What We Learned: McKinnon Seizes the Job

Monday night, Jerick McKinnon became the Vikings’ running back.

Through his career, I’ve been lukewarm on McKinnon. Generally I think he has been an average runner whose shiftiness is more rumor than real and, basically, we think of him as better than he is because he shows potential.

But he won me over against the Bears. Monday night, McKinnon took the reigns as the lead of the Vikings’ timeshare and proved he’s capable of staying there. He was equally effective as a runner and receiver, showing burst through the hole and finishing runs with authority. McKinnon seemed to seek out contact at the ends of plays, picking up two or three crucial extra yards to make the following downs more manageable. Essentially, he did the things we appreciated out of Dalvin Cook before his injury.

McKinnon rushed 16 times for 95 yards and a touchdown, and also tied for the team lead with 6 receptions for 51 yards. He was a integral part of the offense in the second half, when the Vikings did most of their damage.

Latavius Murray played well, too, and he’ll still be a major factor in the backfield. But Monday, McKinnon stole the show. Remember, Murray/McKinnon was the plan before Cook unexpectedly fell to the Vikings in the draft, and if the win over the Bears is any indication, Plan A might work out just fine.

Soldier Field remains an awful place.

I don’t know what it is, but something about Soldier Field is deeply wrong. Perhaps it’s built on a sacred norse burial ground, or maybe the city of Chicago just has some seriously bad energy, but Soldier Field always brings out the worst in the Vikings.

Drew Mahowald adroitly pointed out on Monday night’s postgame VT Roundtable that the Vikings have only won by more than three points in Chicago once¬†since 1996. Yes, one decisive victory in two decades (over a team that has been largely average in that timeframe). I was, like I imagine you were, watching the game with an ominous sense of foreboding,¬†waiting for the inevitable (nationally televised) Soldier Field collapse. For a while, it looked like we were headed there, with the Bradford situation and fake punt tomfoolery, and when the game finished with the Vikings victorious, I still found it slightly hard to believe.

It wasn’t pretty, but any win in that godforsaken building is significant. I’ll take it.

Sam Bradford gave it a go, and it turned out he wasn’t ready, and that’s all there is to it.

Almost solely at fault for his 5 for 11, 36-yard stat line (before being pulled in favor of Case Keenum) was the fact that Sam Bradford was clearly unhealthy. His mobility was severely limited from the outset, and his passes were uncharacteristically high and erratic, indicating he was having trouble putting pressure on his front leg. Bradford’s limp grew more pronounced as the half wore on, culminating in an ugly sack where he hit the deck in pain after a benign tap from his offensive lineman.

Bradford tried to play. He wasn’t ready. There was a good chance he aggravated his injury in the process. It happens, and Mike Zimmer can be forgiven for trying to play his starting quarterback against a divisional opponent on the road. It was unfortunate the way it transpired, but it wasn’t malicious, and in my opinion it wasn’t irresponsible, as I’ve seen suggested numerous places. It’s just part of football.

Keenum played well in relief, going 17 of 21 for 140 yards and a touchdown, and he’ll almost certainly be starting next week, and likely beyond. Based on the outcome of this one, it’s hard to see the team bringing Bradford back any time in the next month, which puts his theoretical return well into the window that Teddy Bridgewater will (theoretically) be practicing. It’ll be Keenum against the Packers, but after that, buckle up, because this quarterback situation is about to get weird. Sigh. At least we’re used to it.

Boy Genius looked good, overall.

Mitch Trubisky had a nice debut. Yes, he had the decisive interception, and his stat line wasn’t much to brag about, but he faced a very good defense and played as well as could have been expected overall. Good for him and the Bears. I found the flashy two-point conversion to be obnoxious, which means it was well-executed and I would appreciate it if it happened in any other circumstance around the league. At least for one night, it looks like Chicago may be on the right track with Trubisky. Time will tell.

But he’ll start 0-1.

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Sam Neumann

Sam Neumann is a freelance writer and lifelong Vikings apologist. He has seen his share of Vikings-related heartbreak, but believes we are united by the hope that one day that norse ship will come in. Sam is the author of three books, including the New York Times Bestseller Memoirs of a Gas Station. He lives in Denver, Colorado, and has had it with Broncos fans. You can follow him on twitter @NeumSamN.

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  1. The author of the article Sam Neumann, says the Vikings QB situation after next week’s Packers game will get “weird “. I disagree. Case Keenum is an excellent NFL starting QB . He’s done a great job for the Vikings completing 78 of 121 attempts with 4 TD’ s and NO interceptions . That’s a 65 percent completion rate and ESPN ranks him th #5 QB in the league at the present time. It’s time to acknowledge that Case Keenum has earned the job as the Vikings starting QB from here on out. Change things again and the entire offense will be screwed up for the rest of the season. His teammates love him and believe in him. Cas Keenum is a worthy leader for the Vikings.

    1. Hey Jim. I agree Jim has been tremendous in three out of the four games he has played this season. I think historical precedent points toward some regression to the mean, but even if you expect him to stay consistently great, I think it’s almost impossible to say there won’t be any controversy if/when Bridgewater returns. This is a fan base that’s enamored by Teddy, for better or worse, and after the first errant Keenum throw, some will be yelling his name.

      1. The Vikings and Case Keenum are in for a tough game against the Packers this Sunday. I expect The Vikings to put up about 24 points and for Keenum to go about 25-35 while also throwing his first interception of the season. He’s overdue for one. It should be a close game. Probably will come down to getting a great game from the defense in order for the Vikings to prevail.

  2. Given how poor his run blocking has been most of the season, it was nice to see Nick Easton throw a nice block on McKinnon’s touchdown run.

    There should be no controversy about Keenum starting until (a) he has two or three stinkers in a row AND (b) either Bradford or Bridgewater are actually healthy enough to take the hits, but I have my doubts about the knees of both gentlemen. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sloter starting a game this year. Taylor Heinicke was just cut from the Patriots practice squad, and I STILL wouldn’t mind having him on our PS as an emergency back-up.