The Vikings came to life Sunday in their 34-14 win over the Raiders after a disappointing 21-16 loss to the Packers last week in Green Bay had them getting a lot of questions about their preparedness.
Kirk Cousins completed 15 of 21 passes for 174 yards with a touchdown and no turnovers. He was effective rushing the ball, a new wrinkle from offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, as he had four carries for 16 yards.
The rushing game was dominant against a Raiders team that entered Sunday allowing the third-fewest rushing yards in the AFC at just 63 per game.
Dalvin Cook rushed for 110 yards on 16 carries with a score, and Alexander Mattison had 58 yards on 12 carries and scored his first professional touchdown.
And the defense was as good as advertised. Harrison Smith had an interception, Eric Wilson, an undrafted rookie free agent from 2017, had two sacks, Everson Griffen notched a sack to go along with six tackles, and Danielle Hunter tallied a sack for the third straight game.
The fact is that the Vikings have played 16 bad minutes this season, when they gave up 21 points to the Packers between the first and second quarter last weekend. Besides that they have completely dominated both the Falcons and Raiders in their wins at home and Green Bay for the final 44 minutes of that loss.
Coach Mike Zimmer said that he thought his club would face more of a challenge than it did Sunday.
“I think they’re a better team than they showed,” he said. “I have watched them on tape and they do some good things. I think their quarterback [David Carr] is a good player, the tight end [Darren] Waller is a really good player. Defensively they have been playing really good. For us to do what we did [Sunday] I think it was probably an anomaly for them, but hopefully we can continue to do it more and more.”
Zimmer said that this win should help the team as it heads to Chicago for a gigantic divisional matchup next Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field.
“It probably gave us some more confidence as we get going forward,” he said. “We didn’t play great in Green Bay. We need to go play great on the road.
“That will be tough, but you know if we stay focused and we prepare and we do the things we’re capable of doing, we’ll play good.”
And while Cousins took the lions share of the blame for that loss at Green Bay, Zimmer said that the way he performed on Sunday was just as important as any mistake he made last week.
“I thought he played well, took care of the football, used his legs some, made some good throws, got us into the right plays. I thought he did a good job,” Zimmer said. “We all make mistakes, but really it’s how you come back and react to it.”
Young players ready
The Vikings’ 53-man roster started the season as the sixth-youngest team in the league, with an average age of 25.5, according to Philly Voice, which publishes that data at the start of the regular season.
And the fact is when you have so many veterans making big money, you need young players on rookie deals to take up roster spots.
Those players really came through on Sunday.
Mattison, a third-round pick out of Boise State, did a great job behind Cook running the ball.
Irv Smith Jr., a rookie tight end who was drafted in the second round out of Alabama, led all receivers with 60 yards and caught all three of the passes thrown to him.
“We used the tight ends quite a bit, we had some chances where we thought we could get them open [Sunday] in some of the things they did,” Zimmer said. “They did a good job.”
What did he think about Mattison?
“He’s a good back,” he said. “The touchdown run he had was nice, and he’s a hard, physical runner.”
Zimmer also pointed to the play of a number of other young players as being crucial to the win.
“We had [Kris] Boyd out there at corner, [Nate] Meadors at corner, [Marcus] Epps at safety, Kentrell Brothers played linebacker, we played some young defensive lineman, offensively [wide receiver] Olabisi Johnson played a little bit.”
The biggest surprise was Wilson, who started at linebacker. Last year Wilson started four games, had 42 tackles on the season and two sacks.
On Sunday he doubled his career sack total and had a team-high 11 tackles.
The 24-year-old is in his third season out of Cincinnati and has the makings of the latest star defensive project from this staff.
“He played really well,” Zimmer said.
Twins bats give hope
The Twins’ magic number to clinch the American League Central for the first time in 10 years is down to three games — any combination of Twins wins and Cleveland losses will get them there.
And the good news is the Twins get to face the Tigers (46-109) for three games in Detroit starting Tuesday and then finish the season with three games at Kansas City (57-100).
Meanwhile, Cleveland will have to face the White Sox (68-87) on the road starting Tuesday and then finish with three games at Washington (85-69), one of the hottest teams in baseball and leading the National League wild-card race, starting Friday.
It is an amazing testament to this club that the Twins have battled through so many injuries, dealt with inconsistent pitching and still are going to not only win the division but win the second-most games in team history.
Their 12-8 win over Kansas City on Sunday was another example of how they find ways to win, even if the games are ugly, because of their offense.
Nelson Cruz hit his 40th homer of the year and 400th of his career, Miguel Sano continued his streak as the hottest hitter in baseball, going 2-for-4 with two homers and four RBI, and Eddie Rosario hit three doubles and drove in three runs.
But the Twins continue to have pitching trouble and they will be forced to rely on their offense if they’re going to have any chance against the Astros or Yankees in the American League Divisional Series.
The Twins entered Sunday ranked second in the American League in runs scored, home runs, batting average and slugging percentage. On the pitching side they ranked fifth in ERA, which trailed the Astros but was just ahead of the Yankees, and this weekend they set the franchise record for strikeouts in a single season.
But their playoff hopes, like their regular season, will rest with their offense.
Mortenson in Vegas
Sunday marked the final time that the Vikings will play the Oakland Raiders as the team will move to Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas next season.
The stadium in Las Vegas has a big local connection as Mortenson Construction built the $1.9 billion stadium along with McCarthy Construction.
It’s amazing to think of how much people complained about U.S. Bank Stadium’s $900 million price tag, which was built just two years ago but cost $1 billion less than the Raiders facility.