1. Brothers & Co. Blockers pave way for CP84
Three of the Vikings’ under-the-radar grunts opened the hole that Cordarrelle Patterson ran through at the 20-yard line on his 104-yard kick return for a touchdown in Sunday’s 30-24 win over the Cardinals. Rookie linebacker Kentrell Brothers and tight end Rhett Ellison sealed the inside, while fullback Zach Line walled off the outside. Brothers destroyed tight end Hakeem Valles with timing, leverage and persistent leg drive that pushed Valles 10 yards offline. “I waited until he wasn’t expecting me, and when he ran inside, I just drove him out of the play,” Brothers said. “It was supposed to be Audie [Cole] and me doubling him, but Audie was able to peel off and block somebody else.” Patterson was impressed. “My guys did such a good job,” he said, “I felt like it was me and the kicker one-on-one.”
2. Punters are players, too
Punters are players, too, you know. For further evidence, look at the first and last punts of Sunday’s game. The first punt, by Arizona’s Drew Butler, was a weak 36-yarder that Marcus Sherels returned 23 yards for a 13-yard net in change in field position. The Vikings needed to drive only 44 yards to take a 7-0 lead. The last punt, by the Vikings’ Jeff Locke, was a career-long 72 yarder that rolled forward when it wasn’t fielded. It followed a three-and-out and changed the field position from the Vikings 15 to the Arizona 13 with 2:20 left and the Vikings up six. “I kind of equate it to golf,” Locke said about the punt. “When you hit a really good shot, you feel like you barely hit it. You hit it so flush, it flies. Hit it right on the sweet spot.”
3. Hunter’s ‘other’ sack impressive
Danielle Hunter’s second sack came on fourth down and clinched the victory with 37 seconds left. The more impressive sack came on second down on the series before. A 32-yard punt return had given the Cardinals the ball at the Vikings 47 with 5:56 left. But Hunter blew up the possession when he overpowered right tackle D.J. Humphries and sacked Carson Palmer on second-and-10. “Coach told me to come off the ball [fast], so that’s what I did,” Hunter said. “And LJ [Linval Joseph] actually ended up making the play for me. He powered down his dude, causing Carson to scramble toward me.” The 8-yard loss put Palmer in a pass-only situation with 4:31 left. Against a four-man rush, Palmer was called for intentional grounding when Hunter, Everson Griffen and Brian Robison all beat their guys and met at the quarterback.
4. Defense does its part in Cardinals’ cold starts
For a change, the Vikings defense started a game with a three-and-out. For the Cardinals, it was just more of the same. Arizona and Jacksonville are the only teams in the league that haven’t scored a touchdown on an opening possession. Facing third-and-7 on their first possession, Arizona failed to convert when Robison, playing in a two-point stance over the left guard, pressured Palmer into an incompletion. “I love that look,” Robison said of the front that features Hunter at left end, Tom Johnson at nose and Griffen at right end. “I think it creates mismatches all across the board. It gives them a different look. When we just have four down guys, it’s easy for them to pick out their protections. But when you give me the ability to walk around ... it shows them a lot of different looks that they normally wouldn’t see.”
5. Fitzgerald: Best blue-collar wide receiver ever?
Arizona’s third possession started with David Johnson running between the tackles for 9, 10 and 11 yards. Three snaps later, he ran for 10 more as the Cardinals drove to a field goal and their only lead, 10-7. One of the key blockers on at least two of those runs was Twin Cities native and probable future Hall of Fame receiver Larry Fitzgerald Jr. He blocked cornerback Captain Munnerlyn on the first 10-yard run and dived to undercut safety Andrew Sendejo downfield on the second 10-yard run. There might not be a stronger, more physical, more unselfish blocker among the league’s all-time great receivers. “He’s a physical guy, and he’s big, real big,” Munnerlyn said. “He likes to get down and dirty in there. We knew coming into the game that Fitz is a great blocker. He did a great job of blocking us.”