As the fourth quarter wound down in New Jersey yesterday, an unfamiliar feeling washed over me as I watched the game at home. My heart wasn’t racing. My blood pressure was at a healthy level. I wasn’t gritting my teeth, pacing the floor, or calculating the probability of different doomsday scenarios.
I was...dare I say...relaxed!
Of course, that calm feeling wasn’t there early on. I structured my preview of the Week 7 game between the Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets around how volatile and unpredictable both teams had been during the 2018 season. The blustery first half mostly lived up to that. Outside of a few big plays early, neither team could find a modicum of consistency on offense. First downs were harder to find than food for Chris Spielman on days where he didn’t have ten tackles. (Yes, that’s something that he actually said on the broadcast yesterday. Vikings fans should thank their lucky stars that they ended up with the more sensible Spielman brother.) As the Vikings nursed a field goal lead into halftime, it looked like we were in for another unattractive nail-biter.
But in the second half, the Vikings actually did what they were supposed to do. They leaned on their talented defense to make the opposing rookie quarterback uncomfortable. They avoided negative plays. And they finally took advantage of their opportunities to put the game away. In the end, the Vikings took the victory formation in the final minute after securing a 20-point road victory. Let’s take our weekly review of how we got there by going through the five biggest game-changing plays.
Play 1: Vikings ball, 1st & 10 at the New York 34. First quarter, 13:28 remaining. K.Cousins pass deep right to A.Thielen for 34 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
It didn’t take long for Kirk Cousins to find the NFL’s leading receiver. In fact, it only took four plays and under two minutes for Adam Thielen to give the Vikings an early lead.
These were the first 34 of 110 yards on the day for Thielen, who of course tied the NFL record for most 100-yard games to start a season. Up next is Calvin Johnson’s all-time record of eight 100-yard games in a row. With how Thielen and the New Orleans secondary are playing so far, it would be tough to bet against the Vikings star wide receiver breaking the century mark again next Sunday.
(Shout out to Brandon Zylstra and his 23-yard reception on his only offensive snap of the game in the third quarter, which temporarily fooled the announcers and most of us into thinking Thielen had set the record. We kind of got to celebrate twice because of it!)
After that quick and efficient first drive where they went 68 yards in four plays (15 by penalty), it looked like the Vikings offense was poised to fire on all cylinders. That obviously wasn’t the case, as they sputtered to 44 yards of offense on their next five drives. Midway through the second quarter, Matt Wile punted from deep in Minnesota territory after a three-and-out. The Jets started at midfield down by a field goal.
Play 2: Jets ball, 2nd & 7 at the New York 45. Second quarter, 7:22 remaining. (Shotgun) S.Darnold FUMBLES (Aborted) at NYJ 42, RECOVERED by MIN-T.Johnson at NYJ 44. T.Johnson to NYJ 44 for no gain (B.Shell).
You know what’s the perfect remedy for a struggling offense? An opponent with a struggling offense that’s putting the ball on the ground. Spencer Long was inaccurate with his snap, Sam Darnold couldn’t get a clean handoff to Isaiah Crowell, and Tom Johnson was able to pounce on the fumble to waste New York’s opportunity.
The Vikings had a three and out following this fumble, so it might not have been that impactful on the final outcome. But what Stephen Weatherly did after the fumble recovery was incredibly impactful on my funny bone.
The fact that Weatherly is filling in well on the field in the absence of Everson Griffen was already an unexpected cause for celebration. But filling in for Griffen in the entertainment department might be a more impressive feat.
Play 3: Jets ball, 1st & 10 at the New York 33. Third quarter, 8:08 remaining. S.Darnold pass deep left intended for R.Anderson INTERCEPTED by H.Smith (X.Rhodes) at MIN 39. H.Smith to NYJ 9 for 52 yards (E.Tomlinson).
After the rough first half, the Vikings exploded for 27 points in the second half. But don’t let that part of the box score fool you—the defense was still the star of the show during the final 30 minutes.
Xavier Rhodes deflected this errant Darnold pass right to Harrison Smith, who rumbled all the way down to the red zone on the first defensive play following a Latavius Murray touchdown. The Vikings still had to settle for a field goal after this pick, but they had already equaled their first half scoring output in the first two drives of the second half. Suddenly they had a 13-point cushion with over five minutes left in the third quarter.
It was the second of four takeaways for the Vikings on the day, who avoided a turnover of their own for the first time in the 2018 season.
But just barely.
Play 4: Vikings ball, 2nd & 2 at the Minnesota 33. Third quarter, 1:55 remaining. (Shotgun) K.Cousins FUMBLES (Aborted) at MIN 26, recovered by MIN-S.Diggs at MIN 26. S.Diggs to MIN 26 for no gain (P.Nickerson).
It was pretty clear that the Vikings put an emphasis on reducing pressure and taking care of the ball this week. The offensive line did a good job protecting Cousins for the most part, allowing only nine total pressures according to Pro Football Focus. On the occasions he was pressured, Cousins did well at getting the ball out and avoiding danger, with two glaring exceptions:
- The first quarter sack where he nearly backpedaled into a safety; and
- This play.
I don’t know about you, but I was S-C-R-E-A-M-I-N-G at Stefon Diggs to pounce on the ball before Parry Nickerson did. It was fairly obvious that Cousins’ attempt to “play it safe” was a backwards pass. Thankfully, Diggs had the presence of mind to get there just in time and avoid giving the Jets great field position to pull within one score. Instead, the Vikings were able to put the game out of reach on their next drive.
Play 5: Vikings ball, 1st & 10 at the New York 38. Fourth quarter, 13:46 remaining. L.Murray right guard for 38 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
With Dalvin Cook missing yet another game with his nagging hamstring injury, the “Tay Train” proved that his performance last week against the Cardinals wasn’t a one-hit wonder. Murray’s numbers weren’t nearly as gaudy—15 carries for 69 yards along with two catches for 14—but this back-breaking run set up by an impressive block from Pat Elflein gave the Vikings the breathing room they needed to make the fourth quarter a much less nervy affair. The defense picked off Darnold two more times, Aldrick Robinson caught his third touchdown with his fourth reception of the year, and the Vikings coasted to their third straight victory to sit atop the NFC North.
Being in first place is great, but the winning streak will face a big test next Sunday when the 5-1 Saints come to town. As always, we welcome you to vote in the poll to tell us which play you thought was the biggest and encourage you to suggest any we may have missed in the comments.
What was the most important play from the Vikings’ win over the Jets?
This poll is closed
Thielen’s TD on the first drive
The Jets’ fumbled snap
Harrison Smith’s interception
Diggs jumping on Cousins’ backwards pass
Murray’s fourth-quarter TD
Other (comment below)