Due to the oddities of NFL scheduling, the Vikings have only two home games over the next two months, facing the Los Angeles Rams on Nov. 19 and Cincinnati on Dec. 17. That made Sunday’s 24-16 victory over Baltimore, one that seemed never in doubt, very necessary.
The Vikings fly to London on Wednesday to face 0-7 Cleveland on Sunday knowing they have a one-game lead in the NFC North at 5-2.
The hobbled Green Bay Packers look less and less like a contender without injured Aaron Rodgers, falling to 4-3 on Sunday with a home loss to New Orleans. The Detroit Lions are 3-3 and had a bye. And while the Chicago Bears have won two in a row to move to 3-4, the Vikings already have won at Soldier Field and will face them again at home in the season finale.
Sunday’s game was all about taking care of business against a struggling Ravens squad that lost its best receiver in Mike Wallace in the first quarter and had little offense to speak of against this unstoppable defense.
There might not be a better unit on either side of the ball in the NFL than the Vikings defense. It finished with five sacks, two by Everson Griffen and one apiece by Anthony Barr, Danielle Hunter and Tom Johnson, and had 11 tackles for loss.
“Our defensive guys are playing well,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “I thought Anthony Barr played well today. All of our defensive line. Linval Joseph looked like he had a good game. When we stop the run, we’re pretty good on third-down situations and we had them in quite a few today. We can rush the quarterback pretty good.”
The Vikings had 357 yards of offense to the Ravens’ 208, despite both teams running 64 plays.
“You know how it is, you can kill a team statistically and still lose a game,” Zimmer said. “We have to keep playing hard and playing smart and trying to figure out ways to win games. Offensively we’ve had a lot of backups playing in there, we have all year. It’s good that they seem to be effective.”
Zimmer did say he was upset early when the offense didn’t finish drives, and he acknowledged how huge Kai Forbath was, going 6-for-6 on field goals.
“We had great field position,” Zimmer said. “I thought our special teams did great. The first series of the game, we’re on the 40-yard line or something and we throw an interception the first play of the game. Then we end up stalling. But that’s a good defensive football team we played. They’re very physical, they’re good in the secondary. I knew it was going to be a grind today.”
Nice to have depth
One thing that had to make Zimmer very happy was seeing running back Latavius Murray have his best game of his season, rushing for 113 yards on 18 carries after having only 97 rushing yards on 41 carries coming in.
Murray, who signed a three-year deal for $15 million in the offseason, also accounted for the Vikings’ lone touchdown.
“I think a lot of credit has to go for our offensive line today,” Zimmer said. “We had a lot of guys banged up, but we ran the ball good. Latavius made some great runs today. He ran with physicality, gained some extra yards after contact, made the safety miss on the touchdown run.
“Those kind of things, if we can get that out of him and continue to be good on third downs and take care of the football, then we’ll win games.”
And while the offensive line has been more stable this season than last year, the Vikings had their third-string left guard make an appearance when Danny Isidora, the fifth-round pick out of Miami (Fla.), came in for injured Jeremiah Sirles.
“Isidora played well,” Zimmer said. “I watched him quite a bit when he was in there early. He got to the second level quite a bit, he pulled nice one time on a power. He’s a very good athlete and he’s going to be a good player. It’s nice to have some depth.”
Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes helped hold Baltimore’s Joe Flacco to 186 passing yards. Rhodes spoke of the defensive game plan.
“I would say our defense played aggressive,” he said. “Once the ball went in the air, the only thing on our minds was attack. We wanted to create turnovers or strip the ball early and as much as we could throughout the game.”
Rhodes also praised Barr, who finished with a season-high 11 tackles. “Anthony is phenomenal and he is doing it all,” Rhodes said of the linebacker. “The guy is making calls, he is keeping eyes on the QB at all times blitzing and covering. But the whole defense as well has been amazing and consistently playing well.”
Safety Harrison Smith, who had a great all-around game himself last week against the Packers, had this to say about Barr: “I know people were saying he had an off year last year, but I thought he played well. I think the splash plays is what people notice the most. He is balling. He is having fun and playing with a lot of passion.”
Griffen shines again
There isn’t much to say about Griffen that hasn’t already been said, but the fact that he had two of the team’s four sacks and one of its 11 tackles for loss, all while becoming the second Vikings player to record sacks in each of the first seven games of a season, is incredible.
“We are winning games, that’s all that really matters,” Griffen said. “I’m just going out there and beating my man when I get the opportunity with the help of the defensive line. I’m just trying to do my job at a high level.”
The Vikings defense has now gone four games in a row of giving up fewer than 275 total yards to their opponents, which Griffen credited to continuity.
“Chemistry is everything,” he said. “We are paying close attention to details and we are running to the ball, giving extra effort, and we are doing our jobs.”
Thielen talks offense
The Vikings spent the bulk of the game struggling to complete drives, as they had four of their first six drives stall in Baltimore territory, and Forbath hit a field goal each time.
Receiver Adam Thielen, who had a questionable pass interference call go against him in the third quarter that negated a first down inside the Baltimore 20-yard line and led to another Forbath field goal, talked about the 29-yard touchdown run by Murray on the Vikings’ next possession that effectively ended the game.
“That was a huge play,” said Thielen, who finished with five receptions for 41 yards, making him the only NFL receiver with at least five catches in each game this season. “A huge play in the game to score and get up by a couple of scores. That’s huge for us, and huge momentum for our offense because we knew then we could break some long ones.”