The Vikings faced third-and-1 three plays after Arizona took its only lead of Sunday’s game at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Yes, Matt Asiata was in the backfield as roughly 66,808 Vikings fans shielded their eyes in fear of what they presumed would follow with the Vikings down 10-7 and leaking momentum early in the second quarter.
Third-and-1s have been as painful as missed PATs this season. Even coach Mike Zimmer went before the media on Wednesday lamenting the fact his offense had converted only five of 13 third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 situations during the team’s four-game losing streak.
But Sunday’s first crack at third-and-1 felt different from the get-go. Quarterback Sam Bradford was in the shotgun with Asiata offset to his left. Passing targets Kyle Rudolph, Stefon Diggs and Cordarrelle Patterson — in that order — were bunched tight to the right, while a fourth one, Laquon Treadwell, was tight left.
“We felt like we had a pretty good read on what their coverages were going to be on third-and-short,” Bradford said after the Vikings’ 30-24 win.
At the snap, Diggs and Rudolph turned outside, while Patterson split them with a shallow crossing route to his left. Treadwell ran a shallow crossing route to his right, with the sole purpose being to create traffic for the linebacker picking up Patterson.
“It was kind of a rub route coming out of the back door,” Bradford said. “Just something we haven’t shown much.”
Mostly, what the Vikings have shown with a yard or less to go is the inability of Asiata to gain a first down behind a decimated offensive line. It happened twice in the red zone at Philadelphia, once against Detroit and again last week at Washington.
But not this time.
Patterson was isolated on Deone Bucannon, one of the league’s unique players. He’s a 211-pounder the Cardinals call their “money backer.” Essentially, he’s a safety playing middle linebacker.
But even he’s not as fast as Patterson.
“He’s a linebacker checking a receiver,” Patterson said. “No disrespect to him or anything, but we feel as a receiver, we shouldn’t let a linebacker check us. That’s the mind-set we have.
“Laquon and those guys did a good job of rubbing, and I just did a good job of catching it and just running with it.”
Patterson gained 30 yards. And suddenly, believe it or not, it was the league’s 32nd-ranked offense that was picking up the league’s top-ranked scoring defense after the latter had been shoved 78 yards downfield — 54 of them on eight running plays — en route to a field goal and a three-point deficit.
The Vikings’ offense got even more creative after Patterson’s 30-yard gain. The next two snaps came with running back Jerick McKinnon taking a direct snap out of the Wildcat formation.
He ran for 5 yards on the first snap. On the second snap, he handed to Patterson in the backfield. Patterson went to his right before lateraling to Bradford lined up wide right.
“You put your best athletes out there and let them create,” Bradford joked.
Adam Thielen tried to sell a run block before racing toward the goal line to receive Bradford’s deep ball.
“I probably didn’t sell it long enough,” said Thielen, who was covered on the play. “The coaches got the look we’ve been practicing all week. They did a good job scheming it.”
Bradford threw the ball up for Thielen. The pass was incomplete, but safety Tony Jefferson was flagged for pass interference, moving the ball 29 yards to the Arizona 2.
“We haven’t shown anything but runs out of [the Wildcat],” Bradford said. “We felt that if we could throw a wrinkle in there with a pass, it probably would catch them off guard.”
One snap later, Asiata scored. The Vikings never trailed again.
And, get this, they had one other third-and-1 early in the fourth quarter. Having finally shown pass with success in that situation, the Vikings ran the ball. And, believe it or not, Asiata gained 3 yards straight up the middle.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings writer. Twitter: @MarkCraigNFL E-mail: email@example.com