Antoine Winfield made yet another strong case that he might be packing the hardest-hitting 180 pounds the NFL has ever seen.
And it couldn't have come at a better time for a Vikings team that needed all the big defensive plays it could muster in Sunday's offensively lackluster 21-14 victory over the Arizona Cardinals at Mall of America Field.
The 5-9, 35-year-old Winfield had a game-high 11 tackles, 10 of them solo, and none bigger than a sack for no gain when the Cardinals went for it on fourth-and-2 from the Vikings' 18-yard line midway through the third quarter.
Winfield was covering fullback Reagan Maul'a in the right flat when quarterback John Skelton started to roll to his right.
"You could tell by the look in his eyes that he had committed to running the ball," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "Even though he had shown run and flipped the ball forward before in the game, you knew he was going to run."
Skelton is 6-6, 244 pounds. He probably figured he could get 2 yards heading toward Winfield.
"We thought by the way we were running the ball, we'd be able to catch the corner," Skelton said. "But they made a good play there."
Before Skelton could react, Winfield left the fullback and dropped Skelton. Hard.
"He comes quick, he comes low and he comes hard," Greenway said of Winfield. "So I'm sure it was a surprise to Skelton to be hit like that. Especially by a cornerback."
Winfield shrugged. After all, he's been making that tackle in the NFL for 14 years now. He went into Sunday's game leading the team in tackles for loss with seven.
"I just came up and made a play," Winfield said. "I just had to take my chances [leaving the fullback]. I didn't think he was going to throw it to the fullback. It looked like he was going to take off, like it was already programmed in his mind. And I just made a play."
Safety Jamarca Sanford said it's a play that didn't surprise him. He just hasn't figured out how the little guy does it so consistently.
"When he hit [Skelton] that hard, I was like, 'Whoa,'" Sanford said. "I don't know how he does it. He got a heart of I don't know what. I'm going to give him 5-7, 5-8, but he got a heart of a 6-4 guy. He plays his heart out, like every play is his last.
"With him, you'd rather let the linebacker come free than let 26 come free. When he gets there, he's going to get there with an attitude, and it's going to be nasty."