More than nine months after the Vikings’ Minneapolis Miracle play spawned an NFL legend in the comeback NFC divisional round playoff win against the Saints, New Orleans returns to U.S. Bank Stadium for “Sunday Night Football.”
This offseason, New Orleans running back Alvin Kamara had an expletive-laced rant about the “one-in-a-million-type” of ending the Vikings had when quarterback Case Keenum found receiver Stefon Diggs for the 61-yard touchdown that sealed a walkoff victory.
So, on Monday, coach Mike Zimmer was asked if he expects any animosity above normal between Vikings and Saints players on Sunday.
“The Saints will come in with a chip on their shoulder because that’s who they are,” Zimmer said. “They’re very aggressive on defense. They’re aggressive offensively. They got a good football team, so you know, I don’t know. That was a long time ago.”
Players on both sides remember. Diggs even joked after Sunday’s victory over the Jets that he wouldn’t be doing interviews this week because of the many requests he has already received. This matchup of NFC division leaders will have a little something extra under the national spotlight.
‘Never thrown so many’
Quarterback Kirk Cousins leads the NFL with 14 passes batted away at the line of scrimmage, according to Pro Football Focus, after he had three deflected at the line by the Jets on Sunday. He has already surpassed last year’s total (11) with Washington with nine games to play this season.
The Vikings’ past two opponents, the Jets and Cardinals, have batted away eight passes in the past two weeks. It’s seemingly an emphasis by opposing defenders to combat Cousins’ quick throws.
“I’ve never thrown so many,” Cousins said. “The throws I’m throwing are plays I’ve been running for 10 to 15 years. I don’t know why they are suddenly getting batted. I felt like there were a few there [Sunday] that were probably completions that, because they are getting tipped, aren’t ending up as such, so that was a little frustrating.”
Murray in middle
Running back Latavius Murray sprung both of his touchdown runs of 38 yards and 11 yards from between the tackles, where the Vikings have struggled to run this season. The production is a sign of progress. Center Pat Elflein is “doing really well,” Zimmer said, five games into his return, and Murray made sharp cuts to avoid Jets defenders that crowded the line of scrimmage.
“We did a good job of cutting off the backside,” Zimmer said. “We got up on the linebacker, and [Murray] beat the safety. The second one, the long one, we kind of caught them out of their gaps. [Murray] made a good cut.”
Punter gets a nod
The punter doesn’t typically get mentioned unless something goes wrong. But on Monday, Zimmer made sure to call out punter Matt Wile after he pinned four of his eight punts inside the Jets 20-yard line Sunday. New York’s average start after a Vikings punt was its own 23-yard line.
The Vikings had a 14-yard advantage on average starting field position thanks to takeaways and the kicking and coverage groups.
“I thought Matt Wile, the punter, had a good game,” Zimmer said. “We flipped the field position, and special teams played well.”
Injuries still a factor
The Vikings have eight starters sidelined between the five that missed Sunday’s win and the three — guard Tom Compton (knee), linebacker Anthony Barr (hamstring) and cornerback Xavier Rhodes (ankle) — injured against the Jets.
Zimmer declined to provide an update on those three Monday, when players typically undergo further testing on injuries. Injuries will likely remain a factor this week as the Vikings prepare to host the Saints, a team with a five-game win streak.
The Vikings return to the practice field on Wednesday.