“23-21” may not carry the importance or gravitas of “38-7”, but it still felt pretty darn good.
While nothing the Vikings could have done on Sunday would have made up for the devastation of their NFC Championship Game loss last January, returning to the scene of the crime and escaping Philadelphia with a much-needed victory over the Super Bowl champions was crucial for them. The previously poor performing defense stepped up in a big way against the Eagles, quieting some (but not all) of the concern surrounding a unit that was so stout a season ago. Kirk Cousins and Adam Thielen continued their record-setting pace while the run game wasn’t completely invisible this time around. The kicking game once again caused plenty of consternation and high blood pressure, but in the end the Vikings were able to put together a solid team victory on the road and get back to .500 through five games. Let’s take our weekly review of the five biggest plays that got us there.
Play 1: Eagles, ball, 1st & 10 at the Minnesota 31. Second quarter, 4:24 remaining. (Shotgun) C.Wentz sacked at MIN 39 for -8 yards (S.Weatherly). FUMBLES (S.Weatherly) [S.Weatherly], RECOVERED by MIN-L.Joseph at MIN 36. L.Joseph for 64 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
The Vikings had dominated for the majority of the first 25 minutes of the game, yet they found themselves tied 3-3 (more on why it was still a tie game later) as Philadelphia was driving to take the lead late in the second quarter. Stephen Weatherly executed a nifty swim move to burst past Lane Johnson and hit Carson Wentz, causing the ball to fall directly into the hands of one Linval Joseph. “Big Goon” rumbled 64 yards to pay dirt for the game’s first touchdown and gave the Vikings a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
A big part of the defense’s resurgence this week was the pass rush. With Everson Griffen out indefinitely and Tashawn Bower sidelined with an injury, the Vikings were incredibly thin at defensive end. Weatherly and Danielle Hunter both played over 90% of the defensive snaps and were still able to help generate a lot of pressure on Wentz throughout the game. Weatherly has seen an increased workload in each of the last three games and he has performed better each time out. Andre Patterson has done an excellent job of coaching up the former seventh-round pick, which led to this play, which led to Joseph needing oxygen on the sideline, which led to one of the most meme-able images of the season.
Same. pic.twitter.com/CYPdkqtmpX— FOX Sports North (@fsnorth) October 7, 2018
Play 2: Vikings ball, 2nd & 6 at the Philadelphia 23. Second quarter, 0:36 remaining. (Shotgun) K.Cousins sacked at PHI 31 for -8 yards (M.Bennett). PENALTY on PHI-M.Bennett, Roughing the Passer, 12 yards, enforced at PHI 23 - No Play.
The Vikings were putting together something that had previously been a rarity in the 2018 season: a promising two-minute drive. But it looked like they were about to face third and long just outside of the red zone after Michael Bennett shoved aside Kyle Rudolph and sacked Cousins.
Enter the NFL two-hand touch rules! Bennett was flagged for a pretty dubious roughing the passer penalty to give the Vikings a new set of downs at the Eagles’ 11 yard line. Troy Aikman and many with purple-shaded glasses throughout the Twitterverse claimed that Bennett “went low” here; I disagree. Look at where the impact started—right at Cousins’ rear end. Bennett then slid down to finish the tackle. While the call benefited the Vikings and may have been correct by the letter of the law, I still think it was weak.
The Vikings definitely took advantage of the opportunity with one of the more gorgeous passes of the season thus far. Once again Bennett was in Cousins’ grill, but that didn’t prevent an absolute dime of a fade to Adam Thielen. Thielen fought through a defensive hold from Ronald Darby, toe-tapped in the corner of the end zone, and the Vikings took a 17-3 lead to the locker room.
Play 3: Eagles ball, 1st & goal at the Minnesota 6. Third quarter, 9:47 remaining. (Shotgun) J.Ajayi right tackle to MIN 5 for 1 yard. FUMBLES, RECOVERED by MIN-E.Kendricks at MIN 5. E.Kendricks to MIN 5 for no gain (J.Ajayi).
After a first half where the Vikings looked like they had regained their 2017 form, the second half started a lot like the past few games all over again. The Eagles were marching down the field in hopes of making it a one score game to start the third quarter. Thankfully for the Vikings, the fumbling problems that have hampered Jay Ajayi at times throughout his career popped up at just the right time.
Eric Kendricks pounced on the ball and the promising Philadelphia drive was instantly stymied. In a game where the Vikings ended up clinging to a two-point victory, this abrupt change of momentum was crucial. Instead of pulling to within a touchdown with nearly a half remaining, the Eagles found themselves trailing 20-3 after the ensuing Vikings drive. That ensuing drive was fueled in large part by the very next play.
Play 4: Vikings ball, 1st & 10 at the Minnesota 5. Third quarter, 9:33 remaining. (Shotgun) K.Cousins pass deep right to A.Thielen to PHI 27 for 68 yards (J.Mills) [F.Cox].
After already completing a couple of amazing passes to Thielen with pressure in his face, Cousins went for the hat trick to flip the field.
Fletcher Cox slammed into Cousins as he threw, yet somehow the arching pass found its way right into Thielen’s arms. Thielen got open by roasting Jalen Mills—a common theme throughout the day, which made Mills’ chirping at Thielen later in the game even more inexplicable—and then added some nifty moves to rack up a bunch of yards after the catch. Getting a huge gain like this immediately after forcing a turnover is a delicious combo platter if you’re a Vikings fan.
Even though the Vikings finished the drive with a field goal and a commanding 17-point lead, we all had the sneaking suspicion that finishing off the defending champions wasn’t going to be that easy. Our notions were verified when the Eagles came storming back to within six points. The Vikings had just turned the ball over in their own territory and Philadelphia was within scoring range. The defense needed a stop in the worst way, and they got one when Weatherly and Hunter pressured Wentz into an intentional grounding penalty that knocked Philly out of field goal range.
This probably should have been my fifth and final game-changing play, as it kept points off the board and led to the final Vikings scoring drive of the day. But I had to go with the final scoring play itself due to how important was to the psyche of everyone involved.
Play 5: Vikings ball 4th & 5 at the Philadelphia 34. Fourth quarter, 2:51 remaining. D.Bailey 52 yard field goal is GOOD, Center-K.McDermott, Holder-M.Wile.
Dan Bailey had a pretty bad day on Sunday. But thanks to this kick, it avoided Daniel Carlson or Mason Crosby levels.
After forcing the fourth quarter stop, the Vikings desperately needed to chew up some clock and get some points. They chewed up some clock thanks to a rushing attack that upgraded from “completely nonexistent” to “occasionally competent.” They got some points thanks to a kicker that nailed one from long distance despite missing two shorter kicks earlier in the game.
Bailey had already hit the left upright on a 28-yard chip shot to end the game’s opening drive and missed a 45-yard attempt in the second quarter. The second most accurate kicker in league history had appeared to be the latest to crumble after donning the purple and gold. Mercifully, Bailey nailed this clutch attempt to keep the sanity of Mike Zimmer and Vikings Nation precariously intact for another week.
There is still plenty to work on, but getting a road win over the defending champs might just be the shot in the arm the Vikings needed after a rocky start. We’ll see if they can keep it rolling next week as they try to avoid another home loss to a rookie quarterback when Josh Rosen and the Arizona Cardinals 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 Eagles?
This poll is closed
Joseph’s fumble return TD
Roughing the passer that led to Thielen’s TD
Cousins to Thielen for 68 yards
Bailey’s clutch FG
Other (comment below)