Sunday’s halftime celebration was nice, but the best tribute to the 1969 Vikings came early in the second quarter when a visiting quarterback got spooked by the Purple’s front four, needlessly rushed a high throw and was intercepted by an All-Pro safety patrolling center field in a No. 22 jersey.
Half a century ago, when the Vikings were going to their first of four Super Bowls in eight years, it was Jim Marshall, Gary Larsen, Alan Page and Carl Eller up front and Paul Krause wearing 22. Sunday, as those five watched from a luxury box above the field, it was Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Shamar Stephen and Danielle Hunter starting up front and Harrison Smith who benefited from the Raiders and quarterback Derek Carr being visibly afraid of the Vikings’ pass rush.
“I don’t want to say anybody is afraid but we do have a good pass rush up front, to put it lightly,” said Smith, whose interception led to a 21-0 lead in a 34-14 rout of the Raiders at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“I would be concerned about those guys up front, too, if I were coaching offense. When [Carr] threw it, it was kind of a quick deal. At first, I thought the tight end [Foster Moreau] might have a chance at it. Then I thought, ‘Hey, maybe I have a chance at it.’ It kind of sailed.”
The Vikings’ front line — including interior nickel rushers Stephen Weatherly and Hercules Mata’afa — made its presence felt from the time the Raiders crafted their game plan early last week. Everything early on — a heavy dose of runs and quick passes — were designed to keep the home fans from going bonkers over their beloved pass rush.
“They max protected on third down just about every single time,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “I think they were afraid of the blitzes. … People to not want us to blitz them. So be it. We just get a chance to rush on tight ends. We get a chance to cover.”
In other words, as Raiders coach Jon Gruden put it, “They can get there with four guys. … I think the interception [is] something you rarely see from Derek. You feel the pressure.”
Or, as Carr put it, “I had a terrible play. Had a bad rep.”
The line had two of the team’s four sacks — by Griffen and Hunter — and three of the five hurries, including one by Joseph. But even that’s deceiving because one of linebacker Eric Wilson’s two sacks came when Griffen chased Carr up into the pocket. Carr fell and Wilson tapped him down.
“Everson told me he had the edge clear and he had him squared up,” Wilson said. “But I got to him slightly before that.”
Any guilt about stealing Everson’s sack?
“Nah,” Wilson laughed. “Team defense.”
A similar front-seven battle to the ball occurred on fourth-and-1 at the Vikings’ 39-yard line late in the third quarter. Running back Josh Jacobs had no chance running up the middle when he was hit by Griffen, Joseph, Hunter and middle linebacker Eric Kendricks. Hunter and Kendricks both were on the ground bear-hugging Jacobs for no gain.
“As soon as they ran it,” Kendricks said, “we knew we stopped it. It was fun.”
Other defensive line highlights included:
• A strong four-man rush with Weatherly and Mata’afa rushing from inside on a third-and-8 stop on Oakland’s first possession.
• Griffen with a sack on a four-man rush.
• Stephen tackling Carr for no gain.
• A pressure by Griffen that should have drawn a grounding penalty.
• Hunter’s sack, which came from the front side in a four-man rush. Griffen was being doubled on the blind side.
“Sometimes, teams focus the protection to one guy or maybe the ends,” Hunter said. “But that usually just opens things up for someone else. One of us should get there.”
Just like the old days 50 years ago, eh?
“Not sure if it was [a tribute] to the Purple People Eaters or not,” Hunter said. “But we did a pretty good job today.”
￼ Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org