1. Happy early Thanksgiving, friends.
Thanksgiving came a little early for the Minnesota Vikings and their fans. Following Sunday’s roller coaster of a victory over the Arizona Cardinals, the thought of Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday night got that much more delicious.
While I’m thankful for the win — six weeks in the making — I’m not ready to sit down at the dinner table just yet. Sure, the Vikings are 6-4 and tied for first place in the NFC North, but their co-champions are gearing up for what’s likely the team’s most significant game of the season.
Thursday morning, as we prep the turkey, loosen the sweatpants and enjoy the company of our loved ones, the Detroit Lions will try to sweep the Vikings for the second time in three years. Minnesota enters Week 12 having skirted a five-game losing streak, while the Lions are enjoying their own two-game series of wins.
As Vikings fans, we deserve to savor yesterday’s “W.” The defense came back to life with four sacks, Sam Bradford played another relatively clean game, and Mike Zimmer’s crew put together an impressive display of “team football.”
This is only the appetizer of what could be a satisfying full-course meal on Thursday.
And on a side note, since it is that time of the year, thank you. Thank you for being such loyal readers, followers, and fans of this crazy, wonderful team. You make writing here a joy, and I’m thankful to call Vikings Territory home.
2. Xavier Rhodes, take a bow
Quietly, Xavier Rhodes has become a top-shelf cornerback in the NFL. His talent and ability are well-known within the walls of Winter Park, but on Sunday, Rhodes gave the world a behind-the-scenes tour of his capabilities.
The veteran cornerback hauled in two interceptions of Carson Palmer, with one completely swinging the game in favor of the Vikings. Backed up and facing the prospect of a Cardinals go-ahead touchdown, Rhodes jumped an outside route and turned on the jets. He outraced every player on the field, taking the interception a Vikings record 100 yards for a touchdown that would put Minnesota up 20-10 before halftime.
Since shutting down Kelvin Benjamin in Week 3, Rhodes has been a nuisance for opposing quarterbacks. His performance against the New York Giants earned Rhodes some much-deserved public recognition — plus a breakdown from yours truly — and respect from the league’s No. 1 receivers. Just look at this statistical nugget from Matthew Coller:
Rhodes wasn't on a No. 1 there, but I ran into the Football Outsiders stat this week that the Vikings are best in the NFL vs. No. 1 WRs
— Matthew Coller (@MatthewColler) November 20, 2016
Rhodes deserves much of the credit for Minnesota’s defensive success this year, and Sunday’s stellar outing was the exclamation point on what’s been his best season to date.
3. Sam Bradford is more than a spare tire
When the Vikings traded for Sam Bradford, I labeled the quarterback a spare tire. Teddy Bridgewater’s injury was still a fresh wound, and I couldn’t bring myself to move on so quickly. But the NFL is a business, and business requires what we in the corporate world call “agile commitments”
Even as the other wheels have fallen off the offense’s rickety frame, Bradford’s been an encouraging presence under center. Spielman made an “agile commitment” to replace Bridgewater, and so far, his investment’s paid off. Bradford is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes, has thrown 12 touchdowns to just two interceptions, and is hovering near the century mark in quarterback rating.
He looks more comfortable than ever in Pat Shurmur’s new offense, moving the unit with ease despite the lack of a consistent running game. In the team’s last three games, he’s completed more than 70 percent of his passes, throwing four touchdowns to just one interception.
He hasn’t been perfect, but Bradford’s far exceeded the expectations I and so many others set before the season began. Maybe Bridgewater returns in 2017, or maybe, he’s forced to sit another year for recovery’s sake. Either way, I’m comfortable moving forward with Bradford at quarterback.
4. Cordarrelle Patterson is more than Percy Harvin 2.0
I loved Percy Harvin’s production, but I couldn’t stand his personality. I held similar sentiments for Cordarrelle Patterson, but that was only before the start of the 2016 season.
Patterson, long perceived to be Minnesota’s diva wide receiver, is finally making good on the promise of his immense talents. On Sunday, he returned the second half’s opening kickoff for a touchdown, tying Harvin’s franchise record of five such returns.
This year, Patterson’s on pace to set career-highs in nearly every statistical category. After a season that saw him catch just two passes, Patterson’s already hauled in 34 catches for 309 yards and two touchdowns. His stat sheet isn’t exactly eye-popping, but Patterson is making a tangible difference in an offense so desperately in need of passing game production.
Harvin never repaired his damaged relationships in Winter Park. Patterson, on the other hand, is changing minds and hearts in Minnesota.
5. We’re on to Detroit
As Bill Belichick put it in a now-infamous postgame presser, the NFL is a week-to-week league. The victory over the Cardinals was fantastic in the moment, but the attention now turns to the Lions and reclaiming dominion of the NFC North.
Champions like Belichick understand the importance of looking ahead and forgetting the past. If there were ever a time for Mike Zimmer to adopt such a philsophy, it’s now.