Sunday’s 30-24 win for the Minnesota Vikings over the Arizona Cardinals wasn’t exactly an artistic success – the Vikings defense got pounded in the first half and the offense managed just 217 yards (109 in the first half and 108 yards in the second) – but there were three critical plays that made the difference.
The first came in the second quarter with the Vikings leading 13-10. Arizona was driving inside the 10-yard line and it appeared they would either take the lead or, at a minimum, tie the game with a field goal.
Instead, intended target John Brown was chipped at the line of scrimmage by Captain Munnerlyn and Xavier Rhodes jumped the route, picking off the pass and returning it 100 yards for a touchdown to give the Vikings a 20-10 lead.
A lot of players have admitted looking up at the giant video screen to see if there are players around them, but Rhodes was looking over his shoulder.
“I had a feeling (Cardinals wide receiver John) Brown was behind me,” Rhodes said. “I knew he was pretty fast. That was why I looked back and cut it inside. Captain made a great block on (Brown) coming off the line. It slowed him down and prevented him from getting to the ball. It messed the timing up between him and Carson (Palmer). I just came up and had the interception.”
Rhodes hasn’t been known in his career as a ball hawk who piles up interception numbers, so his two picks in the game – the second being a diving catch on a Palmer bomb – got him some good-natured ribbing from his defensive teammates.
“He learned to catch all of the sudden,” linebacker Anthony Barr quipped. “He couldn’t catch a cold for the first three years I was here and he caught two picks today. Somebody better get their pocketbook ready. He’s going to have a payday.”
With the Vikings ahead 20-17 at halftime, they needed a spark to maintain their advantage in the game and to get back momentum. Cordarrelle Patterson provided that in the span of 13 seconds.
Patterson took the opening kickoff back 104 yards for a touchdown, extending the Vikings’ lead to 27-17. He said he had trouble sleeping last night because he felt he would be a difference-maker in today’s game, a prophecy that came true.
“We all want to make plays, but at the end of the day you’ve just got to do your job – control what you can control,” Patterson said.
Patterson said it wasn’t a great individual effort that made his long touchdown possible. The hole was there. His only concern was not getting tripped up by the kicker.
“I just saw the hole open up – there was no way I could have missed it,” Patterson said. “Everybody was doing their job – all 10 guys. It was one-on-one with the kicker. Coach (Mike Priefer) always gets on us for getting tackled by a kicker, but they get paid too. I knew I’ve been caught by a couple of kickers at times, but I just wanted to help the team out with a score and just get in the end zone.”
With the Vikings clinging to a six-point lead with 2:33 to play from their own 15-yard line, it appeared as though Arizona was going to have good field position. That was before Jeff Locke nailed a bomb of a punt that hit more than 50 yards downfield and rolled another 15-20 yards – covering 72 yards in total.
Locke said he wasn’t pressuring himself to hit a bomb, just do what he has been taught. The adrenaline did the rest.
“I kind of equate it to golf,” Locke said. “When you hit a really good shot, you feel like you barely hit it. You hit is so flush, it just kind of flies. I hit it right on the sweet spot.”
He could have felt the urge to over-kick the ball, but chose to do what the coaches have preached to him and it worked out for the best.
“Maybe as a young punter, I would have thought about trying to hit a missile down there and try to the flip the field,” Locke said. “But I’ve learned that when I try to get hang time, I’m going to get distance, too.”
There were problems the Vikings had on offense and defense Sunday, but, when all was said and done, it was three plays that made the difference in a critical win that suddenly has momentum back on Minnesota’s side heading into Detroit for Thanksgiving.
GAME DAY NOTES
- Sunday’s game was the first time in franchise history the Vikings had two 100-yard plays in one game. Prior to that, in the history of the organization the Vikings had nine plays of 100 yards or more.
- The Cardinals scored three touchdowns against the Vikings, marking only the second time in the last 28 games the Vikings have allowed more than two touchdowns in a game – the other being their regular season loss to Seattle last year.
- Shockingly, neither team managed 300 yards of offense. Arizona had 290 total yards and the Vikings had just 217.
- Arizona had 263 yards on 41 plays in the first half, but just 27 yards on 29 offensive snaps in the second half.
- The Vikings defense limited Arizona to converting just four of 13 third-down opportunities, including just two of eight in the second half.
- Both teams could make the case that the officiating was questionable, as plays that appeared to have penalties weren’t called and plays that didn’t seem like penalties were. In all, there 18 penalties accepted – 10 against Minnesota for 73 yards and eight against Arizona for 96 yards.
- Sam Bradford won the battle of the quarterbacks with Carson Palmer. Bradford completed 20 of 28 passes for 169 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and a passer rating of 98.7. Palmer completed 20 of 38 passes for 198 yards with two touchdowns, two interceptions and passer rating of 63.3.
- David Johnson was the second running back to top 100 yards against the Vikings this year, rushing 22 times for 103 yards and a touchdown. However, in the second half, he rushed just five times for 14 yards.
- The Vikings continued to struggle on the ground, averaging just 3 yards a carry again. Jerick McKinnon had 16 carries for 44 yards and Matt Asiata had five carries for 20 yards.
- Stefon Diggs caught six passes for 37 yards, as he was blanketed by Patrick Peterson all game. Diggs said he enjoys the challenge of going up against the best defenders in the league.
- The Vikings gave Arizona a second chance late in the game. Pinned on his own 9-yard line late, Palmer threw an incompletion and was hit by Tom Johnson, who was flagged for a personal foul for driving Palmer into the turf. Three plays later, the second sack of the day by Danielle Hunter sealed the deal.
- The Cardinals had a defensive meltdown in the third quarter, giving up three first downs on personal foul penalties – a roughing the passer call, a late hit and a hit on a defenseless receiver that had coach Bruce Arians blowing a gasket on the sidelines.
- The Vikings defense came out strong to start the second half, forcing a pair of three-and-outs and an interception on Arizona’s first three drives.
- Arizona finished the third quarter with minus-2 total yards of offense as the Vikings opened up their second-half lead, outscoring Arizona 10-0 in the third quarter.
- Diggs didn’t have a reception until the third quarter. Much was made during the week that the Cardinals were going to have Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson shadow Diggs and he held him without a reception and only one target – which had no chance of being completed – in the first half.
- Arizona dominated the first-half statistics. The Cardinals outgained the Vikings 263-109 – posting more yards passing (153) and rushing (100) than the Vikings had total yards. Arizona picked up 19 first downs in the half, as opposed to seven by the Vikings, primarily because the Cards ran 41 offensive plays to just 19 for Minnesota.
- Bradford threw just nine passes in the first half, but he completed seven of them for 87 yards with one touchdown and a passer rating of 144.0.
- Bradford’s first-half touchdown gave him at least one TD pass in all nine games he has started for Minnesota.
- Johnson was the star of the first half, rushing 17 times for 89 yards and a touchdown and catching two passes for 24 yards.
- Rhodes' 100-yard interception return in the second quarter was the longest in franchise history. The previous longest interception return for a score was a 97-yarder by Reggie Ragland
- It would appear the referees didn’t want the Vikings to score touchdowns. Both of their TDs in the first half were counted only when Mike Zimmer challenged the call on the field – both of which were obvious touchdowns.
- Following Asiata’s touchdown to give the Vikings a 13-10 lead, Forbath’s extra point was low and blocked by Justin Bethel to keep the lead at three points.
- The Vikings went old-school razzle dazzle on their first drive of the second quarter. Lined up in the Wildcat formation, McKinnon took the snap, gave it to Patterson on a reverse, who then flipped the ball to Bradford. He launched a bomb for Adam Thielen, but a pass interference call on Tony Jefferson set up the Vikings’ second TD of the game.
- Johnson dominated in the Cardinals’ first drive of the second quarter, a 12-play, 78-yard drive that milked 6:26 off the clock and ended with a field goal. On the drive, Johnson carried eight times for 54 yards – giving him 71 yards on 15 carries at that point of the game.
- Bradford completed four of five passes in the first quarter for 42 yards, a touchdown and a passer rating of 141.2. Three of the four completions were to Thielen for 45 yards. The only other completion was a 3-yard loss to McKinnon.
- McKinnon had five carries for 22 yards in the first quarter, the most first-quarter rushing yards of the season for McKinnon.
- Johnson had 10 carries for 47 yards in the first quarter, including runs of nine, 10 and 11 yards on the final three plays of the quarter.
- Palmer completed four of six passes for 57 yards, two of those to Fitzgerald for 25 yards.
- The Cardinals dominated the first-quarter stats. They outgained the Vikings 111-64, converting eight first downs as opposed to three for the Vikings, holding a time of possession edge of 9:30 to 5:30.
- The Arizona offense was balanced, rushing for 54 yards and passing for 57 yards in the opening period.
- Arizona got its first points on the board with an 11-play, 75-yard drive that took 6:18 off the clock. The drive could have ended with a three-and-out, but a holding call on Munnerlyn extended the drive, which ended with a 1-yard dive from Johnson.
- One of the loudest ovations early came for kicker Kai Forbath, who made the first extra point and got a standing ovation – apparently a fan dig at Blair Walsh, who was released earlier in the week.
- The Vikings got things off to a fast start, getting a three-and-out on defense and, following a 23-yard punt return from Marcus Sherels, started their first offensive drive in Arizona territory. After having a touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph nullified by a hands to the face penalty on right tackle Jeremiah Sirles, Bradford found Thielen for a 16-yard touchdown. The Vikings had to challenge the play after Thielen adamantly motioned for. After review, the score counted and the Vikings took a 7-0 lead less than five minutes into the game.
- The paid attendance was 66,808.