1. First TD run was ‘just man up’ power
The pass protection left a lot to be desired, but Vikings blockers also created five runs over 20 yards in Sunday’s 27-17 win over the Cardinals. The second one was a 21-yard Latavius Murray touchdown out of a power formation that basically announced what was coming. “Not really because we’ve shown other things out of that formation,” tight end David Morgan said. “But sometimes, yeah, you just have to man up and block it.” Morgan, Kyle Rudolph and big receiver Laquon Treadwell were lined up tight left. With perfect execution, Treadwell and Rudolph sealed their guys outside. When linebacker Josh Bynes appeared in the hole, Morgan blocked him inside. Murray raced through the hole, stiff-armed Antoine Bethea and scored. “Just take that path and trust that someone is going to show up and make the block,” Morgan said.
2. Priefer’s kick coverage extraordinary
The Vikings’ kick coverage was exceptional, starting with Anthony Harris making the opening kickoff tackle at the 16. The Cardinals’ average starting position following five kickoffs was the 20. After the Vikings went up 20-10 to start the third quarter, George Iloka dropped returner Brandon Williams at the 17. A penalty pushed the ball back 10 yards. The Cardinals went three-and-out. Iloka is a seven-year veteran who started at safety on Sunday. He hasn’t played special teams since his rookie year with the Bengals. “But Prief [special teams coordinator Mike Priefer] just tells me, ‘Just do on special teams what you do on defense.’ He said, ‘You fill the open gap at safety. Do it on kick coverage.’ I said, ‘All right.’ ” Iloka had two tackles on special teams. Arizona averaged only 5.7 yards on three punt returns.
3. Yes, a punter helped turn the momentum
Punters are players, too. Matt Wile’s 51-yard punt late in the second quarter couldn’t have come at a better time. After a defensive touchdown give Arizona a 10-10 tie, the Vikings offense went three-and-out because of a pass interference penalty on Rudolph on third down. Wile stepped up with a 51-yarder from his 44-yard line. “I’m aiming for the 10-yard line there just to make sure I don’t get the touchback,” he said. He dropped it on the 5. Another special teams penalty on Arizona moved it to the 3. The Cardinals went three-and-out. The Vikings were then able to drive only 36 yards for a field goal and a calming 13-10 halftime lead. “We flipped field position at a key time,” Wile said. “That always makes you feel like you helped the team win.” Meanwhile, Arizona’s return units were flagged four times.
4. Thielen is NFL’s Mr. Third Down
There were 24 third-down plays in Sunday’s game. The Cardinals went 0-for-10, not to mention 0-for-2 on fourth down. The Vikings went 5-for-14 but were 1-for-7 when they took the second-half kickoff leading 13-10. Their first third down of the second half was third-and-13. No problem. Adam Thielen, who has converted 13 third downs this season, made a diving catch just in bounds for exactly 13 yards. Cardinals coach Steve Wilks wasted a challenge trying to overturn what was clearly a catch. “[Kirk Cousins] threw it to a spot,” Thielen said. “We’ve run the play before. He threw it to a spot and just trusted me to get there.” The drive ended with Thielen converting a second third down with a 13-yard touchdown catch for a 20-10 lead. “It’s the most important down in football,” he said.
5. What was Wilks thinking?
There would be no “Minneapolis Miracle” finish for the Cardinals on Sunday. Down 10 with 3:24 left in the game, Wilks surrendered. He punted and never saw the ball again. But even with a defensive stop there, the Cardinals needed two scores. Yes, it was fourth-and-25 at the Arizona 42, but the Cardinals had completed deep balls of 35 and 40 yards. Meanwhile, the Vikings went for it on fourth-and-2 at the Arizona 42 on their opening drive of the game. The second of Benson Mayowa’s three first-quarter pass deflections resulted in Cousins catching his own pass and losing a yard. The Cardinals turned the short field into a field goal and a 3-0 lead, but it was good to see the Vikings be aggressive in an attempt to avoid the funk that felled them against the Buffalo Bills back in Week 3.