EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —The 2016 season produced plenty of memorable moments for the Vikings defense.
The unit finished third in the NFL with 314.9 yards allowed per game and ranked sixth by allowing just 19.2 points per game.
But amidst a stellar season by Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer’s defense, there were a handful of game-changing plays along the way.
Here are the Vikings top five defensive plays, determined by the Vikings Entertainment Network, of the 2016 season (in no particular order):
The Vikings led by a field goal with seven minutes remaining in regulation as the Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers were driving in Minnesota territory at the 40-yard line. Robison, the savvy veteran, sent U.S. Bank Stadium into a frenzy with his heads up play.
After powering by the right tackle, Robison made a beeline for Rodgers at the Vikings 46-yard line. But instead of going for the big hit, Robison slapped the ball out of Rodgers’ hand, and the fumble was recovered by defensive tackle
The Packers wouldn’t get as close to a field goal for the rest of the game, as the Vikings won 17-14 to move to 2-0 and win the first regular-season game at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Vikings found themselves in an early hole on the road against the defending NFC champions. But a rising defensive star turned the tide with a takedown of the reigning league MVP.
Hunter bulldozed Panthers left tackle Michael Oher to the ground before breezing past left guard Andrew Norwell. The former third-round draft pick then covered the distance to Newton in a flash, hauling him to the ground for a safety.
The two-point play was Minnesota’s first score of the game, and helped jumpstart a Vikings rally in an eventual 22-10 win in which Newton was sacked eight times. Hunter went on to finish the season with a team-high 12.5 sacks.
Minnesota’s first touchdown of the season came on defense, and gave the Vikings a lead they wouldn’t relinquish in a season-opening win in Nashville.
With Tennessee facing second-and-3 at the Vikings 24-yard line, Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota faked a handoff and looked in the direction of wide receiver Harry Douglas.
But with Mariota under heavy pressure from Griffen, the quarterback lofted a pass that Kendricks stepped in front of. Kendricks, who didn’t have any interceptions as a rookie in 2015, took his first career pick 77 yards for the go-ahead score.
Kendricks’ pick-6 was the first of four Minnesota defensive touchdowns this season, and helped the Vikings start the season 1-0.
If Robison’s strip-sack of Rodgers nudged the Vikings toward a victory, then Waynes’ big interception sealed the deal.
The former first-round pick had been picked on at times throughout the night. Waynes was flagged for three defensive penalties against the Packers, but he saved his best for last on Minnesota’s final defensive possession.
With the Vikings still leading by a field goal, Rodgers and the Packers faced a crucial third down at their own 45-yard line. With Waynes shadowing Davante Adams, the wide receiver tried to beat him with a double move toward the sideline.
Waynes didn’t bite, and instead jumped the route on Rodgers’ floater, eliciting a deafening roar from Vikings fans. The play was the first career regular-season interception for Waynes, who would finish second on the team with three picks in 2016.
Xavier Rhodes has 100-yard pick-6 vs. Cardinals
The splashiest (and longest) defensive play of the season came from Rhodes, who earned his first Pro Bowl nod in 2016.
The Vikings led 13-10 late in the first half when Arizona drove inside Minnesota’s 10-yard line. Although Cardinals wide receiver John Brown was smothered by Vikings cornerback
Rhodes, however, was hiding behind the pair and surged up to snatch the ball on the goal line. He raced up the sideline, eventually reaching a top speed of 22.4 MPH, zipping past a handful of Cardinals to the end zone.
The play helped Minnesota snap a four-game losing streak and put Rhodes on the national radar. He snagged another interception against Palmer, and would lead the Vikings with five picks in 2016.