All week fans were going through the scenarios needed for the Vikings to clinch the playoffs before they kicked off against the New York Giants on Sunday night. We couldn't bear the thought of the Vikings actually earning their way in on their own merits. We had to run the numbers to see how other teams could clear the path for us.
"If the Panthers beat the Falcons, maybe we can rest our starters." Nope, didn't happen.
"If the Seahawks take care of the Rams, then we don't have to worry about that weird three-way tie that could knock us out." Sorry.
It turns out that the Vikings would have to earn the playoff spot by themselves. Nobody was going to open the door and let them stroll back into the postseason.
So tonight, the Vikings decided to kick in the door. And all you heard the Giants saying was "don't hit me no more."
Kick in the door, wavin the four-four
All you heard was Poppa don't hit me no more
Time for the official playoff stocks.
Blue Chip Stocks
Danielle Hunter. Many draftniks thought taking Hunter in the third round was a reach because he only had 4.5 sacks in his entire college career at LSU. He now has six career sacks as a pro. And it wasn't just the constant pressure Hunter applied throughout the game--he chased down a couple screen passes and even had a 10-yard kick return! Is there nothing this rookie can't do?
Harrison Smith. Sore eyes, meet sight. Hitman Harry didn't miss a beat after returning from two missed games due to a hamstring injury. He delivered his usual run stuffing and excellent coverage while taking this second quarter interception to the house to start the rout.
How Smith isn't in the Pro Bowl is something that cannot be properly explained to me. He is such a crucial part to a very formidable Vikings defense.
Teddy Bridgewater. The Seattle game might have been the wake-up call that Bridgewater and his teammates needed. Since the embarrassing home loss to the Seahawks, here are Teddy's numbers:
57 for 81, 734 yards, 7 total TDs, 0 INT, 123.2 quarterback rating
Pretty decent, right? And some of those passes tonight--wow. Teddy has got the touch.
So please, keep hating on Bridgewater if you must. Say that he's only riding AP's coattails. Claim that his throwing motion prevents him from being an elite passer. Tell us how he's only a game manager. He'll just keep quietly stringing together these performances all the way to the playoffs. You know, that thing Derek Carr and Blake Bortles aren't invited to even though they're sooooo much better than Teddy.
Jerick McKinnon. So whenever that Peterson fella and the Vikings finally part ways, this "Jet" guy might be OK huh? McKinnon continues to impress with each and every opportunity he gets this season. McKinnon racked up another 97 yards and 2 touchdowns on only 9 touches tonight. He isn't ever the biggest guy on the field but he's usually the best athlete on the field regardless of who else is out there. He proved it with this long run late in the fourth quarter.
Eli Manning. I know I'm supposed to focus on the Vikings here, but Manning deserves a spot in the Blue Chips. If not for his terrible three-turnover performance tonight, perhaps for a lifetime achievement award. Eli is now 3-5 against the Vikings in his career with 5 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. You da real MVP, Eli.
Jarius Wright. He certainly had the Wright stuff tonight. Jarius led the team in receiving yardage. The 3 receptions for 57 yards might not be all that impressive, but two were for crucial third down conversions that eventually led to 10 Vikings points. When the offense was sputtering early in the game, Bridgewater and Wright gave it the kick start it needed.
Blair Walsh. If you had Walsh in your fantasy league championship, you were a happy camper tonight. Walsh was 5/5 on field goals including two of over 50 yards. But I can't quite put him in the Blue Chips section because he just had to doink his fourth missed extra point of the season off the upright. All in all it was still a very good game for the Vikings kicker.
Tom Johnson. The Vikings had all their defensive starters back but Johnson still played a key role in the team's tormenting of Manning and the Giants throughout the evening. Johnson ended up with 5 total tackles and two sacks. I don't have the snap counts readily available at the time of this posting but it seemed that Johnson was out there just as much as Linval Joseph and probably more than Sharrif Floyd. The talented depth Johnson has provided during his tenure in Minnesota has proven invaluable.
Adrian Peterson. AP had a classic Barry Sanders game on Sunday night--bottle him up for most of the game, and then all of the sudden you look up and he has 100 yards and a touchdown on you. It's frustrating for an opposing defense to keep him so quiet for over half the game only to have this happen later on:
(I would like to personally thank Captain Munnerlyn for running out of bounds at the 4 after his interception tonight because it gave AP a touchdown and me a very good chance at winning my fantasy championship. Thanks Captain!)
Xavier Rhodes. The X-man set the tone early for the defense, tipping a pass to Andrew Sendejo in a play I like to call "Rhodes Closed; Follow Detour Through Sendejo Drive":
And then you didn't hear much from Rhodes for the rest of the night because he was rarely tested. Was his night made easier due to the suspension of Odell Beckham Jr.? Of course it was. But Rhodes is starting to play like we hoped he would after his excellent finish last year. It's the perfect time of year to be at the top of your game.
Brandon Fusco. The Vikings' starting left-but-I-really-wish-it-was-still-right-guard attended Slippery Rock University. But once again it looked like Fusco attended Slippery Block University. Most of the pressure the Vikings allowed Sunday night was from the left side and Fusco appeared to be the main culprit. Is there some way we can hypnotize Fusco into thinking he's still playing right guard? If so I'm all for it.
Jeff Locke. When both offenses struggling early in the game Locke booted a couple of his trademark clunkers to give the Giants excellent field position early on. He averaged 37.5 yards on 4 punts and it could have been a lot less if not for a couple very fortunate bounces. The Vikings need to bring in some competition for Locke next season at the very least.
Matt Kalil. For a minute there I had to question whether Kalil was point shaving. His false start negated a McKinnon TD and he watched Robert Ayers nearly take the team out of field goal range late in the first half. This certainly wasn't Kalil's finest game. That said, let's hope the injury he left with isn't anything severe because we probably don't want Austin Shepherd as the starting left tackle in the playoffs. (Although if you take a look at his block on that McKinnon run...naahhh let's just get Kalil healthy.)
Buy: THE VIKINGS WON A GAME IN PRIMETIME! For only the fourth time in their last 22 chances, the Vikings emerged victorious from a nationally televised game. And they looked really good doing so!
Sell: The next game is in primetime. On the road. We're not out of the primetime woods yet. Next week's battle for the NFC North crown is also on Sunday Night Football. And the Vikings are still only 1-16 in primetime games played outside of their home stadium since the 2009 season. Time to exorcise another demon next Sunday.
Buy: Teddy's hard count. It's already one of the best in the league. He got the Giants to jump twice for free plays.
Sell: Making them jump on running plays. Both times the "free play" was a boring toss to Peterson. Just once it would be nice to make the defense jump on a play where the Vikings can take a shot deep.
Buy: Minnesota's pass defense and pass rush. They absolutely dominated throughout the game. The Vikings racked up four sacks, three interceptions, and a ton of pressure. Outside of two big plays that were nearly all YAC, they allowed pretty much nothing for yardage. It was another excellent team performance.
Sell: The consistency of Minnesota's run defense. If they let Rashad Jennings get extra yardage like he did on a handful of plays, how will they fare when charged with tackling a certain rotund Packers running back next week? The Vikings need to make sure their tackling and gap discipline is sound as they head into the playoffs.
Buy: Mike Zimmer's game planning. He has dialed up some beauties lately. You could tell he was excited to get all his toys back on Christmas weekend because the defense showed all sorts of looks to confuse Manning. (For instance, dropping Everson Griffen back into coverage to nearly get an interception early on.) Zim is undoubtedly one of the greatest defensive minds in the game.
Sell: Zimmer's clock management. I know I'm picking nits here, but calling the timeout at the end of the first half with :09 left and not :05 or less forced the Vikings to kick it off and open it up to something crazy happening. This isn't the first time Zimmer has missed some of the finer points of clock management early in his head coaching career. Little things like that can end up costing you an important game if you're not careful.
Sell: Collinsworth and Michaels talking for 15 minutes about OBJ. When the Vikings took a 10 point lead, I expected the announcers to give the home team some credit for taking control of the game. Instead they elected to wax rhapsodic about the Beckham suspension. I get that you have to address it but they spent an entire Giants drive talking about the suspension while basically ignoring the play on the field. This was early in the second quarter; there was plenty of garbage time later in the game where this issue would have been better addressed.
Then to make things worse, when the Vikings were up 42-10 and we couldn't have possibly been feeling better, they had the audacity to bring up Drew Pearson. DREW EFFING PEARSON. WE WEREN'T EVEN PLAYING THE COWBOYS. WHYYYYYY??!?!
Collinsworth and Michaels are still two of my favorite announcers and I'll welcome them back next Sunday, but I felt their tangents were a little unnecessary.
Buy: Next week's for all the NFC North marbles. The Minnesota Vikings vs. the Green Bay Packers. One game to end the regular season and decide the division crown. If you would have told me these stakes before the season, I would have been ecstatic. (I also would have wondered how many games Aaron Rodgers missed to make such a matchup possible. Turns out he just isn't playing very well.) Win or lose (please please please please make it a win), we all need to appreciate how much this Vikings team has exceeded expectations.
Sell: Thinking a loss would be somehow be better since a win means the Vikings host the Seahawks. Nope. Sorry. Can't do it. I know the Vikings can lose and face the "lesser" Redskins or Packers on the road in the Wild Card round. But in the playoffs, a home game is better than a road game regardless of who you're playing. And are we 100% sure that facing a Washington team that went 6-2 at home is better than going against a Seattle team that might finish 4-4 on the road? I know the Seahawks throttled the Vikings at TCF last month but this is a different Vikings team. I'll take my chances at home ten times out of ten.
Gemma Thompson Quote of the Day
Once again my two and a half year old didn't get to see much of the late game due to bedtime blackout restrictions. Tonight she saw only a handful of plays since her...how do I put this...potty training "struggles" took up a healthy chunk (pun half-intended) of time. But by bedtime everything had...er, worked itself out and she plopped down (pun half-intended) on the couch next to me for a bit. The Vikings were already up big so I excitedly asked her who the purple team was on the TV.
Normally she pipes up and yells "BIKINGS!" right away. But tonight she was hesitant and shyly responded:
"Um, I danno..."
Maybe it was because she was really pooped (pun fully intended) and a little punchy from a long Christmas weekend. But perhaps she was commenting on how this Vikings team has been playing so well lately that they're barely recognizable from what the version we saw earlier in the season.
You're right, Gemma. I don't know who this Vikings team is either. But I love it.