1. Call TD or change rules
Sunday’s 34-20 win over the Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium was less than 4½ minutes old when a blown call by the officials forced Vikings coach Mike Zimmer to throw his challenge flag. Dalvin Cook’s 5-yard touchdown run sure looked like a touchdown in real time. But he was ruled down inside the 1. “Officials miss some things sometimes,” Cook said. Yeah, but in this case, why not miss on the side of a touchdown since scoring plays are automatically reviewed? Instead, Zimmer had to burn a challenge. “As long as we got those points, I was OK,” Cook said. But per NFL rules a coach needs to win two challenges to be given the maximum third challenge. Why not let a coach keep going as long as he keeps winning them? Zimmer won a second challenge in the third quarter when an 8-yard catch by Adrian Peterson was overturned. He’s 3-1 in challenges this season.
2. Turnover-free game, Kirk, but…
Kirk Cousins was perfect in the first quarter. Literally. He completed four of four passes to four different receivers for 83 yards, one touchdown and a perfect passer rating of 158.3. He did cool off a bit, but not by much, finishing with a 141.7 passer rating, his sixth-best rating in 99 starts, including playoffs. He’s also back to being a .500 quarterback in the regular season at 47-47-2. The Vikings are 5-7 in their past 12 games, including playoffs. Cousins has zero turnovers in the five wins and 13 turnovers in the seven losses. His most glaring gaffe Sunday came on the opening drive of the second half. Leading 20-10 and facing third-and-6 from the Vikings 34-yard line, Cousins didn’t notice the play clock running down. The ensuing delay of game was followed by an 8-yard completion on third-and-11. Doh! “The delay of game was on me,” he said.
3. Jefferson made noise on key drive
Rookie phenom Justin Jefferson has only six catches for 90 yards in the two games since he grabbed nine passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns against Atlanta. He had only one catch in the first half Sunday but dominated second-year cornerback Amani Oruwariye on the Vikings’ second possession of the second half. He got a step behind Oruwariye and made a smooth, 35-yard over-the-shoulder grab of a perfectly thrown deep ball from Kirk Cousins. Four plays later, he had Oruwariye so badly beaten that the defender had no choice but to essentially tackle Jefferson. The 18-yard pass interference penalty gave the Vikings first-and-goal at the 3 and led to a 27-10 lead on a 1-yard touchdown pass to Irv Smith Jr. Jefferson finished with three catches for 64 yards, including a 22-yarder in the first half. Five different Vikings had catches of 22 or more yards.
4. Harrison had a right to be angered
Harrison Smith was livid. And he had every right to be. The officials flagged him for unnecessary roughness for the second time this season. And for the second time, he was trying to lower his target when the offensive player lowered his helmet. The last time it happened, Smith got ejected from the Houston game and fined $15,000 for the hit on tight end Jordan Akins. Sunday, Smith was coming up to tackle receiver Marvin Jones Jr. in the third quarter. Both players went low at virtually the same time in a helmet-to-helmet collision. Smith argued the call for multiple plays. Linebacker Eric Kendricks had to pull him away from the officials at one point. In the fourth quarter, Lions running back D’Andre Swift was being tackled when Smith closed. Smith stopped, raised his arms and then looked at the nearest official as if to say, “How’s that?”
5. Zim’s going to miss Matt Patricia
This thought came to mind when Cook went 70 yards for a touchdown on a simple dive play off left tackle with 10:42 left and only 10 Detroit defenders on the field: Zimmer sure is going to miss Lions coach Matt Patricia when the latter’s inevitable firing comes either during the season or on Black Monday. Zimmer faced Patricia’s predecessor, Jim Caldwell, eight times from 2014 to 2017. He went 3-5, struggling to contain Caldwell’s offense and the late-game heroics of quarterback Matthew Stafford. Against Patricia, Zimmer has gone 5-0 while outscoring the former Patriots defensive coordinator 147-75. The narrowest margin of victory was 12 points. Caldwell went 36-28 (.563) with two playoff appearances and was fired after two straight 9-7 seasons. Patricia is 12-27-1 (.313) with a high point of 6-10 in 2018. He is 3-5 this year, 0-3 at home.