Where has this version of the Minnesota Vikings been hiding all season?
We wanted the Vikings to get off to a fast start and dictate the game script for once. They were up 21-0 in the first quarter.
We wanted the Vikings to run the ball more often and more effectively. They racked up season highs of 220 yards and 40 carries.
We wanted to see the defense keep playing at a high level. They allowed 37 net yards passing and sacked Ryan Tannehill a Ferris Beuller-esque nine times.
We wanted the special teams to stop making us watch each kick in fear. Dan Bailey made all seven of his kicks and the Vikings had an 87-yard advantage in returns.
There were a couple major blips on both sides of the ball, but Sunday marked the closest thing to a complete game we have seen the Vikings play all season. If they want to win a spot in the surprisingly snug NFC Wild Card race and perhaps even make some noise once they make the postseason, they’ll need to play a lot more like they did in their decisive win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
Let’s take our weekly look at the five most important plays that led to the big bounce-back victory.
Play 1: Vikings ball, 2nd & 9 at the Miami 42. First quarter, 12:47 remaining. D.Cook left tackle to MIA 16 for 26 yards (T.McDonald).
Vikings fans have been clamoring for more Dalvin Cook for weeks. Interim Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski gave us just what we wanted early and often, starting with this big play on the game’s opening drive.
Tom Compton and Riley Reiff opened up a huge hole on the left side while Adam Thielen helped out downfield for a big 26-yard run. Two plays, later, Kirk Cousins found Stefon Diggs in the end zone and the Vikings had their first lead in three weeks. This run set the tone that things were going to look a little different.
Play 2: Vikings ball, 1st & 10 at the Miami 18. First quarter, 1:38 remaining. L.Murray left tackle for 18 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Cook had the biggest day of his young NFL career, but the Tay Train still chipped in with some big plays of his own.
Latavius Murray had 15 carries for 68 yards and this score that put the Vikings up 21-0 late in the first quarter. Stefanski could do no wrong on the first three drives of his play calling career; Cousins was 7 for 7 for 101 yards and a score while the ground game was running roughshod over the hapless Miami defense. The Vikings were out-gaining the Dolphins 202 to 16 at this point. Finally, after all the turmoil and turnover, they were going to coast to an easy victory!
But of course, this is still the Minnesota Vikings, so they had to sweat it out a bit despite the flawless start. Minkah Fitzpatrick jumped a screen pass from Cousins intended for Stefon Diggs and took it to the house for Miami’s first points of the day. After the Vikings went three-and-out on their next drive, Miami put together a 14-play, 61-yard drive that gave them a field goal just before the half. On the first play of the second half, Kalen Ballage scampered 75 yards for a touchdown. Suddenly the Vikings were leading by only 4 points and reeling. The offense quickly punted again on their first drive of the third quarter, and the “here we go again” feelings started bubbling to the surface.
Thankfully, the defense held firm after giving up the long score with back-to-back sacks from Anthony Barr and Danielle Hunter. But with the offense suddenly stymied, the Vikings needed to find a spark elsewhere.
Play 3: Dolphins ball, 4th & 19 at the Miami 29. Third quarter, 10:16 remaining. M.Haack punts 63 yards to MIN 8, Center-J.Denney. M.Sherels to MIA 22 for 70 yards (L.Carroo).
We often joke around these parts that the three things that could survive just about anything the world throws at them are Twinkies, cockroaches, and Marcus Sherels. On Sunday, Sherels ensured the Vikings would survive their frightening mid-game lull.
Matt Haack boomed a 63 yard punt and proved that “out-kicking your coverage” is more than just something you say when talking about how pretty your wife is. Sherels expertly tight-roped the right sideline and returned the punt for 70 yards. Only a shoestring tackle by Leonte Carroo prevented Sherels from scoring. Carroo’s tackle proved to be worth four points, as the Vikings offense stalled again to settle for a Bailey field goal. But Sherels’ big return was the shot in the arm his team desperately needed.
It was still a one-score game late in the third quarter though. The Vikings defense was determined to protect that lead with a parade of pressure on the passer down the stretch.
Play 4: Dolphins ball, 3rd & 8 on the Miami 33. Third quarter, 3:30 remaining. (Shotgun) R.Tannehill sacked at MIA 21 for -12 yards (E.Kendricks).
The Vikings brought a lot of pressure on Sunday, blitzing Tannehill on 18 of his 34 dropbacks and generating pressure 20 times according to Pro Football Focus. You could take your pick of important sacks in the second half, but we went with this one because it came with the game still in the balance.
Eric Kendricks took down Tannehill to force another punt and preserve the seven-point lead. On the ensuing drive, the Vikings offense started moving the ball again and got another Bailey field goal to extend the lead back to double digits. The defense ended the Dolphins’ next drive in three plays, capped off by a sack from Mackensie Alexander. Four plays later, Cousins went for the kill.
Play 5: Vikings ball, 3rd & 9 at the Miami 40. Fourth quarter, 9:59 remaining. (Shotgun) K.Cousins pass deep middle to A.Robinson for 40 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
After opening the game so well, Cousins had looked a bit shell-shocked for quite a while following the second quarter interception. We needed him to show that he could rebound and put the Dolphins away for good.
And that’s just what he did.
Cousins delivered a picture-perfect strike to Aldrick Robinson on third down to put the Vikings up by 17 and put the game out of reach. It was the type of beautiful downfield pass that had become a rarity over the past several weeks.
It was the prettiest touchdown of the day. Until the Vikings’ next play from scrimmage.
Honorable mention: Vikings ball, 1st & 15 at the Miami 21. Fourth quarter, 7:58 remaining. D.Cook left guard for 21 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
We shouldn’t really consider this play “game-changing” since the game was already salted away at this point, but this run from Cook was just too good to ignore altogether.
I mean, that spin move on poor Jerome Baker was something straight out of Grand Theft Auto V;
There is still plenty of work to do, especially since the Bears have clinched the NFC North and most of the other Week 15 results didn’t go Minnesota’s way. But a repeat performance of what they did on Sunday next week in Detroit would certainly be a step in the right direction.
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 Dolphins?
This poll is closed
Cook’s run to set up the opening drive score
Murray’s TD to put the Vikings up 21-0
Sherels’ 70-yard punt return
Kendricks’ sack to force a punt in a one-score game
Cousins’ 40-yard bomb to Robinson
Cook’s filthy spin move TD
Other (comment below)