The Vikings are back in the win column after biting, scratching and clawing their way to a 23-21 win behind a resurgent performance from the defense, continued excellence from the offense and a clutch field goal late in the game. Here are five observations from Sunday's win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
1. The defense stood up
Vikings coaches said it was back to basics this week as the defense tried to diagnose and correct issues that plagued them in the first four games. Their plan worked because it was back to business as usual for the defense on Sunday in Philadelphia as they dominated the first half to help the team build a lead that would not be relinquished. The Vikings permitted Philadelphia's offense to attain only four 1st downs in the first half and the Eagles first six possessions netted three points. Here's how those first six possessions ended: punt, punt, field goal, fumble, punt, fumble. In the 2nd quarter, Linval Joseph nabbed a Carson Wentz fumble – which was forced by a Stephen Weatherly sack – out of thin air and rumbled 64 yards for a touchdown. The Vikings finished the game with three sacks and held the Eagles to two of nine (22%) on 3rd downs.
2. Dan Bailey bounced back
It was not a perfect game for Vikings kicker Dan Bailey. But it was a clutch game. Bailey missed two field goals in the first half – one from 28 yards at the end of the Vikings first drive and another from 45 yards in the 2nd quarter. In a tightly-contested game that was ultimately decided by two points, those two missed field goals lingered over the Vikings sideline in the second half…until Bailey stepped onto the field and came up clutch by splitting the uprights on a 52-yard field goal. It was a crucial moment in the game because the Vikings led by six with 2:51 to play. A miss on that field goal attempt would've setup the Eagles near midfield with a shot at a game-winning drive. Instead, Bailey essentially sealed the win with a big-time field goal.
3. Cousins, Diggs and Thielen continue to put on a clinic
Kirk Cousins completed 81% of his passes for 301 yards, becoming the first quarterback to log 30 completions in each of the first five games of a season; it was also the fourth 300-yard passing game he's had at Lincoln Financial Field. Cousins targeted Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen 21 times, connecting on 17 occasions for 207 yards and one touchdown. The connection was good on 3rd down, in backed up situations and in the red zone. Thielen finished with 116 yards, becoming the first NFL player in 57 years (!) to surpass 100 receiving yards in each of the first five games of a season and also breaking Randy Moss' team record for receiving yards in the first five games of a season (515 in 2003) with 583; he also caught his third touchdown of the season. Diggs was productive on the ground and in the air, rushing for 25 yards on two carries and generating 91 yards on 10 receptions; he caught 10 of the 11 balls thrown his way. It was another clinic by the Vikings trio, who've been nearly unstoppable in the first five weeks of the season.
4. Murray, rushing attack spearheaded tough-minded approach in difficult environment
The final numbers won't indicate it, but the Vikings rushing attack was a positive component to this tough road win, especially considering the Eagles boast the NFL's top-ranked rushing defense. Latavius Murray finished with 42 yards on 11 carries and others contributed 35 yards on 12 attempts, but chunks of yardage came in key moments and the team's decision to not abandon the run helped establish a mindset and tempo that was important to managing a late-game lead. On the drive that netted the decisive 52-yard field goal, Murray ran the ball four times for 21 yards, including an 11-yard chunk on 2nd and long from the Minnesota 13 that helped them dig out of poor field position. The Vikings will want to create a more productive ground game going forward and the return of Dalvin Cook will certainly help, but Sunday's effort on the ground was a contributing factor in the win.
5. Offensive line battles well versus feisty Eagles defense
The Vikings faced a stingy and talented Eagles defense on the road and in front of a hostile crowd, and they did so without the services of starting left tackle Riley Reiff for most of the game. That caused starting right tackle Rashod Hill to switch to left tackle and it thrust rookie Brian O'Neill into the lineup at right tackle. Through it all, the Vikings offensive line soldiered on and more than held their own against an aggressive and stout Eagles defensive front. Cousins, who aided the cause by escaping pressure and improvising some, was sacked just one time. Three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox didn't have his named called much and finished with just one tackle.