The Vikings defense had been in full bend-but-don’t-break-too-much mode. They had allowed 263 yards of offense on 41 plays and yet had a slim lead, partly because of Xavier Rhodes’ 100-yard interception return for a touchdown that not only gave them a 10-point lead in the second quarter but put the defense right back out on the field.
Then, things turned in the second half.
“I think we settled down, stopped the run a little bit better in the second half,” said cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. “In the first half, (David) Johnson was running the ball everywhere and Carson Palmer, he made some critical throws for those guys.”
Johnson and racked up 89 yards on 17 carries in the first half and the Cardinals had rushed for 110 yards. Palmer had 153 yards passing without taking sack. The Cardinals had controlled the ball for nearly 21 of the 30 minutes.
Halftime changed all that.
“Defensively we played much better. The time of possession was totally flipped. The yardage,” said defensive end Brian Robison, who had the first of four second-half sacks. “I think they had like 110 yards rushing in the first half and only had like 14 or 15 in the second half, and those are the things we’re used to doing, and we haven’t been doing those lately. So those are all things that you hopefully get off your back and carry this into this week as well.”
Robison’s numbers are right on. The final numbers don’t look great, scuttled by a first half that was all about survival, but the second-half numbers were impressive, indeed.
The Cardinals ran 29 plays in the second half and gained only 27 total net yards. Part of that was due to them losing 43 yards on sacks in the second half, meaning Palmer finished with only 2 net passing yards in the final 30 minutes.
Robison said not much changed dramatically in the second half from a strategic standpoint.
“Maybe just being more assignment-sound. Little slight adjustments. We didn’t do anything major,” he said. “Just playing ball, man. At the end of the day, sometimes you’ve got to want it more than the other guys, and hats off to Arizona. They’re a very good offensive football team. They’re going to make some plays. It’s all about how you react to it and how you counteract adversity and we were able to do that yesterday.”
After gaining 89 yards rushing in the first half, Johnson had only 14 in the second half. As a team, the Cardinals had only 27 net yards in the second half.
In the first half, Munnerlyn had a holding call on a third down that would have gotten the defense off the field. Instead, it extended Arizona’s first touchdown drive of the game and they tied it at 7.
In the second quarter, Trae Waynes was called for illegal contact on a third-down incompletion and later called for holding on second down, both penalties that resulted in first downs. That drive led the Cardinals into the red zone before Rhodes’ interception changed the complexion of momentum, and the scoreboard.
“Penalties killed us in that first half, from my penalty on third-and-7 that I thought wasn’t a penalty,” Munnerlyn said. “… Penalties kind of killed us and we couldn’t stop the run. We kind of settled down in the second half and tried to play fast and we made some plays.”
On the season, the Vikings have given up 101 points in the first half of games and 69 in the second half.
All that positive momentum in the second half allowed the Vikings defense to keep from panicking when it counted most.
When the offense went three-and-out on the final drive that mattered, the defense stayed on point, despite a fourth-down penalty that gave Arizona only its third first down of the fourth quarter.
“Nobody (got down and said), ‘Not again!’ We were just like, ‘Let’s go. It’s OK. They’ve still got to drive and score.’ Guys just locked in and we made plays when we had to,” Munnerlyn said.
“Every man said we just got to do our job. If we want to win this game, everybody’s got to do our job. If you look the previous weeks and our offense, they go down and score, give us the lead. Defensively, we’ve been letting those guys down and yesterday we were on the sideline saying, ‘This is not going to happen!’ When it was 24-30, they scored the touchdown, it was 24-30, we were like, ‘Oh, no! We’re going to win this game.’”
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The improved defense in the second half was a big key to the Vikings coming away with a 30-24 win and keeping them tied for first in the NFC North with a tie-breaking game with the Detroit Lions ahead on Thursday.
“Relief,” Robison said to describe the win. “I mean, anytime you go on a losing streak like that, you’ve got to get that monkey off your back, and for us to be able to do that yesterday, hopefully that’s something that we can take with us and we can kind of start a roll again and get back to playing football how we know how to do, and that’s what you saw in the second half yesterday.”