Undefeated Vikings pushing resiliency to new heights
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn.--Yes, the NFL is a ridiculously unpredictable league. But even by NFL standards, what the Vikings have done since Aug. 30 is beyond shocking.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn.-Yes, the NFL is a ridiculously unpredictable league. But even by NFL standards, what the Vikings have done since Aug. 30 is beyond shocking.
Forty-one days ago, this team had the life sucker-punched out of it when young franchise quarterback Teddy Bridgewater crumpled to the ground during a non-contact practice drill two days before the preseason finale and 18 days before the start of the season. His left knee was so damaged that his return for the start of next season is uncertain.
Running back Adrian Peterson and left tackle Matt Kalil would follow Bridgewater to injured reserve. Right tackle Andre Smith followed them on Monday, Oct. 10, and will have surgery to repair a torn triceps on Tuesday.
Fellow offensive starters Alex Boone, Stefon Diggs and Brandon Fusco, as well as defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd also have missed time because of injuries. And yet here we are.
The Vikings are 5-0, the league's only unbeaten team, and trying once again to reload the talent base. This time, they're working out veteran offensive tackles, including Jake Long, who was in Monday morning and could be signed. Jeremiah Sirles made his first start of the season and the second of his three-year career in place of Smith in Sunday's 31-13 win over Houston at U.S. Bank Stadium.
It's not even Halloween, and this team has been written off multiple times. But never inside the walls of Winter Park, coach Mike Zimmer said Monday.
"I don't think our team ever thought of us being written off," Zimmer said. "Maybe other people did, but I don't think our team did. I don't think our defensive players did, or anybody really on our team did.
"This team has kind of a bull's-eye sight on them that they want to focus on what we have to win (the next) ballgame. They have not, in my opinion, thought about three games down the road. People asked me about (this week's) bye last week, and I think we probably played as good a game as we played this year. So they weren't focusing on going fishing or doing those things.
"They were focused on the task at hand, and that's one of the things I really appreciate about this team is when they come in the building, they grind in the meeting rooms, they listen to the things I tell them, they study. When they come out to practice, they have fun, but they really work, too. I think all of this is really the singleness of the purpose at hand, really."
Heading into a much-needed bye week, the Vikings have the league's No. 1 scoring defense (12.6), a punt returner who already has scored twice and Sam Bradford, a quarterback who has to be the frontrunner for league MVP.
Forty-one days after worrying about when Bridgewater will return as the starter, one has to wonder if he will return as the starter. Bradford ranks No. 2 in passer rating (109.8) for an offense that has yet to turn the ball over this season. And after delivering another Sunday beatdown on Sunday, the Vikings rank second in average margin of victory (11.2).
Four days after Bridgewater went down and 12 days before the season opener, Bradford arrived from Philadelphia in a trade for next year's first-round draft pick and a conditional fourth-rounder in 2018. Bradford took over as starter after journeyman Shaun Hill won the opener at Tennessee. And he has responded in a way that suggests the possibility that Philly could be handed the 32nd overall pick.
"I really didn't know much about this team at all, to be honest, before I got here," Bradford said. "I think I learn a little bit more each week. I think we've definitely got a lot of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. ... I think when we play from ahead and give our defense a chance to get after the passer (like Sunday's game), I think that it's pretty tough on the other teams."
Next up for Bradford after a well-deserved bye: A return trip to Philadelphia on Oct. 23.
REPORT CARD VS. TEXANS
PASSING OFFENSE: A-plus - Might as well keep this grade at the highest mark possible after another flawless effort by Sam Bradford, a receiving corps that overcame the absence of No. 1 receiver Stefon Diggs, and an offensive line that wasn't perfect but did survive a starter going down in the first half for the third straight week. Bradford completed 22 of 30 passes for 271 yards, two touchdowns and a 123.1 passer rating while raising his record as a Vikings starter to 4-0. The offense still has not turned the ball over this season. Bradford has thrown 125 passes without a turnover. With Stefon Diggs out with a groin injury, Adam Thielen stepped up with a career day. The third-year pro who went to Division II Minnesota State Mankato and was undrafted caught seven balls for 127 yards and a 36-yard touchdown to open the scoring. Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson also chipped in his first receiving touchdown in two years. Left tackle T.J. Clemmings gave up two sacks and was called for a facemask penalty. But, overall, the line played well enough to get by, even after right guard Brandon Fusco went down on the team's first possession. Zac Kerin stepped in and saw the most extensive action of his two-year career.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C - This is no longer a running team. Without Adrian Peterson, the Vikings run a spread offense with a lot of shotgun. But running backs Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon have been valuable. Asiata is a big back who runs straight forward, doesn't put the ball on the ground, has good hands and can pass protect. He had six first downs on Sunday, including two catches for 43 yards. He had a team-high 55 yards rushing on 14 carries (3.9). For the fourth time in five games, the Vikings had fewer than 100 yards rushing. They averaged only 2.6 yards on 37 carries.
PASS DEFENSE: A-plus - Houston QB Brock Osweiler looked rushed and out of sorts the whole game. He was sacked four times - twice by Brian Robison - and was intercepted by safety Andrew Sendejo. Safety Harrison Smith dropped what would have been a jog-in pick-six. Osweiler posted a season-low 56.1 passer rating. He is the fourth straight Vikings opposing quarterback to do so. The others are guys named Rodgers, Newton and Manning. The Texans failed to convert on their first 12 third-down plays, and finished 1-for-13 on third downs. Their first three first downs came by penalty. The first one they got that wasn't by penalty came with two minutes left in the first half.
RUSH DEFENSE: A - The Texans really didn't even try to run the ball. Lamar Miller had seven first-half carries for 19 yards (2.7-yard average) with a long of 4 yards. By then, the Vikings led 24-6. Alfred Blue had 39 yards on six carries (6.5), but all of that came in garbage time in the second half.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A - For the second time in five games this season, Marcus Sherels returned a punt for a touchdown. The 79-yarder essentially ended the game with the Vikings leading 24-0 in the second quarter. Sherels tied Percy Harvin's team record for most career special teams return touchdowns with five. All of Sherels' have come on punt returns. All of Harvin's were on kickoff returns. Kicker Blair Walsh, who had missed kicks in three of the team's first four games, had a stress-free day with five successful kicks in five attempts. He made four PATs and a 19-yard field goal.
COACHING: A-plus - Mike Zimmer's team keeps playing the ultimate in complementary football despite mounting injuries on offense. The defense is making this look routine as it held Houston to 214 yards and 1-for-13 on third downs. The offense ran 69 plays and still has not turned the ball over this season. And Mike Priefer's special teams scored. Again. Offensively, the Vikings added right tackle Andre Smith and No. 1 receiver Stefon Diggs to the long list of players missing time this season. Both players were inactive. And right guard Brandon Fusco suffered a concussion on the team's first possession. Yet the Vikings kept rolling because they have tremendous depth and game plans that allow the players to play much faster than the opponent.