The Minnesota Vikings are 5-2, have won three straight games and are on top of the NFC North.
Everything has changed with Aaron Rodgers missing the rest of the season with a broken collar bone. On Sunday, several different Vikings players stepped up and the defense dominated in a 24-16 win over the Baltimore Ravens.
The Vikings head across the pond this week to face the Cleveland Browns in London Sunday morning. The Browns are 0-7, and the Vikings are on a roll despite not playing their best football in all phases.
Baltimore didn’t have much of a chance Sunday, and the Vikings pieced together enough to beat a Ravens squad in a game that wasn’t nearly that close. Here are four takeaways from Sunday’s win.
Latavius Murray Breaks Out
The Vikings signed Latavius Murray in free agency to take over the run game in Adrian Peterson’s departure. But he had to take a back seat to start the season, both because of offseason ankle surgery and after the Vikings drafted Dalvin Cook. Cook emerged quickly as the full-time starter before a season-ending knee injury. Jerick McKinnon had big games against the Bears and Packers, but it was Murray’s turn Sunday.
Murray had 18 carries for 113 yards and a 29-yeard touchdown. He ran hard, downhill and was able to slip tacklers on the way to a couple long runs. It was his first big game of the season, and the Vikings need it with Cook out. Along with McKinnon, it gives them a potent 1-2 punch in the offense running the ball if the offensive line can win battles up front. After being the worst rushing offense in the league last year, the Vikings sit eighth in rushing this year at 124.6 yards per game.
Kai Forbath Stands Out
Kai Forbath was a busy man after the Vikings’ win Sunday, and when you’re a kicker and talking to the media, it’s either for very good or very bad reasons. Just ask Blair Walsh. Forbath was all business Sunday, going 6-for-6 on field goal attempts. He was a big reason the Vikings slowly but surely pulled away from the Ravens. Forbath made field goals of 52, 51, 43, 43, 34 and 32 yards.
And it seemed like the farther away he got, the more down the middle his kicks were. His only blemish on the day was a missed extra point after Murray’s touchdown. But his six field goals made up for it, and at some point this year, the Vikings may need him to kick a game-winner. Each week, Vikings fans are becoming a little more at ease with the kicking game. What will be interesting is to see how he adjusts when he’s kicking outside in conditions he can’t control.
Vikings Defense Dominates Again
The Vikings are one of the top teams in the NFL in total defense, and they played like it yet again Sunday. Baltimore managed just 208 yards in total offense, and only 64 yards rushing on 20 carries. That’s 3.2 yards per carry for the Ravens. The Vikings’ defense came up with 11 tackles for a loss Sunday, led by Eric Kendricks with four.
Kendricks led the defense with 10 tackles. Everson Griffen got two more sacks and Tom Johnson got his first sack of the year. The Ravens were just 6-for-16 on third down conversions. Anthony Barr had one of his best games of the season with 11 tackles, one sack and two tackles for a loss. Joe Flacco had little to no time to find receivers, being under pressure much of the game. It was the type of defensive effort that, if it can continue, can lead the Vikings to big things the rest of the season.
Adam Thielen Remains Steady
Adam Thielen remains one of the top receivers in the NFL through seven games, and one of the most reliable despite the uncertainties for the Vikings at quarterback. Though he didn’t see the end zone Sunday, Thielen caught five passes for 41 yards. He’s the only player in the NFL with at least five catches in every game this season. He’s fourth in the league with 529 receiving yards on 43 catches, which is good for 12.3 yards per catch.
Most importantly, he’s the quintessential team player. He runs crisp routes, plays physical and isn’t afraid to throw downfield blocks for teammates whether it’s a run or pass. Thielen is living proof that hard work can take you wherever you want to go.
So here we are. The Vikings head to London to take on the 0-7 Browns and are looking at being 6-2 heading into the bye week. What follows is four of the next five games on the road. And who knows if the Vikings will activate Teddy Bridgewater after the bye week. If the defense keeps dominating, Case Keenum can do enough to win games until both Bridgewater and the team feel he’s good enough for live action. Until then, enjoy the season.