By the time punt returner Marcus Sherels crossed the goal line and brought the crowd at U.S. Bank Stadium to a fever pitch with nearly 39 minutes still left, it already was over.
The Vikings jumped all over the Houston Texans, the top team in the underwhelming AFC South, right away Sunday. With three quick touchdowns, their touchdown song — Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” — seemed to be playing on a loop. The stadium pyrotechnics team probably had to double-check its fireworks inventory to make sure they could get through the day.
The Texans eventually put up some resistance to the offense’s advances. And after a while the Vikings defense, maybe the NFL’s best, was kind enough to let their visitors move the chains. But by then, the outcome had long been sealed. The final score was 31-13, sending the Vikings into their bye week as the NFL’s only undefeated team at 5-0 after three consecutive victories by double digits.
“Everybody is hungry and everyone’s having fun,” wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson said. “That’s what we like. And we want to keep smiles on everybody’s faces and keep proving people wrong and just keep going out there and doing it.”
The Vikings did make it look fun, for the second time in six days producing another complete effort. Mike Zimmer’s defense overwhelmed another quarterback. They got another score on special teams. And their offense hit the ground running against the NFL’s fifth-ranked defense.
The Vikings found the end zone on their opening drive. Receiver Adam Thielen turned around former Pro Bowl cornerback Johnathan Joseph with an inside-out route to run free down the right sideline. Quarterback Sam Bradford hit Thielen, who started in place of injured Stefon Diggs, in stride for a 36-yard touchdown pass.
Thielen also had a 23-yard reception on that drive and finished with 127 receiving yards.
“How a guy like that goes undrafted is kind of hard to believe, especially when you look at the way he’s played this year,” Bradford said. “He just made plays all over the field for us.”
On their next possession, running back Matt Asiata barreled into the end zone from 1 yard out to give the Vikings a 14-0 lead within the first nine minutes of the game.
Sherels blew the game open with a 79-yard punt return, sprinting right through the middle of the punt coverage unit for a score. His second punt return touchdown of 2016 and the team-record fifth of his career made it 24-0 with 8:46 left in the first half.
“It seems that if you kick it to Marcus, he’s going to make you pay for it,” Patterson said.
Those 24 points would be more than enough for one of the NFL’s stingiest defenses.
During the first quarter, the Vikings picked up 10 first downs — 10 more than Houston (3-2). The Texans, who kicked a pair of field goals late in the second quarter to close the gap to 24-6, didn’t earn a first down on their own until there were two minutes left in the first half. Their first three first downs were the result of penalties by Vikings defenders.
Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler was 8-for-24 for 60 yards with an interception and a 25.0 passer rating midway through the third quarter before padding his stats in garbage time, after fans started trickling out of the stadium. Osweiler, who was sacked four times, ended up with 184 yards on 19-for-42 passing, with a touchdown in the final quarter.
Yawn. This defense has made this kind of performance seem routine. Sunday’s victory was the ninth game in a row, dating to last season, that the Vikings gave up 17 points or fewer.
“We have good players. And they do things right. I don’t know,” Zimmer said when asked about the consistency on D. “I don’t think it’s a big secret. I’m probably the one that underestimates them the most. Each week, when we go in to game-plan, I’m the most miserable person in the world trying to figure out how to stop a team. They go out and they perform.”
Bradford, meanwhile, had another strong showing and has yet to throw an interception in purple. He completed 22 of his 30 throws for 271 yards and tossed his second touchdown of the game early in the fourth quarter, finding Patterson in the end zone. It was the resurgent wide receiver’s first offensive touchdown since Week 7 of the 2014 season.
The offense, which has shifted to more of a shotgun spread attack since losing running back Adrian Peterson in Week 2, has scored 85 points in Bradford’s four starts.
And the Vikings have done it despite mounting injuries on that side of the ball. In addition to being without key players such as Diggs and Peterson and their two starting offensive tackles Sunday, they lost right guard Brandon Fusco to a concussion on their first drive.
So despite building momentum with five victories to open the season, the Vikings are welcoming a week off in the hopes of getting a couple of those players back in the lineup.
“This bye week could not come any sooner,” left guard Alex Boone said.
Matt Vensel covers the Vikings for the Star Tribune. firstname.lastname@example.org