Xavier Rhodes made history and then requested oxygen.
Hey, it’s not every day that he has to run 100 yards full sprint with somebody in hot pursuit.
“Legs were dead, lungs were dead,” he said. “I was just tired.”
He earned those deep inhales after making the longest interception return in Vikings history, 100 yards late in the first half of a 30-24 victory over the Arizona Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium.
That interception gave the Vikings a 10-point lead. His second interception — a swan-dive pick on a deep pass down the middle of the field — preserved their 10-point lead in the third quarter.
Those two plays enabled Rhodes to score his first touchdown since high school and record his first NFL game with multiple interceptions.
His teammates couldn’t resist a few friendly jabs at his expense.
“He learned to catch all of a sudden,” linebacker Anthony Barr said. “He couldn’t catch a cold the first three years I was here.”
Said nickel corner Captain Munnerlyn, who played a key role in Rhodes’ first interception: “We watched the film of the [Cardinals] game last year, and he dropped quite a few interceptions against them. So he definitely made up for it today.”
Yes, Rhodes has dropped a few potential interceptions in his career. Sunday, he showed why the Vikings made him a first-round draft pick, and not just because of his interceptions.
He also collected three tackles and broke up two passes. He stopped Larry Fitzgerald Jr. short on a third-and-5 in the fourth quarter, and he caused an incompletion on third down on the Cardinals’ final desperation drive by smothering his receiver.
The Vikings already have picked up Rhodes’ fifth-year option. Signing him to a long-term contract this offseason should be a formality at this point.
“Those [interceptions] are obviously huge splash plays that everybody notices,” safety Harrison Smith said. “But he’s tackling, doing everything right. He’s playing lights-out.”
His first interception turned the game completely. The Cardinals had the Vikings defense on the ropes. Another long drive put them in position to either tie the score with a short field goal or take the lead with a touchdown.
The Cardinals faced third-and-goal from the 9. Rhodes lined up across from Fitzgerald outside. Munnerlyn was in the slot across from John Brown.
Fitzgerald broke inside at the goal line, but Rhodes stayed outside. Munnerlyn jammed Brown and caused the play to go haywire.
Carson Palmer threw his pass outside expecting Brown to be there, except he was still tied up with Munnerlyn.
Rhodes read the play perfectly, intercepted the pass at the goal line and just like that, the Vikings had a 10-point lead.
As Rhodes coasted to the end zone for the longest interception in team history, Munnerlyn was still trying to process what had just happened.
“I’m actually shocked that Xavier was right there,” he said. “I don’t know he was supposed to be there.”
Munnerlyn thought Rhodes would stick with Fitzgerald once he broke inside. Rhodes, however, knew he had help from his safety inside so he stayed in his area.
“When he threw the ball I was like, who is he throwing it to?” Munnerlyn said. “All of a sudden I see Xavier with the ball. He made a great play.”
Both players deserve credit. Rhodes read the play right and Munnerlyn disrupted the timing with his jam on Brown.
“If you don’t touch him, it’s pitch-and-catch,” Munnerlyn said. “I know I have to get my hands on him.”
The Cardinals saw it differently and thought Munnerlyn should have been penalized.
“It looked like an obvious holding penalty,” Palmer said. “It looked like [Brown] could not get out of the grasp of the defender. I am sure we will turn that into the league, and I am sure they will come back and say it was holding.”
That won’t change the outcome, of course. Or change Rhodes’ overall impact, like hustling to chase down Palmer’s overthrow to Michael Floyd for a beautiful diving interception.
“Just a good play on the ball by me,” Rhodes said.
He wasn’t bragging. Just being honest.
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org