Stout defense, solid special teams and a mid-game explosion by the offense was the combination the Vikings put together on Sunday in Detroit and it was good enough to generate a 27-9 victory in the penultimate game of the season. The win improved the Vikings record to 8-6-1 and puts the team in position to qualify for its third playoff berth in four seasons with one more win (or a Philadelphia loss) next Sunday.
Here are five takeaways from the Vikings win over Detroit on Sunday.
1. Defense put its stamp on Win No. 8
The Hail Merry (Christmas) to Kyle Rudolph turned the game around (more on that next) and offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski achieved true play-calling symmetry (more on that later), but the foundation for Sunday's win was another dominant day for the defense. Detroit had a little something cooking midway through the first half with eight 1st downs and six points in a span of three series, but only two of the Lions other nine drives yielded more than one 1st down. Matthew Stafford averaged a paltry 3.63 yards per attempt, Detroit averaged 3.9 yards per rush and the Vikings tallied 11 tackles for loss. The Lions scored zero touchdowns, were four of 16 (25%) on 3rd downs and penetrated the red zone just once.
2. Rudolph's buzzer-beating touchdown at halftime turned the game around
A mostly lackluster opening 25 minutes of the game had the Vikings looking sleepy and the Lions out in front by a score of 9-0. But then the Vikings woke up. Stefon Diggs capped an eight-play, 69-yard drive with an eight-yard touchdown from Kirk Cousins and the Vikings defense followed that up with a stop. Cousins and Co. drove to the Detroit 44 but looked to be out of time before they could get into field goal range. But who needs to be in field goal range when you have the Hail Merry (Christmas) in your arsenal. With two seconds left on the clock and facing a 3rd and 2 from close to midfield, Cousins took the snap, scrambled to buy time and heaved the football toward the end zone, where Kyle Rudolph was waiting. Rudolph used his 6-6 frame to box out defenders and then left his feet to high-point the football and bring it in for an improbable touchdown reception. The score and subsequent extra point moved the Vikings to a 14-9 lead and served as a springboard for the rest of the team into the second half. The Vikings completed the "double dip" by scoring on the first possession of the 3rd quarter to take a 17-9 lead and wound up scoring 27 unanswered points.
3. Penalties were an issue, turnovers were not
Even in victory, head coach Mike Zimmer aims to find areas that can be improved. One such area this week will be penalties. The Vikings had 11 penalties against them accepted by the Lions and they were flagged several other times. In total, the Vikings lost 78 yards on those 11 penalties. An area that was not a problem for the Vikings, however, was turnovers. The Vikings did not turn the ball over in Detroit. Ball carriers protected the football and Cousins was accurate (21 of 28) and on time with his pass attempts.
View game action images as the Vikings take on the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Sunday.
4. Stefanski's encore featured different flavors
Last week in his debut game calling plays, Stefanski found a way to unearth the Vikings running game. This week, Stefanski and his staff dusted off the Kyle Rudolph plays and finished the game with the same number of runs as they had passes. Rudolph caught nine passes on nine targets and came away with 122 yards and two touchdowns; it's the third 100-yard receiving game of Rudolph's career. Meanwhile, the Vikings kept pounding away on the ground despite the Lions offering up plenty of resistance. Dalvin Cook had 73 rushing yards on 16 carries and the Vikings finished the game with 28 rushes for 100 yards and 28 passes for 253 yards.
5. Another solid outing for Vikings special teams
The Vikings special teams units put together another solid outing on Sunday after one of their best performances of the season last week against Miami. Dan Bailey made all of his kicks – three extra points and field goals from 24 and 29 yards – and was part of a coverage group that didn't permit Detroit to start a drive past its own 25 on any kickoffs. Punter Matt Wile had a net average of 45.0 yards and had one punt land inside the 20 while his coverage group permitted only 3.6 yards per return on five tries. When a defense plays as well as the Vikings defense is playing now, having such solid special teams performances along with offensive performances that involve zero turnovers is going to make the Vikings a tough team to beat.