The lightning-bolt touchdown could have unnerved the sideline. It certainly had that effect on the stadium.
One play, 75 yards, 11 seconds off the clock and uh-oh, here comes the collapse.
The Miami Dolphins caught Mike Zimmer’s defense in a bad alignment on the first play of the second half, and the result was a 75-yard touchdown sprint by Kalen Ballage.
The Vikings’ lead dwindled to 21-17. In a blink, U.S. Bank Stadium went quieter than a church service. Uneasiness shifted to full-bore nervousness when the Vikings offense went three-and-out on the ensuing possession.
The game was no longer a laugher.
On the sideline, Vikings defenders were frustrated by their miscue but not deflated. Or defeated.
“Mistakes are going to happen,” Everson Griffen said. “We just regrouped.”
Sheldon Richardson used a different term for what came next.
“We just had to bow up,” he said.
They bowed up, all right.
The Dolphins spent the rest of the game shuffling backward, as the Vikings notched one sack after another in re-igniting a 41-17 runaway that had three distinct phases.
Phase III saw the defense obliterate the Dolphins, who managed only 10 total yards in their final six possessions. The Vikings recorded a team record for sacks in a half with eight after halftime, finishing with nine for the game.
The Vikings held the Dolphins to minus-27 yards in five possessions after the long touchdown run.
So, yeah, the defense regrouped. And bowed up.
“We weren’t going to panic,” Anthony Barr said. “We’re not going to let one big play deter us from what we’re doing. Just continue to be aggressive.”
Zimmer took responsibility for the 75-yarder as a “bad call” on his part. The Dolphins caught them out of position and pounced.
The game pivoted on the next defensive series with the Vikings clinging to a four-point lead. Barr and Danielle Hunter notched sacks on back-to-back plays, which stalled the drive and pushed the pass rush into warp speed.
Eric Kendricks got a sack. Then Mackensie Alexander. Then Richardson and Hunter again.
In all, seven defenders recorded a sack. It became a feeding frenzy on Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
“When your number is called and you’ve got a free shot, you’ve got to make the play,” Kendricks said. “That’s what happened. A lot of people made plays.”
Their eight sacks after halftime broke the previous team record of seven in one half set against the Arizona Cardinals in 2003.
“We have a lot of good people and anyone can come at any point in time from any different direction,” defensive end Stephen Weatherly said. “That’s a lot to try and game-plan for.”
Tannehill looked helpless once the Dolphins fell behind by double digits and were forced to throw. He ran for dear life every time he dropped back.
The Dolphins had four consecutive possessions finish with negative yards because of sacks. Zimmer brought different pressures, including a seven-man blitz that resulted in Kendricks’ sack.
“They don’t know where we’re going to come from,” Griffen said. “We come from the left, the right, it really doesn’t matter. The biggest thing is that we do it together. We don’t have any selfish players.”
The defense looks especially formidable when Barr flips his internal switch and dominates in the manner he did Sunday. The linebacker produced his best game in a long time, with a game-high seven tackles and two sacks.
“We were out there flying around and having fun,” Barr said. “That’s when we’re at our best.”
The Dolphins went 2-for-12 on third down, 0-for-2 on fourth down and had little success outside of their first play of the second half.
The defense extinguished any threat of a miraculous comeback, allowing the offense to find its groove again after Kirk Cousins’ pick-six.
Their one defensive breakdown created some tense moments. Zimmer’s defense responded resoundingly. Rather than panic, they turned up their pressure.
“We’ve got grit,” Richardson said. “Guys were executing the game plan with full tenacity.”
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org