EAGAN, Minn. -- Sack dances are becoming a bonding activity for the Minnesota Vikings’ defense.
Minnesota had four sacks in Sunday’s 28-12 season-opening victory over Atlanta at U.S. Bank Stadium. Each of them prompted a dance party.
When defensive end Danielle Hunter got a sack in the second quarter, he did his Ninja Warrior kick, and soon was joined by defensive end Everson Griffen and linebacker Eric Kendricks doing the same. Griffen celebrated his fourth-quarter sack with his notable shuffle followed by flexing his muscles, prompting others to jump in.
“Whenever someone makes a big play, it’s about doing your favorite celebration with the guy who just made the big play,” defensive end Stephen Weatherly said Monday. “Everybody wanted to go kick in the barn door (with Hunter). When Griff got his sack, some guys tried to hurry and do Griff’s dance with him because when we start to have fun with each other, big plays are bound to happen.”
Get used to seeing a lot of dancing by the Vikings. They had 50 sacks last season, tied for third in the NFL, and they might have more this year.
Griffen has returned to his old form after missing five games last season with a mental health issue. And Hunter might be even better after producing 14K sacks last season.
Minnesota’s first sack Sunday came on the game’s first play when linebacker Anthony Barr sprinted in off the edge to deck Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan. It appears Barr will be used more as a pass rusher this season.
So let the competition begin to see who has Minnesota’s best sack dance.
“I kind of like Griff’s,” said defensive tackle Hercules Mata’afa, who played 28 snaps in his first NFL game after missing all of last season, his rookie year, with a knee injury. “It’s like Ray Lewis’, but he’s got his own little twist to it. It’s kind of a little iconic deal out there.”
After Mata’afa thought about it, he realized Griffen has plenty of competition on the team.
“There’s a lot of good ones,” Mata’afa said. “Danielle’s little Ninja kick, that’s starting to become a trademark. I don’t know if you can trademark a sack dance, but I think he should.”
Mata’afa spoke about nose tackle’s Linval Joseph’s dance in which he pretends to throw the ball in the air and hit it with a baseball bat. The 6-foot-4, 329-pound Joseph had Minnesota’s final sack of the game in the fourth quarter.
“He’s a big guy, so once he gets it, it’s a home run for him,” Mata’afa said.
In a dominant defensive performance, the Vikings had seven quarterback hits on Ryan. He was rattled often and threw two interceptions.
“I thought we did a good job getting pressure on the quarterback,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “They were one-dimensional after midway through the second quarter (when Minnesota took a 21-0 lead), which is a lot easier to let your ears back and get after the quarterback, but we did a good job.”
Now, the Vikings will look to pressure Aaron Rodgers in Sunday’s game at Green Bay.
“Most definitely,” Weatherly said. “We don’t want anyone to be comfortable we play against.”
The Vikings have had success sacking Rodgers. Excluding a 2017 game, when Rodgers had to depart after a first-quarter hit by Barr broke his collarbone, the former MVP quarterback has been sacked 22 times in his past five games against Minnesota.
Griffen has had his share of success against the Packers. In his past 14 games against them, he’s had 11 sacks.
Griffen looked good Sunday following a difficult season that saw the end of his streak of three straight Pro Bowls. He had a second sack in the fourth quarter that was nullified by a penalty.
“Everson played really, really well,” Zimmer said. “Violent, aggressive, runs to the ball well. … He looked a lot like when he was in the Pro Bowl.”
That could mean lots more sack dances this season for Griffen and the Vikings.
“We have to be ready to execute the same way we did (against Atlanta) against Green Bay,” Griffen said. “We need to repeat it. I think that’s the goal: remember how this feels and repeat it.”