It wasn’t the prettiest at times, but the Minnesota Vikings got back to the top of the NFC North Division after a 37-17 win over the New York Jets on Sunday.
It’s the Vikings’ third straight win after getting off to a 1-2-1 start. With Chicago’s loss to the Patriots, the Vikings are now atop the division. Green Bay had its bye week, and now travels to the L.A. Rams, the best team in the NFL, and heads to New England in two weeks.
Sunday’s performance wasn’t perfect by any means, but the Vikings did what they need to do and made a 10-7 lead at the half into an uneventful finish. They created turnovers, didn’t let the Jets run game get going and made big plays on offense.
Here are four takeaways from Sunday’s win, with a huge game against the New Orleans Saints looming Sunday night.
Defense Makes Darnold Look Like… A Rookie
For the last time in the regular season, the Vikings faced a rookie quarterback. And for the most part, they made Sam Darnold look like a rookie. He faced consistent pressure most of the afternoon, and was sacked three times. Danielle Hunter technically kept his sack streak alive with a half sack, combining on a play with Jaleel Johnson.
Darnold threw for 203 yards and an early touchdown, but was also intercepted three times. Harrison Smith picked off a pass tipped by Xavier Rhodes, Holton Hill got an interception after Rhodes left the game with an ankle injury and Trae Waynes also got an interception. The Jets also only ran for 71 yards, and never got into a rhythm because of the Vikings defense.
Thielen Stays Hot
Adam Thielen has gone from a feel-good story to being one of the elite receivers in the NFL. He kept a historic season going Sunday with nine catches for 110 yards and a touchdown. That’s seven straight weeks to start the season with at least 100 yards receiving. He’s now chasing Calvin Johnson’s record of eight straight games.
Thielen’s 34-yard first quarter touchdown gave the Vikings an early lead and a spark, which is always nice to have on the road. He caught nine of his 10 targets on the day and continues to make plays for Kirk Cousins, who finished with 241 yards and two scores. Thielen’s big day came despite seeing double teams from the Jets’ defense for a majority of the game.
Injury Bug Bites Before New Orleans
The Vikings were missing a few key pieces entering the Jets game, and lost a few more players to injury Sunday with a huge game coming against New Orleans next Sunday night. Everson Griffen remains out, and Linval Joseph didn’t play after missing practice most of the week. Dalvin Cook was also out with a hamstring injury, and Riley Reiff and Andrew Sendejo didn’t play.
Adding to that, the Vikings lost linebacker Anthony Barr in the second half to a hamstring injury, and Xavier Rhodes to an ankle injury. They also lost offensive lineman Tom Compton to a knee injury early. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said after the game he didn’t think the injuries to Barr or Rhodes were serious. But with the New Orleans Saints coming to town, the Vikings need every healthy player they can get back, especially on defense with one of the best NFL offenses coming to Minneapolis.
What Was Kirk Cousins Doing?
If you’re a Vikings fan and were watching the game, you were a little puzzled when Kirk Cousins threw a backwards pass intended for Stefon Diggs into the ground. A backwards incomplete pass is a fumble by NFL rules, and Diggs realized it quickly enough to pounce on it and keep possession.
It was intended to be a lateral to Diggs for a run play, but the Jets had it covered. At the time, the game was still within reach and the play absolutely mattered. Cousins said after the game he should have either made sure it was a forward pass or taken a sack. A similar play to Roc Thomas at Philadelphia resulted in a turnover.
Cousins is off to a great start in his first season with the Vikings, but needs to avoid those potential turnovers and continue making good decisions. They’re unnecessary potential turnovers for an offense that has the potential to be as explosive as the Vikings do.
The Vikings now have two huge games against the Saints and Lions before their Week 10 bye. Two wins would be huge in setting up potential playoff positioning.