If anyone had doubts about the fight of this Vikings squad, they saw all they needed to see in Sunday’s 31-23 victory at Houston.
Coach Mike Zimmer’s team saved its season in a game it had to have. And right now, you see a club that can compete for a playoff spot and is getting better each game.
The Vikings have a new offensive coordinator in Gary Kubiak and new co-defensive coordinators Andre Patterson and Adam Zimmer. Those coaches didn’t have the help of exhibition games to work with while the team added an NFL-record 15 draft picks to its roster.
The Vikings also had to shut down their practice facility this week, losing a day of practice. And on top of that the leader of their defense, safety Harrison Smith, was kicked out for a helmet-to-helmet hit and missed the second half. Other teams might have folded up this game and the season but the Vikings battled for a very tough victory.
“I do think this team, this organization has kind of always kept fighting and been resilient when their backs have been against the wall,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “Today I do think we paid with a little resiliency that I was proud of, and made enough plays.”
In a game they had to win, the Vikings never trailed. Cousins was as efficient as ever, going 16-for-22 for 260 yards and a score for a 127.1 passer rating.
And the Vikings again showed they might have the best running game in the business. Dalvin Cook finished with 130 yards on 27 carries with two touchdowns and Alexander Mattison added a score.
Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson can be the real deal as a receiving duo, too. Thielen had 114 yards on eight receptions and Jefferson added 103 on four catches.
And while Houston star Deshaun Watson put up good numbers, the Vikings never let him get settled, sacking him three times. Watson also fumbled twice.
Perhaps most important for the Vikings was that rookie cornerbacks Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler started together for the first time. Gladney finished with five tackles, including one for a loss, and a pass deflected, while Dantzler had three tackles.
Controlling the ball
The story of the game, and the story of the Vikings season up to now, was that they were finally able to control the clock.
Kubiak and the offensive coaches are working off the running backs and starting to really see their game plan take shape.
“I do know that coach Zimmer has a tremendous amount of trust in Gary and rightfully so, and I think that helps our entire team and our unit really play with confidence,” Cousins said. “I think Gary has earned that trust over a long time. Gary knows what he’s doing and he and [offensive line coach] Rick Dennison are a big reason why we’ve had success running the football the last couple of years and why we’ve been able to put up 30 points three of four weeks.”
The Vikings outgained Houston 410-386 and ran 65 plays over 36 minutes, 31 seconds compared to 62 plays over 23:29 for the Texans.It was the first game this season where the Vikings had the advantage in the time of possession.
In the first two games against Green Bay and Indianapolis, the Vikings were outgained 876-557.
But in their past two contests against Tennessee and Houston, who both won playoff games last year, the Vikings outgained their opponents 874-830.
There’s no doubt that next Sunday will be one of the Vikings’ toughest challenges of the year as they go into Seattle to face a Seahawks club that is 4-0. On top of that, Seattle has six consecutive victories in the series and the Vikings haven’t won in the Pacific Northwest since 2006.
But this team has to feel a lot better about facing Pete Carroll’s squad after their resilient performance Sunday.