1. Cousins’ few deep balls paid off
A week earlier, the Raiders gave up 276 yards passing and four touchdowns in a second quarter that saw the Chiefs throw, as Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph put it, “deep ball after deep ball after deep ball.” In Sunday’s 34-14 win over the Raiders, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins threw only four balls that traveled 20 yards past the line of scrimmage. But three of them were key plays in the victory. The first went 24 yards on Adam Thielen’s 35-yard touchdown that made it a 7-0 game. The next one, a 21-yarder to Thielen, landed out of bounds in the second quarter. The last two came on back-to-back snaps in the third quarter. The first traveled 24 yards and drew defensive pass interference. The next went 22 yards on a 26-yard gain by Irv Smith Jr. The Vikings scored a touchdown four plays later.
2. Flags put Raiders in early hole
The Raiders should have had a three-and-out stop to open the game. It would have quieted the crowd, which would have helped a team that clearly was afraid of the Vikings’ enviable crowd noise/pass rush combo. But a defensive holding penalty on cornerback Gareon Conley ruined a third-down stop. Four plays and another Raiders penalty later, the Vikings scored on the pass to Thielen. Another killer flag for Oakland came two Vikings’ possessions later. On a third-and-18 screen pass to Dalvin Cook, Cook’s knee came down a well short of the first-down marker but officials gave him the first down. It was a play coach Jon Gruden could have challenged but couldn’t because defensive end Arden Key was flagged for roughing the passer. Cook’s gain and the roughing penalty gave the Vikings 33 yards en route to another touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
3. Better eliminate the first-play gaffes
The pregame hoopla had run its feverish course and was capped by a Jumbotron shot of the four Purple People Eaters — Jim Marshall, Gary Larsen, Alan Page and Carl Eller — cheering the current Vikings on seconds before kickoff and two quarters before the 1969 team would be celebrated during a halftime celebration. And what happened next? Cousins tripped over his center for a 4-yard loss. The next Vikings drive opened with Riley Reiff holding followed by C.J. Ham dropping a pass. The third Vikings drive opened with an intentional grounding call. Cousins grounding the ball. The Vikings’ first drive of the second half opened with an illegal block by Thielen. Fortunately, the Vikings were playing a considerably inferior team. They scored touchdowns on three of those four drives. Against good teams, drives that start that poorly typically end in quick punts.
4. Burfict punches Reiff, not flagged
The Vikings were concerned that Raiders middle linebacker and noted dirty player Vontaze Burfict wouldn’t keep it clean on Sunday. Burfict wasn’t flagged, but that doesn’t mean he kept it clean. Replays showed him taking two swings at the end of a run by Cook in the second half. As the pile is being pushed forward, Burfict took a swing and connected to the helmet of left tackle Riley Reiff. Burfict then reloads and takes another one at Cook but doesn’t connect. Burfict injured his elbow in the second quarter via friendly fire when he and many teammates crashed into Cousins on the QB’s ill-advised decision to scramble up the middle on second-and-goal from the 1. Burfict, who has been suspended twice and been fined numerous times for illegal hits, left the game and didn’t return until after halftime. He had six tackles and wasn’t much of a factor.
5. Confusion followed by Cook’s eraser
There was typical referee-related confusion when Thielen was called for an illegal block when replay showed otherwise on a negated 26-yard pass to Smith in the third quarter. Fans booed, the Vikings were moved back and it turned out that Thielen was indeed innocent and Chad Beebe wasn’t. Beebe violated a point of emphasis this season when he came back toward the line of scrimmage for his block on Burfict. Either way, it didn’t matter. Not when a team has an eraser as good as Cook. He simply ran 25 yards over left guard on the next snap. “And I think he broke like three tackles on that one, too,” Thielen said. “He’s a guy that it’s kind of fun when we get in those tough situations. … We have a lot of confidence no matter where we are on the field and whatever we’re backed up against.”