The Minnesota Vikings made a statement on Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams.
In a game featuring a pair of 7-2 teams, the Vikings dominated the second half and ran away with a 24-7 victory. The defense shut down Todd Gurley, one of the better running backs in the NFL, and Case Keenum carved up the Rams’ defense like he was preparing Thanksgiving turkey.
It was a dominant performance against a team that had yet to lose a road game this year. It also puts the Vikings in territory that fans aren’t used to. A win over Detroit on Thanksgiving all but locks up a division title, and they can start thinking about hosting playoff games, maybe even a first-round bye.
Expectations are rising with every win, and playing a home game in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium is seeming more conceivable every week. Here are four takeaways from Sunday’s win.
What the Vikings defense accomplished in Sunday’s win is that much more impressive when you consider the Rams took their opening drive 75 yards for a touchdown. The Vikings allowed 179 total yards the rest of the game, and zero points. Minnesota shut down Todd Gurley, who finished with 15 carries for 37 yards. The Vikings have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season, and Gurley is fifth in the NFL in rushing.
The Vikings applied enough pressure to keep Jared Goff off balance, and got a big turnover when Anthony Harris forced a fumble as the Rams were about to score their second touchdown. Harris actually led the Vikings with seven tackles in the game. It was arguably the best performance of the year against an offense that’s fourth in the NFL in total yards and second in points with 30.3 per game. The Vikings limited a team that averages more than 30 points per game to seven. That’s the type of dominance that can get a team deep in the playoffs.
Keenum States His Case
There’s no doubt that Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer loves Teddy Bridgewater and wants to get him on the field. But Case Keenum is giving his head coach zero reason to be pulled off the field. Keenum had another big day, going 27-of-38 passing for 280 yards and a touchdown to Adam Thielen. He made plays when he had to, escaped pressure from a tough L.A. front seven and was largely on target to receivers.
Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur put together a brilliant game plan to keep Keenum out of pressure and allow him to make plays. Zimmer said after the game it’s going to be awfully tough to take him off the field for Bridgewater. Right now, there’s no reason to. It would be fixing something that’s not broken, and messing up a great chemistry that Keenum has with the receivers. As long as he’s not turning the ball over, he should be playing. End of story.
Adam Thielen Has Another Big Day
Adam Thielen has gone from struggling to make an NFL roster to becoming the second best receiver in the NFL. Think about that for a second. Thielen has at least five catches in every game this season, and he had six on Sunday for 123 yards and a touchdown. His 65-yard score in the third quarter gave the Vikings a 14-point lead, and his ability to run away from the Rams secondary was nothing short of impressive. Thielen has 916 yards receiving on the season, second in the NFL only to Antonio Brown. Thielen and other receivers are making plays, and Keenum isn’t afraid to take chances down the field knowing that.
Any college wide receiver not in Division I who wants to play professionally should follow Thielen’s story. All he’s done is work and make plays, and he’s being rewarded for it. He’s no longer just a nice story, he’s a legitimate top NFL receiver.
Offensive Line Stands Out
The Vikings offensive line had probably its best game of the season against one of the top defenses in the NFL. The Vikings finished with 451 total yards, including 171 rushing. That’s compared to just 45 yards rushing for the Rams. The offensive line, without the injured Mike Remmers, moved the Rams defensive line off the ball and created holes for Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon most of the day. They also, more importantly, gave up zero sacks. The few times Keenum was pressured, Keenum was able to maneuver his way out of trouble.
It’s a complete 180-degree swing after the Vikings offensive line was mostly a disaster last season. It’s refreshing to see.
Being 8-2 and having won six straight games is great, but the Vikings need a similar performance at Detroit on Thanksgiving. A win over the Lions gives them a three-game lead in the division. It’s also the start of a tough three-game road stretch with games at Atlanta and at Carolina after this week. It’s a huge opportunity for the Vikings, so fans are hoping they embrace it and take advantage of it.