Vikings 6th Straight Win Follows Familiar Formula
Vikings Insider, The GM’s View
This is a recording. The Vikings scored a touchdown on their first drive (fourth time in the last five games), had a lull in the second and third quarters to lose the lead, forced a big late turnover on defense, and then made several big plays in the fourth quarter to overcome adversity. The Vikings came from behind as they outscored the opponents in the fourth quarter to win a one-score game (for the sixth straight game after going 6-8 in such games last season).
Amazing. This time it happened in Washington as the Vikings rallied—for the sixth straight game–from a 17-7 fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Commanders 20-17 for their sixth straight victory. The Vikings improved to 7-1 (for the NFL’s second-best record). With Green Bay losing in Detroit and Chicago falling to Miami, the Vikings now hold a seemingly insurmountable 4 1/2 game lead in the NFC North with nine games remaining.
Whoodathunkit back when this season began? Not even Kevin O’Connell, I’d surmise.
Some Vikings media and fans and many among the national media are not yet believing the Vikings are a Super Bowl contender, but after this many close wins and rallies, you have to say the team believes it can find a way to win which is a credit to O’Connell and his coaches along with the player leaders who have instilled that belief.
“We have confidence to win on the road, facing double-digit deficits,” O’Connell said. “You have to overcome adversity, find ways to win football games. Nobody flinches. That’s what this team continues to do. I looked up at a couple of guys when we were down 10, and I said we’re going to win by 3. That has to do with a belief I have in this team that has removed all doubt.”
The Vikings have an opportunity to make an even stronger case over the next four games as they step up in competition against teams with winning records that should remain in playoff contention—this week at 6-2 Buffalo and then home matchups with 6-2 Dallas, 5-4 New England and the 6-3 Jets.
Here are my other reactions to Sunday’s win over the Commanders:
1. Another great opening drive: In his first road game against the team that drafted him, Kirk Cousins started hot, completing 5 of 5 passes for 67 yards. He got Justin Jefferson involved early with four receptions for 48 yards and the 9-yard leaping TD as he beat former Gopher Benjamin St. Juste in single coverage.
2. It was impressive to see newly acquired tight end T.J. Hockenson catch a 19-yarder on 3rd-and-5 to keep the opening drive alive. What a performance by Hockenson with nine receptions for 70 yards after only a couple days of practice as he learned the offense on a crash course working with tight ends coach Brian Angelichio. It’s still hard to believe the Lions were willing to trade this talented former Pro Bowler, and Hockenson has already made the Vikings offense more dangerous down the stretch.
3. It was tough sledding in the run game (56 yards rushing, 2.8-yard average for Dalvin Cook) and for stretches when Cousins dropped back to pass against one of the best front fours in the league. Defensive tackles Daron Payne (6 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 QB hits) and Pro Bowler Jonathan Allen (2 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 4 QB hits) were difficult to handle for guards Ed Ingram and Ezra Cleveland. Ingram, in particular, has struggled lately against top interior defenders and could use more help with double teams, or vet Chris Reed could be utilized if Ingram is having a rough time.
Payne beat Ingram on his crushing hit against Cousins that knocked him out of the game for one play but Cousins showed his toughness by standing in there to take that hit and delivering one of the biggest plays in the game—the 47-yard pass to Jefferson that set up the field goal to bring the Vikings within 17-10 in the fourth quarter.
Cousins also showed his leadership when he began his postgame press conference by saluting Adam Thielen on becoming the third receiver in Vikings history (along with Cris Carter and Randy Moss) with 500 career receptions.
4. Danielle Hunter is adapting better to the new 3-4 defense, and he deservedly got a game ball for his excellent game. He had 7 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 tackles for loss, and 2 QB hits. His fourth-quarter sack with 6:59 left resulted in a 3-and-out, and the Vikings then drove to the game-winning 28-yard field goal by Greg Joseph, who didn’t miss any field goals or extra points for the first time in several weeks (a good sign moving forward).
5. Za’Darius Smith had another impactful game with 5 tackles, 3 QB hits, and 2 passes defended. He had a sack nullified when he got a brief hold of Taylor Heinicke’s facemask, which was a big play on the TD drive that put the Commanders up by 10 points. With Smith and Hunter in the lineup, the Vikings D is playoff-worthy. Keeping them healthy is a must over the second half of the season, as the team hopes to thrive in the postseason.
6. Kudos to rookie corner Akayleb Evans and Pro Bowl safety Harrison Smith as key contributors on defense. Evans relieved the injured Cam Dantzler (ankle) and had a critical 4th-and-1 pass breakup on the Commanders star receiver Terry McLaurin. He also showed his physicality with two tackles for loss in the run game.
For the third straight game, Smith had an interception, and this one was a game-changer as it set up the Vikings offense at the Washington 12-yard line from where Cousins threw a perfect pass to Dalvin Cook, who made a terrific one-handed catch to tie the game 17-17.
7. How about the ridiculous TD pass in the third quarter when Heinicke threw into triple coverage, but the back judge ran into Cam Bynum, who had an easy path to the pick, and Curtis Samuel caught the 49-yarder with Harrison Smith and Patrick Peterson hanging on him. That official needs to be reprimanded for being out of position on the play.
8. A few concerns from Sunday: too many dropped passes (at least three I saw), a few costly penalties that helped the opposition, a third quarter where the Vikings ran only nine plays for 13 yards, and after the great opening drive, the Vikings’ next seven possessions ended with six punts and an interception (on a contested throw to Jefferson which I didn’t mind seeing Cousins taking this shot to his best player and the ball was deflected into a pick that cost three points at the end of the first half).
9. On the penalty front, the Commanders committed the worst infraction with a roughing call on Joseph’s late field goal that allowed O’Connell to wisely take the points off the board and run the clock down to 16 seconds when Joseph kicked the game-winner.
10. Punter Ryan Wright continues to have an excellent rookie season. He averaged 51.7 yards on his six punts, including a 61-yarder that helped field position for the Vikings and two punts downed inside the 20.
So the Vikings are 7-1 for the first time since 2009 and now have outscored opponents 70-37 in the fourth quarter, one of the major reasons for their success thus far. Next, it’s off to Buffalo, where ex-Viking Stefon Diggs will assuredly have his team fired up on Sunday (along with the fact the Bills are coming off a 20-17 loss at the Jets). As Jefferson summed up, “I’m glad we have the fight in this team.” Which they’ll continue to need over this tough four-game stretch coming up.
Around the NFL Observations:
1. The Bills blew a 14-3 lead in the Jets loss that was surprising for the team most observers are picking as the AFC’s Super Bowl team. QB Josh Allen is an MVP candidate, but he threw two interceptions on Sunday (and also ran for two scores). Allen said afterward, “It’s tough to win when your quarterback plays like (expletive).”
2. The Vikings now have the largest division lead through Week 9 since the 2011 49ers, who made it to the NFC title game before losing to the Giants. That comes courtesy of their Sunday win coupled with Green Bay losing 15-9 in Detroit as Aaron Rodgers threw three interceptions in one of the worst games of his career. The Packers have incredibly lost five straight and host Dallas on Sunday.
The Bears also fell to 3-6 after their wild 35-32 loss to the Dolphins, in which Justin Fields continued his ascension by setting an NFL record for QB rushing yards in a regular season game with 178. Fields also threw three TD passes and ran for a score, but Tua Tagovailoa also had three TD tosses.
3. Tom Brady is not having the kind of season he did the last two years for the Bucs, but he threw a TD pass with 9 seconds to go in the win over the Rams. Tampa Bay leads the lousy NFC South with a 4-5 record, while the defending Super Bowl champion Rams are 3-5 and a mess on offense.
4. Patrick Mahomes once again showed he should be considered the MVP front-runner by running for 63 yards, 1 TD, and a 2-point conversion (to tie the game late) and passing for 446 yards and 1 TD in the Chiefs come-from-behind 20-17 OT win over the Titans, who had no passing game with rookie QB Malik Willis starting in place of the injured Ryan Tannehill.
Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl