Rhodes to Terence Newman to Captain Munnerlyn to Harrison Smith to Trae Waynes to Andrew Sendejo. The Vikings knew the Giants weren’t going to have Manning stand back in the pocket and let the defensive line descend on him.
The defense was tight in coverage and Manning was throwing passes away rather than test the defense.
They excelled at all three levels and had arguably the best full-unit performance of the season.
“We play as one,” Rhodes said. “We play as a unit. No matter what it is. We pressure the quarterback and play strong coverage. They all work together.”
For Joseph, it was a style of game that the Vikings hadn’t had yet this season. They had to adapt and change to what New York was trying to accomplish and they were ready for everything they tried to mount against them.
That’s the kind of play champions are made of.
“Getting stronger every week, that’s how you’re supposed to be,” Joseph said. “We put together one of our most complete games in all phases tonight. We all want to be great and, if we can keep this up, we have the ability in this locker room to be great.”
GAME NIGHT NOTES
- The stat of the night may well have been provided by Giants Pro Bowl wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Monday night he caught three passes for 23 yards – the fewest yards of his NFL career.
- The Vikings turned the tables on time of possession. In the first half, they had the ball for just 15:59. In the second half, they controlled the ball 21:33 of the final 30 minutes.
- The Vikings dominated third downs on offense, which had been a problem in the first month. The Vikings converted eight of 16 third downs, while holding the Giants to converting just two of 12 chances.
- The Vikings had their first 100-yard rushing game of the season as a team Monday.
- The Vikings again had no turnovers, giving them four straight games without an offensive turnover.
- Sam Bradford dominated the battle of the quarterbacks, completing 26 of 36 passes for 262 yards with one touchdown, no interceptions and a passer rating of 101.9. Eli Manning completed 25 of 45 passes for 261 yards with no touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 63.3.
- Jerick McKinnon had the best rushing day of the season, rushing 18 times for 85 yards and a touchdown.
- Three Vikings caught five passes each – Kyle Rudolph, Stefon Diggs and Cordarrelle Patterson, who had just two catches coming into the game.
- Smith led the Vikings with nine tackles, followed by Munnerlyn and Eric Kendricks with eight each.
- The Vikings may have had their best drive of the season early in the fourth quarter as they drove 76 yards on eight plays. Bradford went 5-for-5 for 68 yards with a pair of third-down conversions and a 40-yard strike to Johnson. McKinnon capped the drive with a 4-yard TD run to give the Vikings a 24-10 lead.
- The biggest gaining play of the game came on the first play of the fourth quarter. Manning tossed a short dump-off to Paul Perkins, who traversed the field 67 yards all the way to the Vikings 4-yard line, where Darkwa would finish the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to cut the Vikings lead to 17-10.
- The Vikings held the ball for 12:46 of the third quarter.
- On the first drive of the second half, the Vikings drove inside the New York 30-yard line, but Blair Walsh missed a 46-yard field goal wide left to keep the score 14-3.
- On the ensuing drive, Rhodes got his third career interception, which he returned 29 yards, giving Walsh a chance to make amends and he did – connecting on a 44-yard field goal.
- The stats were extremely close at halftime. The Giants out-gained the Vikings 165-154 and had the ball for 16:01 of the half.
- Both defenses dominated on third down. New York converted just one of seven third downs in the first half. Minnesota converted just two of six third downs.
- Bradford completed 10 of 15 passes for 88 yards and a touchdown in the first half. Manning completed 13 of 23 passes for 111 yards.
- McKinnon ran seven times for 56 yards in the first half, setting the season high for the team for the year in the game’s first 20 minutes. Darkwa had eight carries for 40 yards.
- Victor Cruz led the Giants with four catches for 36 yards in the first half. Four players had two catches for the Vikings, led by Diggs with two receptions for 23 yards and Rudolph with two catches for 12 yards and a touchdown.
- Smith led all tacklers in the first half with five.
- Everson Griffen made a critical defensive error late in the first half. With the Giants facing a fourth-and-4 from the Minnesota 42-yard line, it appeared as though Manning was trying to get the Vikings to jump and had no intention of snapping the ball. He got Griffen to jump, which extended the drive. It ended with a 40-yard field goal from Josh Brown with six seconds remaining in the first half to cut the Vikings lead to 14-3.
- Beckham didn’t have a catch until less than eight minutes remained in the first half.
- The Vikings put together a 65-yard touchdown drive midway through the second quarter. Minnesota picked up four first downs without ever facing a third-down situation and, when they did, Bradford hit Rudolph for a 7-yard touchdown to give the Vikings a 14-0 lead.
- The touchdown by Rudolph was the 25th of his career.
- In the first 17 minutes of the game, there were seven punts.
- The Vikings out-gained the Giants 71-68 in the first quarter.
- On their first three drives, the Giants were 0-for-3 on third down.
- McKinnon had 27 yards on two carries. Darkwa had 33 yards on six carries in the first quarter.
- Bradford completed five of nine passes for 37 yards in the first quarter. Manning completed four of eight passes for 32 yards.
- The Vikings had a chance for a huge play late in the first quarter as Bradford threw a perfect bomb for Adam Thielen that landed incomplete at the 5-yard line. Replay showed defensive back Trevin Wade committed pass interference, but the penalty wasn’t called – bringing out the vocal boo birds as the replay showed on the big video screens.
- Late in the first quarter, McKinnon broke off a 25-yard sweep, breaking the previous long run of just 14 yards on the season.
- The Vikings made the first break of the game. After going three-and-out on the opening drive of the game, Patterson broke free down the sideline on a Jeff Locke punt and got in the face of punt returner Dwayne Harris, who fumbled when Patterson flashed a hand toward the ball. Marcus Sherels recovered.
- The turnover led to a touchdown, as Matt Asiata scored the first rushing TD of the season to give the Vikings a 7-0 lead.
- Prior to that touchdown, the only points scored by the Vikings in the first quarter was a safety by Danielle Hunter against Cam Newton in Week 3.
- With the win, the Vikings ended their seven-game losing streak on Monday Night Football.
- Former Viking Randy Moss sounded the Gjallarhorn prior to the start of the game, producing a thunderous ovation from the crowd.
- Randall McDaniel was the honorary captain for the game and came out to midfield with the Ryder Cup, won by the USA over the weekend in Chaska, Minn.
- Monday was just the second time the Vikings and Giants have met on Monday Night Football. New York won the first meeting 23-7 at MetLife Stadium.
- Monday marked the ninth different venue in which the Vikings and Giants have played. They include Yankee Stadium, Yale Bowl, Giants Stadium, MetLife Stadium, Metropolitan Stadium, the Metrodome, TCF Bank Stadium, U.S. Bank Stadium and Ford Field in Detroit, which was the temporary home for the Vikings after the Metrodome roof collapsed in 2010.
- The paid attendance was 66,690.