Late in the fourth quarter Thursday night, as the Vikings offense rolled through an 8:16 drive that would exhaust the remaining minutes of the team’s 19-9 victory over the Washington Redskins, coach Mike Zimmer looked up at the U.S. Bank Stadium scoreboard to see a statistic that left him stunned.
“I was shocked when it said we had 428 yards and they had 200, and it was a 10-point game,” Zimmer said. “I figured it’d be a tough game, but sometimes you just don’t know when you’re facing a team that’s 1-6, whatever they were. They fought; they played hard.”
That the Vikings finished the night with 434 yards — extending their string of games with 400-plus yards to four — and did not punt in a game for the first time in 15 years would suggest a greater level of dominance than the final score ultimately showed. For that disconnect, the Vikings can point to a red-zone performance that was out of step with how they’ve played this season. The NFL’s top red-zone team through Week 7 finished only one of its four drives with a touchdown against Washington.
“We did so many things so right, but the game is about points,” said quarterback Kirk Cousins, who finished 23 for 26 and ended the night with a career-high 88.5 completion percentage. “That’s why we were so happy last week with 42 points, because that’s all that matters. You talk about different stats, but when you’re 5-for-5 in the red zone and have 42 points, that’s the most important stat. So to only have 19, even though we felt like we were doing great things all game long, it’s a little frustrating to leave stuff out there. When we get to the second half of the season, we’ve got to be able to get down the field, get past midfield, get to the red zone, we’ve got to get touchdowns and not settle for field goals, or worse.”
But even as penalties and allowed pressure were consistent issues for their interior linemen, the Vikings escaped a short week with a 6-2 record. They’re healthy, heading into a 10-day layoff before a grueling second-half road schedule begins Nov. 3 in Kansas City. And they could take comfort in knowing their issues Thursday never put them at serious risk of losing to a team that began the night 1-6 and ended it without its starting quarterback.
The Vikings’ workmanlike performance was ultimately more efficient than explosive. They built their lead with screens to Dalvin Cook that exploited an aggressive Redskins pass rush, and worked around the fact they didn’t have Adam Thielen because of a hamstring injury. Stefon Diggs’ 143 receiving yards gave him 452 in the Vikings’ past three games, breaking Randy Moss’ team record for a three-game span.
The Vikings were able to salt away their lead with 21:59 of possession time in the second half, converting six of their eight third-down attempts and backing the Redskins into a corner after a second-quarter hit on Case Keenum landed the Washington quarterback in the concussion protocol. After the Redskins stopped Cousins on a fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak from the Vikings’ 34 late in the third quarter, rookie Dwayne Haskins threw too high for receiver Terry McLaurin, which resulted in a deflected pass that Anthony Harris intercepted for the Vikings’ second takeaway of the night. Washington managed only 216 yards, the second-fewest a team has posted against the Vikings this season, and went 0-for-2 in its own red-zone excursions.
Cook finished with 171 combined yards, with 73 of them coming as a receiver thanks to the Vikings’ emphasis on screen passes.
“One of the things you saw, the offensive linemen got out and they cut [blocked],” Zimmer said. “They [the defensive linemen] don’t like that. Most of the offensive linemen don’t like to do it either, but they understand how important it is, now.”
Whatever panache the Vikings’ performance lacked, it allowed them to get away with a victory and keep the pressure on the Packers in a heated NFC North race.
A second-half schedule that begins with trips to Kansas City and Dallas, includes two nighttime West Coast games in December and finishes with potentially pivotal division games against the Packers and Bears will test the Vikings plenty. That they’re in position to make a run in the NFC North certainly wasn’t a given four weeks ago, after a loss at Soldier Field. Their ability to win, even in a fashion that was less than perfect, has staked them to an enviable position on the eve of a grueling schedule.
“Things are going good, but it was at a point where things weren’t going good,” Diggs said. “The house was burning down and everyone was panicking. So at this point we’re just taking it one day at a time and try to keep this going.”