Marcus Sherels gave the Vikings a familiar spark when he ripped off a season-long 70-yard punt return in the third quarter. It aided an offense that was starting to sputter in Sunday’s 41-17 win against the Dolphins.
“That gave us three points,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “We didn’t even do anything as an offense. We were terrible. We went three plays and out. I walked off the field, undoing my chinstrap, and I’m ticked off and we get three points out of it. That’s not our offense.”
Sherels extended his own team record with his eighth punt return of at least 50 yards. His 116 punt return yards against the Dolphins trail only his record of 119 set five years ago.
In the locker room afterward, teammates playfully jeered the 31-year-old Sherels for getting tackled 22 yards shy of the end zone by Dolphins receiver Leonte Carroo, who is seven years Sherels’ junior.
“I think the guy got my heel,” Sherels said. “It was close.”
Alexander stands out
Third-year cornerback Mackensie Alexander deflected a deep third-down throw to receiver Danny Amendola to stall Miami’s first drive. That was just the start to Alexander’s standout performance, in which he deflected two passes and had a sack and a run stop.
Alexander is now tied with Robert Griffith (1999) for most sacks in a season by a Vikings defensive back with four.
“Honestly, the offense is always looking for Harrison [Smith] to blitz,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “They’re on different sides most of the time, so he’s had some free runners because Harrison does a nice job disguising when he is and when he’s not, so that’s part of it, too.”
Pick up the pace
Interim offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski sprinkled in an up-tempo pace to catch Dolphins defenders off guard. Vikings coaches pointed out last week how long it typically takes the Dolphins defense to get aligned before the snap, so they wanted to speed things up when Miami wasn’t expecting it.
One hurry-up situation helped draw a Dolphins defender offsides on an early Vikings touchdown drive.
“I thought that was something that we did really, really well last year,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “There’s a difference in going high-tempo the entire drive and using tempo intermittently. I thought that was something Kevin did really, really well.”
2019 foes nearly set
Since the Vikings (7-6-1) are locked into a second-place finish in the NFC North, the 2019 opponents are nearly set based on the year-to-year rotation and this season’s finishes.
Based on division rotations, the Vikings will play the entire NFC East (home: Eagles, Redskins; away: Giants, Cowboys) and AFC West divisions (home: Raiders, Broncos; road: Chargers, Chiefs). Since the Seahawks are locked into a second-place finish in the NFC West, the Vikings will again travel to Seattle for a game.
The only undecided 2019 home opponent is the second-place finisher in the NFC South, which will be the Panthers (6-7), Falcons (5-9) or Buccaneers (5-9).
Dolphins lose Gore
The Dolphins lost leading rusher Frank Gore at the end of the first quarter to an ankle injury. Gore was carted off the field after taking five carries for 14 yards. Miami turned to running back Kalen Ballage, who had a 75-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second half. Miami also lost defensive tackle Ziggy Hood to a hamstring injury in the third quarter.
“Does it matter? Nobody cares,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said when asked about his injured players after the game.