Wild Card Game Wrap—Full-Team Vikings Win in New Orleans
Wow! The Minnesota Vikings went down to the Big Easy and beat the heavily-favorite New Orleans Saints 26-20 in overtime. After taking the lead late in the first half, the Vikings expanded it to 10 points and tried to hold on. The Saints rallied back but the Vikings scored on the opening drive of OT for the first overtime win in the playoffs in team history.
The winning score, that prevented the Saints from getting their hands on the ball was a four-yard fade corner-route reception by Kyle Rudolph, but was set up by an incredible catch and throw from Kirk Cousins to Adam Thielen for 43 yards down to the one that was an exceptional play by each.
There plenty of drama in the game, as turnovers played a huge part of it, but the win for the Vikings was also validation for Cousins who previously hadn’t had a playoff win. Today he got it and now the Vikings move on to San Francisco to take on the 49ers in the divisional round on Saturday, Jan. 11 at 3:35 pm. This tough-earned win will have them riding high with confidence.
Kirk Cousins was once again faced with a big spot game against a very good team (where his numbers haven’t been good) and he responded with easily the biggest win of his career. His play was slightly uneven early, but he came through when needed, hanging in the pocket for a big pass to set up points in the first half and doing the same in OT to set up the win. The game-winning pass to Rudolph was a beautiful tough pass in its own right, as Kirk and Kyle have really become a nice combo in the second half of the season.
On the game, Cousins 19 of 31 for 242 yards and winning touchdown pass for 96.4 rating. They aren’t his best numbers of the season, but came against one of the better defenses in the league, on the road and in a huge spot. Cousins did not wilt under this pressure and it became a key to the victory.
The return of Dalvin Cook was the biggest factor in this game for Minnesota. Cook ran with speed and power on fresh legs we haven’t seen since the Dallas game. To that point, Mark Craig from the Star Tribune dug up these stats: “Dalvin’s touches and yards in his last four games before today: 12-42, 20-75, 12-64, 16-57. Through two quarters today: 17-103.”
The rest appeared to benefit Cook, as he rushed the ball 28 times for 94 yards and two touchdowns. Dalvin is the motor that makes the offense go, and the Vikings ran it into the teeth of he number three rushing defense in the league. In the second half, the Saints defense locked in on Cook, and shut him down, but the damage was done. Good plan and very good execution for most of the game.
The Vikings defense came to play on Sunday. They had a two-pay lapse that allowed a Saints touchdown, but other than that they gave the team every chance it needed to win. The line harassed quarterback Drew Brees for most of the game, even causing a big fumble late in the game. They held down NFL best receiver Michael Thomas (7 catches for 70 yards) And Alvin Kamara found very little room to run the ball (seven rushes for 21 yards). At times, the tackling was wanting (especially when trying to bring down Taysum Hill), but in general, the defense kept one of the best offenses in the game in check.
We mentioned Kyle Rudolph earlier, but it is worth doing so again. His becoming a better blocker this season seems to have helped him to become a better receiver as well. He has become Cousins’ go-to-guy in the end zone, and he hasn’t failed to come through. His grab was as big as any of his in Purple, and we can only home for more.
Anthony Harris is having a great season. Say all you want about the Eric Kendricks Pro Bowl snub (made up for by the All Pro selection), but Harris is not getting enough attention for his play. Harris was tied for the league-lead with six interceptions in the regular season and came up with another late in the first half against the Saints. His pick led to the Vikings first touchdown and lead in the game. It was a huge play by a defender who has been doing it all season.
Wide receiver Adam Thielen came back from a debilitating hamstring injury late in the regular season, so everyone was looking for him to have a big effect on the game. Well, they were right, only early on the effect was not very positive for the Purple. Thielen fumbled on the first series of the game and it lead to a Saints field goal. Then he had a penalty (see below) that stalled a drive and a drop on a potential big gainer. But Thielen, ever the competitor, turned things around with a couple sliding catches and got things going in a positive direction, On the game he had seven catches 129 yards—including a 19-yarder that set up the go ahead touchdown in the first half, a 34-yard diving grab to set up the second score and an incredible over-the-shoulder catch that set up the winning score in OT. Thielen rebounded from his early struggles and became crucial to this playoff win.
The defensive line had quarterback Drew Brees on his heels all afternoon. Zimmer installed a different look that had defensive ends Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen playing inside at defensive tackles. The Saints struggled with the formation all day. Brees knows how to burning a blitzing defense so Zimmer brought pressure from inside and it resulted keeping Brees on the run. The defense hit Brees seven times and sacked him three, which served to keep him off balance all day.
Should be Defending
Turnovers are killers (thank you Captain Obvious). But when they come on minimal-yardage plays as a player tries to stretch for more yards, it is even harder to accept. I like the effort, Adam Thielen, but secure the ball better when you are going for tough yards in traffic.
Penalty calls and no calls—is it always this way in New Orleans? A holding call on Thielen was wrong. The no call on a third-down pass to Kyle Rudolph was a penalty. Then again, Rudy’s winning grab in OT could have been called a push off as well—but both players were hand fighting, so sometimes you get hosed and other times you get free.
Busted cables. The overhead camera lost a cable right during the Vikings late, second quarter drive. The Saints defense was on its heels and the Vikings had all the mo. A big delay destroyed that. Just more voodoo juju down on the bayou.