Minnesota Vikings’ defense leads way to playoff berth, lopsided win over New York Giants
MINNEAPOLIS -- For the first time in nearly a month, the Minnesota Vikings' defense was at full strength.It showed against the New York Giants on Sunday as the Vikings rolled to a dominating 49-17 win at TCF Bank Stadium.Minnesota (10-5) clinched...
MINNEAPOLIS - For the first time in nearly a month, the Minnesota Vikings’ defense was at full strength.
It showed against the New York Giants on Sunday as the Vikings rolled to a dominating 49-17 win at TCF Bank Stadium.
Minnesota (10-5) clinched a playoff spot and also set up a game that will decide the NFC North title in Week 17. The Vikings will travel to Lambeau Field to play the Green Bay Packers next Sunday night.
The playoff berth is Minnesota’s first under second-year coach Mike Zimmer and first since 2012. The Vikings haven’t won a division title since they captured back-to-back NFC North championships in 2008 and 2009.
“If you would have told me back in July that we’d have a chance on the last game of the year to play for a division title, I would have been excited about it,” Zimmer said. “We’ve played well on the road this year, but we haven’t beaten Green Bay. That’s something we’ve gotta get done.”
The Vikings’ defense, with defensive tackle Linval Joseph, linebacker Anthony Barr and safety Harrison Smith all back from injuries, intercepted Giants quarterback Eli Manning three times, returned one of those for a touchdown and brought another inside the Giants’ 5-yard line to set up another score.
Minnesota also sacked Manning four times.
“When you create turnovers and put pressure on the quarterback, good things typically happen,” Zimmer said. “I thought we got (Manning) to make some bad throws, and we took advantage of it.”
Manning and the Giants’ offense repeatedly put their defense in perilous positions in the first half. New York had one first down through the first 20 minutes of the game and fell behind 10-0 on a touchdown grab by tight end Kyle Rudolph on Minnesota’s first drive of the second quarter.
After a Josh Brown field goal got the Giants within seven points, New York’s defense got a quick stop and put the offense in position to potentially tie the game.
However, three plays later, Manning threw his second interception of the half, and Smith raced 35 yards down the left sideline for the score.
The Giants were never in the game after that.
“It felt good just getting back out there and playing with the guys,” Smith said. “We played well in every phase today and got the playoffs clinched. But our work isn’t done yet.”
A Giants punt and another Vikings field goal seconds before the half gave Minnesota a 19-3 lead after two quarters.
Minnesota scored on six of its seven possessions in the second half, the lone exception being when backup quarterback Shaun Hill lined up in victory formation in the final seconds to close out the win.
“I didn’t see this coming,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “When you’re playing against a team as good as the Vikings ... you can’t afford to make any errors. Turnovers started us off on the absolute wrong foot and in the second half, too many times, we put our defense in a terrible, terrible position.”
Vikings running back Adrian Peterson rushed 22 times for 104 yards and a touchdown. He heads into Week 17 with 1,418 rushing yards, giving him a 64-yard lead on Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin for the NFL rushing title.
Minnesota quarterback Teddy Bridgewater completed 15 of 25 passes for 168 yards a touchdown before leaving the game late with the Vikings leading the Giants (6-9) by 32 points.
Manning dropped to 3-5 in eight career starts against the Vikings. In those games, he has thrown for five touchdowns and 14 interceptions. On Sunday, he finished 15-for-29 for 234 yards and a touchdown to go with his three turnovers.
“We had an opportunity to play for pride and play for respect,” Coughlin said. “We have one week to go. There is a some soul-searching that needs to be done on everybody’s part.”
Giants running back Rashad Jennings accounted for 136 total yards, including 74 yards on 14 carries. He also had a 50-yard catch and run to set up a field goal in the first half and finished with 62 yards on two catches.
New York wide receiver Reuben Randle, starting in place of suspended wideout Odell Beckham Jr., had two catches for 80 yards, including a 72-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
“I made some bad decisions and some bad throws,” Manning said. “When you lose one of your key players, it’s going to affect things, but I don’t think it was as big an impact as we let it on to be. We just didn’t play well.”