If the NFL awarded victories based on style points, the Minnesota Vikings probably wouldn't be in first place in the NFC North. But thankfully, the Vikings finished Thanksgiving weekend atop the division thanks to another road win that wasn't always aesthetically pleasing.
Once again the Vikings left some points on the field but they battled for another victory behind strong performances from their defense and superstar running back. Their quarterback threw for under 200 yards and no touchdowns. Their kicker shanked a field goal. They were without both of their regular starting safeties for most of the game.
Yet they still won. On the road. By double digits. While holding one of the more explosive offenses in the league out of the end zone until garbage time. The Vikings keep winning ugly and it couldn't be more beautiful. Michael Rand from the Star Tribune had an excellent article that said we need to stop waiting for some sort of mythical perfect football and embrace what this team is--a very good team that wins the best way they know how.
The victory in Atlanta marks the fourth consecutive road victory for the Vikings, something the team hasn't done during one season since 1998. And that team couldn't even beat Atlanta at home! (Too soon?) The Vikings are winning all over the NFL world. And since Ludacris is from Atlanta...hit it Luda!
The fancy cars,
The women and the caviar,
You know who we are,
Cause we pimpin all over the world
Let's get to the "Hey Green Bay, we charge a $19.99 flat fee for your 1-week rental of first place" stocks.
Blue Chip Stocks
Anthony Barr. Holy hell did Barr have himself a game. He was a one-man minefield out there with how many plays he blew up. The second year stud had 8 total tackles, a sack, and two forced fumbles. And the first one was some Don-Beebe-in-the-Super-Bowl-level hustle to pop the ball out of the arms of Tevin Coleman:
Barr showed exactly why he's one of the best young linebackers in the league by doing a little bit of everything on Sunday. Just an amazing performance from a special player.
Adrian Peterson. Speaking of special players: the Atlanta Falcons came into the game allowing the fewest yards per game rushing in the NFL. After Peterson was done with them, the Falcons dropped to 10th in that category. Peterson had 31 touches for 187 total yards, which was over half the team's yards from scrimmage. Peterson also found the end zone for the 98th and 99th times in his career, including the score in the fourth quarter that put the game out of reach:
This was a vintage Peterson performance. As long as #28 is toting the rock like that the Vikings will be a threat in every game. (Note the great blocks by Matt Kalil and Rhett Ellison to spring AP on that run as well.)
Xavier Rhodes. Usually allowing five receptions for 56 yards wouldn't earn you a spot on this list. But when you allow those kind of numbers to Julio Jones while making him earn every single inch of those yards, it's a Blue Chip performance. Rhodes covered Jones for most of the day and made sure Matt Ryan's favorite target didn't hurt the Vikings like he had already done to so many teams. And when I say Rhodes made Jones earn it today, I mean he made him E-A-R-N it:
So yeah, holding THAT guy to 56 yards is definitely an accomplishment worth celebrating. Rhodes hasn't had the "breakout" year that many of us expected so far, but he certainly played an excellent game in Atlanta.
Everson Griffen. Griff didn't put up a bunch of gaudy numbers but he came up with a huge drive-killing sack to end the third quarter and recorded two additional quarterback hits. The Falcons came into the game allowing the fewest sacks in the league and Griffen made Ryan move from his spot on several occasions.
Kyle Rudolph. Rudy had another good showing against the Falcons, leading the team in targets, receptions, and yards. With how the Vikings offense is currently operating, Rudolph remains Teddy Bridgewater's go-to target for many reasons. It looks like that bad drop in Oakland a couple weeks ago sparked Rudolph into a new level of motivation. So far, so good.
Teddy Bridgewater. Yes, the interception was bad. He tried to look off the safety, he didn't bite, and Teddy still went to Rudolph. If the pass had a little more air under it, perhaps it makes it over Ricardo Allen and we're talking about a touchdown throw here. But it wasn't, and the pick sent the Vikings offense into a funk that lasted for most of the next two quarters.
But the rest of the game? Teddy was pretty good. The Vikings didn't allow any sacks today only because Bridgewater was able to avoid pressure and safely get rid of the ball on several plays. He hit his short and intermediate crossing routes in stride, some of which were in pretty tight windows. Does Bridgewater still have plenty of room to improve? Hell yes he does. But for the most part Teddy is doing what is asked of him in this offense.
Terence Newman. The old man just keeps making plays! Newman had another interception on Sunday and remains one of the most important offseason moves the team made. When you're one of "Zimmer's guys", there's usually a good reason; Newman keeps showing why week after week.
Rhett Ellison. The Vikings ran plenty of big sets against Atlanta and Ellison was quietly part of their success. He finished with only 1 catch for 23 yards but continuously made crucial blocks on both runs and passes. When your offense isn't putting up video game numbers it's important to have guys like Ellison doing the little things to help move the ball.
T.J. Clemmings. I hate to harp on the rookie again but he is just sooooo sloooooow coming out of his stance. Most of the pressure Bridgewater saw today came from Clemmings' side.
I mean, you shouldn't have to work this hard for a completion for no gain, but thanks to T.J. that's exactly what Teddy had to do. Every time Clemmings doesn't have help with a chip block or double team, he's a liability.
The suddenly penalty-happy Vikings. The Vikings picked up nine more penalties in Atlanta, bringing their total to 17 for 163 yards over the last two games. Maybe their trip to Oakland a couple weeks ago made some off the Raiders rub of on them or something? It's a problem that needs to be cleaned up as soon as possible. (So maybe keep your hands down a bit, Tom Johnson.)
Buy: No sacks allowed. Even if Teddy had to dance his way out of a few sacks, the offensive line played much better overall than what we saw against Green Bay. This unit is so much better when they're run-first and playing with a lead.
Sell: The offensive line problems are solved. Atlanta has one of the worst pass rushes in the league so let's not go patting ourselves on the back too much here. Seattle's coming to town next week, which will be a much tougher task.
Buy: Mike Wallace drawing pass interference penalties. Hey, it's almost as good as a catch, right?! Wallace drew two fairly important PI calls today, which is better than nothing I guess.
Sell: Mike Wallace actually catching passes. Because for the third time in five games, he didn't catch any. It's getting ridiculous at this point. I didn't put Wallace in the Junk Bonds section this week because calling him a Junk Bond would infer he actually has some sort of value.
Buy: This defense is really good. Atlanta was in the top 10 of most offensive categories coming into the game and the Vikings didn't let them into the end zone until the game was already decided. And remember, Harrison Smith wasn't even playing! I'm not trying to go too deeply into hyperbole, but this team has a little bit of a 2000 Ravens/2005 Steelers/2013 Seahawks feel to them. A punishing defense, an incredible run game, a quarterback that does what's asked of him without putting up huge numbers...the Vikings aren't there yet but they may be closer than we think.
Sell: Matt Ryan is really good. In my preview on Thursday I said that I wasn't really concerned about Matt Ryan. He justified my sentiment Sunday. Ryan can certainly make all the throws but perhaps it's the throws that he shouldn't be making that are hurting him the most. Both interceptions Ryan threw were incredibly ill-advised. If it wasn't for Jones grabbing passes he has no business catching and the Vikings moving drives along with penalties, Ryan might not have accomplished much of anything in the box score on Sunday. You don't have to look any further than the quarterback position to find a reason for Atlanta's struggles.
Buy: Norv Turner installing a better game plan. With the protection troubles and lack of viable deep threats, it was pretty clear that the Vikings offensive coordinator needed to mix in some more quick-hit passes with a heavy dose of the run to keep Bridgewater clean. And the Vikings did just that on their first couple drives with great success. They also closed the game out late with similar tactics.
Sell: Norv Turner installing a better game plan for all four quarters. Soooo why did it seem like they went away from it for most of the second and third quarters? I can't say definitively what changed without seeing the All-22 but it certainly looked like the offense stopped doing what was working best. This offense can still be very mystifying at times.
Buy: Making the playoffs. It is officially not too early to start considering the postseason with this team. The division is still 100% up for grabs--despite what I may have said to several Packers fans on Twitter today--but barring a collapse the Vikings will have a very good chance at grabbing a Wild Card spot at the very least. Two wins from the last five games should get them in. A 9-7 record might even be enough. Yes, the Vikings should be focusing on their first division title in six seasons, but just getting into the tournament would be a big accomplishment for this team.
Sell: Doing anything in the playoffs if the Vikings keep leaving points on the field. Blair Walsh missed another field goal. The interception cost them a shot at more points. Running the ball with Matt Asiata to settle for a field goal in the 4th quarter was frustrating. As I said at the beginning, we should embrace these beautiful ugly wins. But in the postseason they will need to clean up their mistakes against top competition.
Gemma Thompson Quote of the Day
We were at my wife's parents' place watching the game today celebrating our second Thanksgiving feast of the weekend. My older daughter spent most of the game emptying out the contents of board game boxes, playing with Barbies, and making me bounce her on grandpa's exercise ball. She placated me with a couple "Goooo Bikings" when I asked her to cheer along but was mostly disinterested in the game. About an hour after the game I asked her "So Gemma, did the Vikings win today?!" hoping to illicit a more enthusiastic response. Instead, I got:
That was it. Like, "Yeah Dad, the Vikings won. They're supposed to, aren't they? Now let's go play."
Maybe Gemma is onto something here. The Vikings are supposed to be winning games like this now. I shouldn't be so surprised when they keep pulling it off.
Or maybe she's just 2 and doesn't care about football as much as her dad yet. But I'm pretty sure it's because she expected the Vikings to win. Either way, Skol to first place!