Everson Griffen is back to his old dominating form, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said after the 31-year-old defensive end helped bury the Falcons during Sunday's 28-12 victory.
Griffen was credited with only one tackle — a third-quarter sack on Matt Ryan — but he came away with four pressures, according to Pro Football Focus, and had a second sack negated because of a teammate's penalty. He seemed to recapture his former burst rushing the quarterback and was stout in run support.
Perhaps just as critical for the Vikings: Griffen started and played a full workload — 65 snaps (83%) — a year after he missed five games to address his mental health in the wake of two police incidents.
"Everson played really, really well," Zimmer said Monday. "Violent, aggressive, ran to the ball well, so that was good to see."
Griffen did not play up to his Pro Bowl standard in nine games last season after his return, but his on-the-field comeback was imminent this summer while putting together a strong training camp and preseason, according to Zimmer.
"I felt pretty good about it," Zimmer said. "He looked a lot like when he was at the Pro Bowl."
However, Griffen did have an all-too-familiar offsides penalty against Atlanta. The defense as a whole jumped early four times, among the few problems for a unit that sacked Ryan four times, took the ball away and pitched a shutout until the fourth quarter.
"That's what it looks like when everything works together," defensive end Stephen Weatherly said.
Hughes 'has a chance'
The Vikings are not ruling out cornerback Mike Hughes' return Sunday at Green Bay, according to Zimmer, who said the 2018 first-round draft pick "has a chance" to play for the first time since damaging multiple ligaments in his knee nearly 11 months ago.
Hughes was limited in practices last week with a brace on his surgically repaired left knee, and he has yet to practice in full. That will be the next hurdle before Hughes sees the field. Zimmer expressed optimism when asked if Hughes would have to be eased back into action once ready.
"He's been conditioning pretty good," Zimmer said. "I'm sure we'll have packages for him. We'll just kind of see where he's at when he's ready to roll."
Chad Beebe had a quiet debut as a Vikings punt returner, signaling for three fair catches without a return against the Falcons. The second-year receiver was kicking himself for not taking a chance when he had blockers, as he did with room to spare on the second fair catch at the Vikings 10-yard line. Beebe said he was focused on his first job, which is securing the football.
"I could be a little bit more aggressive back there," Beebe said. "Just understanding the return, whether we're trying to block it or get a return on it."
A lesson in finishing
Rookie running back Alexander Mattison took his fourth NFL carry, a sweep to the left, 17 yards toward the pylon against the Falcons. He lowered his shoulder into safety Ricardo Allen at the 2-yard line, a collision that forced Mattison out of bounds.
Mattison said he emerged second-guessing his choice not to expose the ball and reach for his first NFL touchdown.
"I thought I might've made a bad decision," said Mattison, who had 49 rushing yards on nine carries in his pro debut, including a 23-yarder before the 17-yard run.
"Went over the film, and it was kind of a smart decision not to really lay out or go for the touchdown. Just got to finish that run."