The men in the white and black striped shirts were not going to make it easy for the Vikings to break their miserable four-game losing streak on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
With 4 minutes, 7 seconds remaining and the Vikings holding a six-point lead, a 31-yard punt return by Marcus Sherels was called back because of two illegal blocks, one on Jayron Kearse and another on Anthony Harris.
That meant the Vikings had to start at their own 9-yard line, and three plays later they had to punt from their own 15. A terrific roll kept Jeff Locke’s hot streak alive with a 72-yard punt that was downed at the Arizona 13-yard line.
Carson Palmer threw an incomplete pass on fourth-and-19 at the Arizona 4-yard line and the Vikings started to celebrate — only to see the officials flag defensive lineman Tom Johnson for roughing the passer, an automatic first down.
So, again, the Cardinals got the ball back with only 1:07 remaining and another opportunity to win. But Danielle Hunter had his own ideas and sacked Palmer on fourth down to clinch the 30-24 victory that ended the Vikings’ four-game losing streak.
That final series was emblematic of the way the defense played the entire game. The Vikings finished with four sacks, 15 quarterback hurries and two interceptions — both by Xavier Rhodes, including one returned for a 100-yard touchdown — as Palmer was running for his life all day. But the game was still way too close, with the defense needing a big final stand to pull off the victory.
Bradford sees growth
The hot subject during the losing steak had been the Vikings offensive line, so quarterback Sam Bradford was asked if the protection was better Sunday, when T.J. Clemmings moved from right to left tackle for injured Jake Long and Jeremiah Sirles started at right tackle.
“Things are a little better today,” Bradford said after getting sacked twice. “Any time you can get a win, it just kind of boosts the morale of the whole team.”
Bradford was sacked 11 times over the course of two games to start this losing streak in Week 7 and Week 8, but over the past three weeks the offense has given up only seven sacks.
But Bradford lost a fumble on one of the sacks, leading to a Cardinals touchdown that pulled them within six points. That came one play after Arizona challenged that a Bradford incompletion as he was hit should have been ruled a fumble, a play that was not reversed.
“Thankfully our defense played great all day, and they came up with some big stops at the end, too,” Bradford said.
Going back to the protection, Bradford praised the offensive line. “I thought those guys did a great job up there battling,” he said. “That’s a really good defense and a really good defensive front, and I think they did a really good job today.”
Bradford finished with a 98.7 QB rating, and he said he and new Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur are getting very comfortable with the offense.
“Obviously me and Shurm have been together a while,” said Bradford, who played for Shurmur with the Rams and Eagles. “We speak kind of the same language, and it’s always nice being able to talk to him during the week and kind of get stuff that we’ve run before and get it put in the game plan.”
The Vikings play at Detroit on Thursday, a game that they almost have to win if they are to repeat as NFC North champions.
“We played them pretty tough the last time they were here [a 22-16 overtime loss Nov. 6], but we fell a few plays short of getting the win. Hopefully that’s something we can change this week,” he said.
New Vikings kicker Kai Forbath, long snapper Kevin McDermott and punter/holder Jeff Locke were all in school together at UCLA but never competed in a game together. Now they are playing as a special teams unit in the NFL.
“We’re lucky in that we know our rhythm, know how each other perform on gamedays. It made the transition easier,” McDermott said. “We were in college together for three years. All three of us, but Jeff and I were redshirting and then backing up other people at that time. We never took a real, live snap in college together as a threesome, but in practice we got a ton of work, all three of us.”
McDermott praised Locke, whose fourth season with the Vikings has been his best.
“He’s having a great year, and we’re all very proud of him,” McDermott said. “That [72-yard] punt today, in my opinion, won us the game.”
Big day for Rhodes
Xavier Rhodes intercepted one pass for a 100-yard touchdown and then dived to intercept another, the first time the cornerback has had two picks in one NFL game.
“It was a really good game,” he said. “We went out there as a team and played great defense, played great offense, played great special teams, all phases we just went out and played our ball.”
Rhodes’ touchdown made for a potential 14-point swing.
“It was a great call by the coach,” he said. “You know Captain [Munnerlyn] did a great job by jamming the guy, messing up the timing of the route, and I just broke on the ball and went for it.”
He added, “I’m glad I helped the team win, and I’m glad we were able to win this game.”
Rhodes said the most important part of his play with helping the team win the turnover battle, something the Vikings hadn’t been doing as much of late.
“Our turnover ratio, what the coach tells us is we’ve been doing good this year, and we need to continue to get our offense back on the field, ASAP,” Rhodes said.
He credited the defense line for making it easier on the secondary.
“We just play great team defense,” he said. “The D-line gets to the quarterback, makes him get the ball out quickly, the DBs just make a great play on the ball.”
Rhodes was asked what the team has to do to get a big road victory on Thanksgiving.
“We just have to go out there and continue to play great defense and play aggressive against the Lions,” Rhodes said. “And try to come out with a W.”
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org