1. Diggs’ best play was a 7-yard loss
Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs gained only 33 yards in Sunday’s 37-17 win over the Jets at MetLife Stadium. But he still made one of the game’s biggest plays when he tracked down a Kirk Cousins mistake and covered it up for a 7-yard loss in Vikings territory. The Vikings led 20-10 late in the third quarter when Cousins made a backward throw while trying to bail out of a play called for Diggs. “I wanted to just dirt it there,” Cousins said. “I should have dirted it a little more forward or should have just run forward and taken a short sack.” The Sam linebacker blew up the play when he peeled outside rather than blitz. “I could throw it over him if he blitzed,” Cousins said. Parry Nickerson touched Diggs down at the Vikings 26. Two snaps later, the Vikings punted 66 yards to the Jets 8.
2. Why didn’t the Jets run more early?
The Jets’ decision not to run the ball more early on was puzzling, even with No. 2 rusher Bilal Powell injured in the first half. The Vikings’ immovable nose, tackle Linval Joseph, was inactive, yet the Jets ran the ball only 12 times through two quarters. “I think we showed on a few plays early that we could stop them,” middle linebacker Eric Kendricks said. Granted, it didn’t help that Powell was knocked out of the game in the second quarter, two carries after an 11-yard burst up the middle. But the Jets have two good backs in Powell, who came in ranked third in average per carry (4.73), and Isaiah Crowell, who was fourth (4.72) and has a 200-yard game this season. Powell had 20 yards on just five carries. Crowell had 29 on 11. The Jets ran for 71 yards, 59 yards below their season average.
3. New starters hurt Jets on opening drive
The Jets were without starters Trumaine Johnson at cornerback and Marcus Maye at free safety. They were replaced by Darryl Roberts and second-year player Doug Middleton, respectively. It took one series for the newbies to be exposed. One the first play from scrimmage, Middleton was penalized 15 yards for lowering his head to initiate contact. That, coupled with Latavius Murray’s 7-yard run (and helped by the Jets giving the Vikings 5 extra yards by being offsides on the kickoff), moved the ball into Jets territory. Three snaps after Middleton’s mistake, Roberts had no shot covering Adam Thielen down the right sideline. Even grabbing Thielen’s left arm before the ball arrived couldn’t prevent the 34-yard touchdown and 7-0 lead. Roberts finished with a game-high 11 tackles in part because the Vikings went after him. Middleton had one tackle.
4. Zylstra helps unclog stopped-up offense
Brandon Zylstra, the Spicer, Minn., native and 2017 CFL superstar, has one NFL catch in seven games. It came Sunday. It won’t be a memorable catch to many people outside Zylstra and his family and friends. But it did help unclog a seriously stopped-up Vikings offense early in the third quarter. The two teams were a combined 0-for-15 on third downs when Thielen converted a third-and-8 at midfield. Two plays later, Zylstra came free and Cousins found him for a 23-yard gain to the Jets 11-yard line. Suddenly, there seemed to be some momentum in a constipated game that saw 12 punts, including 10 three-and-outs, in 18 first-half possessions. Zylstra was one of seven Vikings rookies to play Sunday. “They played pretty good,” Zimmer said. “It’s important these guys be able to come in here and play.”
5. Smith’s first deep pass defense was key
Jets rookie Sam Darnold is in the sloppy, inconsistent, learn-as-he-goes portion of his career. But the 21-year-old is still the most talented rookie QB in the league. He also came into Sunday’s game with a 3-3 record. So, the Vikings couldn’t let him get rolling. Through one quarter, he was 6-for-9 for 87 yards, one TD and a 135.0 passer rating. Three passes later is when the momentum shifted in the Vikings’ favor for good. Darnold threw a deep ball to Robby Anderson on the first play after the Vikings went up 10-7. Safety Harrison Smith didn’t have the best position on the play. He was behind Anderson but was able to muscle the ball away for an incompletion right before Anderson gained control of it on his back. After that, Darnold went 10-for-30 for 115 yards and three interceptions, finishing with a 34.4 passer rating.