A 20-13 victory over the Green Bay Packers earned the Minnesota Vikings their first division championship since 2009 and this season has been one heck of a ride. We’ll have plenty more on the victory over Green Bay, the regular season as a whole, and the attempted redemption coming up against Seattle.
For now, however, I want to take a second to a minute to wrap ourselves up in VT‘s own time honored tradition of handing out a game ball from you, the readers.
This heralded (by me) award was given to Harrison Smith last week. Teddy Bridgewater and Stefon Diggs are tied for a team lead with three game balls each this season, but neither is likely to break that tie via your votes this week. A list of the weekly outcomes can always be found on our Schedule Page.
Moving onto this week’s nominees…
Who said Norv Turner appears unwilling to manufacture touches for a speedy playmaking wide receiver relegated to special teams contributions and a bottom spot on the wide out depth chart? Adam Thielen’s light was a lot brighter than Cordarrelle Patterson’s in Week 17 and the “all he does is make plays” narrative continues to follow him long after many thought he would be cut in the preseason.
Thielen tied Adrian Peterson as the teams leading rusher with 67 yards each, but did so on just two carries, one of which was an opening drive faked punt that Thielen was able to turn into 41 yards. Coaches deserve plenty of credit for that play, but Thielen’s contribution put the Vikings up by three points instead of punting the ball away with none. Thielen also caught his lone target for a 16 yard gain before having to leave the game with injury.
If there were two highlights of the first half, and one of them was Thielen’s 41 yard dash on fourth down, then the other was guard Mike Harris bulldozing Clay Matthews in such an embarrassing way that Matthews opted to retaliate by cheap-shotting Harris from behind… and drawing a personal foul for unsportsmanlike conduct. Harris was once again the Vikings most dependable offensive lineman in a game that needed the unit to at least not completely fold in prime time.
No Linval? No problem.
Defensive tackle Tom Johnson was constantly pestering Aaron Rodgers on Sunday Night, consistently applying pressure and seldom losing containment… playing a hustle-and-chase game all evening long that was a major difference in the outcome this time around.
Johnson was credited with three tackles, three hits on the quarterback, and half of a sack. He also toughened up against the run after a worrisome first drive, limiting the Packers to a team average of 2.9 yards per rushing attempt.
Johnson has easily been one of Rick Spielman’s best free agent signings of the last few years.
In what was easily a top five performance of the defensive end’s career, Everson Griffen made an enormous impact through his pass rush. It was so significant, in fact, I am really hoping the confidence boost carries over into next week when Griffen gets another crack at the slippery moves of Russell Wilson.
Griffen totaled six tackles, three for a loss, four hits on Rogers, and two crucial sacks. One of those sacks came when Griffen hit the arm of Rodgers just in time for the ball to come out of his hand and be ruled a fumble, which Captain Munnerlyn scooped up for the defensive touchdown.
Griffen has emerged as a leader on this team as evidenced by how quickly Vikings fans got let memories of Jared Allen fade. Next up, Griffen needs to face off against a much tougher matchup where he could potentially be needed to make an even larger impact.
The rookie middle linebacker was another one that had me worried on the first Packers series, but put together one of his best games of the season when all was said and done. Kendricks was the sideline-to-sideline presence the Vikings have lacked for a long, long time.
He was second on the team with nine tackles, one of which was for a loss, and got a hit on Rodgers on one occasion. The first drive aside, Kendricks was a huge reason that the Vikings were able to limit the Packers rushing capabilities and keep Rodgers in containment.
Even more importantly, as pointed out by NBC’s broadcast crew, Kendricks successfully took away a great deal of underneath routes that are a staple of Green Bay’s offense.
There was an interesting nugget in the broadcast notes about Rhodes losing some confidence earlier in this season, but that he was starting to regain some of that swagger. I’m not sure how much stock to put into those comments, but they certainly fit the narrative of Rhodes’ season.
Rhodes seemed plenty confident on Sunday night, however, where he and the other Vikings corners were clearly ordered to play it physical with Green Bay’s lackluster group of receivers. Terence Newman had a tough time with that assignment, especially with James Jones, but Rhodes did quite well for himself against a quarterback that is supposed to be one of the best the NFL has ever seen.
Rhodes tagged in for three tackles and an end zone interception that headed off a late collapse that was looking inevitable up until that point.
OTHER: Anthony Barr? Adrian Peterson? Blair Walsh? If I missed the guy you think is most deserving of the award this week then please do not hesitate to click “other” and let me hear about it in the comments section below.