If you believe in jinxes and you’re reading this, drop your newspaper or your computer or your iPhone and run.
Run for your purple-lovin’ life and don’t look back.
The Vikings have not turned the ball over this season. Actually, strike that.
The offense hasn’t turned the ball over. The defense could say the same if not for strong safety Andrew Sendejo fumbling away a fumble recovery in Week 2. C’mon, Andrew, carry it high and tight, buddy.
But, hey, even Andrew is plus-1 in turnover differential while the team leads the league at plus-10. Keep that in mind if you get the urge to whine about the Vikings (4-0) sporting the NFL’s 31st-ranked offense (290.5 yards per game) heading into Sunday’s game against Houston (3-1) at U.S. Bank Stadium.
In a prime example of complementary football at its finest, the Vikings sit atop the NFC because of their second-ranked scoring defense (12.5 points per game), a perfectly ball-secure offense (insert knocking of wood here) and special teams units that have had game-turning plays in three of the four victories.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, a defensive guy throughout his 38-year coaching career, was asked if he could recall ever being this blessed by football’s giveaway gods a month into a season.
“No,” he said. “We hope it keeps going. Houston’s good at taking the ball away, so we’re going to have to be diligent about it again this week.”
Actually, Houston is tied for 19th in takeaways (five) and 25th in turnover differential (minus-3). But it never hurts for a coach to harp on avoiding giveaways, which ruin many a carefully crafted game plan.
The Vikings’ streak without an offensive turnover reaches all the way back to that frozen day in January when Seattle came to town and, well, you know. Seattle’s winning field goal that day was set up by Adrian Peterson’s fumble with 10 minutes, 48 seconds left in the game.
Since then, the Vikings offense has run 255 plays without a turnover. Quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater (seven), Shaun Hill (33) and Sam Bradford (95) have thrown 135 passes without an interception.
So, despite the Vikings’ 24th-ranked passing game (226.3 yards), Bradford still ranks third in passer rating (105.5). His current streak of 122 passes without an interception is the third longest of his career, according to ESPN.
Asked if he’s ever been part of an offense that’s gone a month into the season without a turnover, Bradford didn’t take long to shake his head and say, “I don’t think so.” Meanwhile, offensive coordinator Norv Turner took a little while longer to think because he’s got 42 years of coaching experience to sort through.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I think if it has happened like this, I would remember. But I’ve been fortunate to be on teams that were under 15 [turnovers] in a year. Last year, we were fourth in the league in fewest turnovers .
“You like to think it’s coaching — and we work hard at it — but I think it’s players’ attention to detail and taking a lot of pride in taking care of the ball. Sam, in his history, has not thrown a lot of interceptions.”
Bradford never had a winning record as a starter in four years with the Rams and last season with Philadelphia. But even when he went 1-9 in 2011, he didn’t throw more interceptions than touchdowns. He has 30 more career touchdowns (82) than interceptions (52).
“I think it’s his decision-making, understanding what the defensive looks are,” Turner said. “And he is obviously making big plays, too. So, it’s a bonus when you’re making big plays also.
“To me, when you’re back there and the ball is in your hand, it’s a risk-reward situation. And sometimes you see these interceptions, even if it was completed, it would be a 6-yard gain or an 8-yard gain. It’s not worth the chance. There’s more risk than there is reward. So I think a big part of it is [Bradford] making good decisions.”
Keeping it clean
Turnovers come and go in bunches. A year ago, Carolina went 15-1 while leading the league with a plus-20 differential. This year, the Panthers are 1-3 and tied for 25th in turnover differential (minus-3). The Panthers had 19 giveaways in 16 games last year. They have 10 in four games this year.
The record for fewest turnovers in a season carried an asterisk from 1982, when the Chiefs had 12 during the nine-game strike-shortened season, through 2009. In 2010, the Patriots went a record seven games without a turnover while setting the season record at 10 turnovers. A year later, the 49ers matched that season mark.
Through four games of the 2010 season, the Patriots turned the ball over four times, including two interceptions. In 2011, the 49ers turned the ball over three times, including one interception, through four games.
So if there is such a thing as pace for something that tends to come and go in bunches, the 2016 Vikings are on a record pace when it comes to fewest turnovers in a season. Although a perfectionist would argue that they need their strong safeties to stop coughing up the ball in the red zone.
“Eliminating turnovers is something we talk about all the time,” receiver Adam Thielen said. “Every Wednesday meeting, we talk about taking care of the football, no fumbles and stuff like that.”
All teams talk about it. Even the Jets, who lead the league with 13 giveaways. But the Vikings and Eagles (zero giveaways total) have the only offenses that have actually pulled it off on the field.
If you believe in jinxes and you didn’t run, please accept our apologies if the funny-shaped ball starts bouncing around oddly on Sunday afternoon.