Limbeck: Vikings smack Rams
MINNEAPOLIS — The entire NFL — and those in charge of putting out the league power rankings — should take notice, the Minnesota Vikings are for real.
The Vikings made a massive statement Sunday with a 24-7 victory over the Los Angeles Rams at U.S. Bank Stadium. Both teams entered the game 7-2 and on winning streaks. The Rams were considered by many to be the upstart darlings of the league.
After floundering to a 4-12 mark a year ago, the Rams entered play against the Vikings having won four straight, and ranked No. 1 overall in the NFL when all three phases of the game — offense, defense and special teams — were factored in.
The Rams sent an early message. They came out and kicked the Vikings in the shins, marching 75 yards on the game’s first drive for a touchdown. How did the Vikings respond? They bit their lips and punched the Rams in the face, several times.
The Los Angeles offense had eight more full possessions in the game. The Vikings defense forced six punts, recovered a fumble and got a stop on downs, without allowing another point.
“The big thing I like about this team is how we stay composed,” Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen said. Griffen is in his eighth season with the Vikings and said “this is the best team I’ve been part of.”
The Rams entered averaging more than 32 points a game, largely taking advantage of weaker foes and using big plays and a gimmicky offense.
The Vikings defense, ranked No. 5 in the league, is at the opposite end of weak. It might bend, but it rarely breaks. Big plays allowed are few and far between and gimmicks just won’t work. The Rams had just 200 yards with 2:23 left to play and finished with 254.
“I think we took everything as extra motivation, but we just stayed together,” said Griffen, who missed last week’s game with a foot injury when the Vikings allowed a season-high 30 points in a win over Washington.
DEPTH AGAIN PAYS OFF
The Vikings also continued to show their incredible depth on both sides of the ball. Griffen was back in the lineup, but starting safety Andrew Sendejo and key backup defensive end Brian Robison were out for the defense, while right tackle Mike Remmers was sidelined for the offense. But the Vikings didn’t miss a beat as others stepped in nicely.
Safety Anthony Harris, playing for Sendejo, had Minnesota’s defensive play of the game. With the score tied at 7-all late in the second quarter, the Rams were in the red zone. They appeared to have first-and-goal on a pass to Cooper Kupp. But Harris stripped the ball away and recovered the fumble at the 1, keeping the game tied.
“I just try to contribute to the team and stay prepared,” Harris said. That could be a team mantra.
While the Vikings defense was shutting down the Rams, the steady Minnesota offense rolled up 451 yards. Quarterback Case Keenum could have had plenty of distractions on his mind this week. He was playing against the team he played for a year ago. And he has had to deal with talk of Teddy Bridgewater replacing him in the starting lineup.
Keenum was able to keep his laser focus. He was 27-for-38 passing for 280 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and a 100.8 QB rating.
“I know these opportunities don’t come along very often,” Keenum said. ”... I go out and do my job.”
Bridgewater might be healthy, but Keenum is playing at a high level and deserves to stay on the field. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer might want to turn to Bridgewater, but Keenum refuses to slip up. He guided the Vikings to 17 points in Sunday’s crucial fourth quarter.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Keenum said. “Let’s keep doing what we’re doing.”
“It’s going to be hard to yank him out of there right now,” Zimmer admitted. “He’s playing good.”
OFFENSIVE LINE EXCELS
A key for the Vikings’ surging offense has been the incredible turnaround by the revamped offensive line. The line was a nightmare a year ago with injuries and poor play helping contribute to the team’s second-half collapse. This year? The offensive line has been a dream. The Vikings have won six straight and amazingly in the five and a half games he’s played over that time, Keenum has not been sacked.
“I’ve seen firsthand what those guys can do to opposing quarterbacks,” Keenum said of the strong Rams defense. “For me, not to have a sack (Sunday), is incredible.”
The 8-2 Vikings have a complete and deep team, but they won’t celebrate this win long. They play at Detroit in a key NFC North Division showdown game on Thanksgiving. The Lions are 6-4 and have already beaten the Vikings, the team’s last loss.
“I feel like we have to keep putting our foot on the pedal, keep it rolling,” Griffen said.
And right now the Vikings are rolling along at a very high level.