Off a lopsided loss to Seattle just four days earlier and short-handed due to injuries, the Vikings hit the road to play one of the best teams in the NFL on Thursday night. And the Vikings gave the Arizona Cardinals all they could handle. It wasn't quite enough, though, as Arizona came out on top 23-20 in what was a dramatic and exciting contest between two quality teams.
Here are five takeaways from Thursday's loss to Arizona...
1. The team showed heart
Playing without four defensive starters and against one of the hottest teams in the NFL, not many gave the Vikings a shot on Thursday night. But the Vikings showed exactly why you should never count them out. Mike Zimmer started four rookies on defense and schemed his group up well enough to hold Arizona to 10 points in the first half and 23 for the game. The offense showed up, too. The Vikings had more 1st downs and were better on 3rd downs than Arizona, and they had only 4 fewer total yards of offense. It all added up to a nail-biting finish on a night many thought would be a runaway victory for Arizona. The Vikings didn't make enough plays to win the game, but they showed the heart of a champion and demonstrated drastic improvement from last week's loss at home to Seattle.
2. Teddy dueled with Carson Palmer
Those calling for bigger box scores from Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater got what they've been requesting. Bridgewater dueled with Carson Palmer in the desert, completing 25 of 36 passes for a career-high 335 yards and 1 TD. Palmer had similar numbers, completing 25 of 35 passes for 25 fewer yards (310) but for one more touchdown (2). Bridgewater's ability to spread the ball around to 11 different receiver and pick up 17 of the team's 23 1st downs through the air was a huge reason the Vikings were in a position to win or tie the game late in the 4th quarter.
3. Too many turnovers
In their last road win (at Atlanta), the Vikings created turnovers in key spots to spoil scoring chances for the Falcons and turn the momentum in their favor. The reverse happened to the Vikings on Thursday night. The Vikings were -3 in turnover ratio, giving it away three times and taking it from Arizona none. The three Vikings turnovers all came in plus-territory – Jarius Wright lost a fumble at the Arizona 15, Adrian Peterson was hit behind the line of scrimmage and lost a fumble while attempting a handoff to Mike Wallace at the Arizona 35 and Bridgewater was sacked and fumbled on the Vikings last offensive play at the Arizona 38. All three turnovers stymied what appeared to be likely scoring drives and those mistakes were too much for the Vikings to overcome.
4. Rookies looked good
Four rookies started and flashed on defense for the Vikings, plus several others stepped up to play well. Anthony Harris, an undrafted rookie free agent, played and started his first career game; he was credited with a team-high 8 tackles along with Chad Greenway and fellow rookie Eric Kendricks. With Terence Newman moving to safety to start next to Harris, Trae Waynes started at CB and made 5 tackles; he also intercepted a pass but had it nullified by an encroachment penalty. Edmond Robinson started at outside LB and had a tackle. Danielle Hunter had another tackles for loss, marking the fifth consecutive game he's made a tackle behind the line of scrimmage; his sack on Palmer was a big one because it knocked Arizona out of FG range after they had turned the Vikings over on the Peterson-Wallace mishap. On offense, Stefon Diggs and MyCole Pruitt combined for 4 catches for 48 yards and TJ Clemmings was part of an offensive line that protected Bridgewater as well as it had all season. So many rookies playing so well in such a big game is a good sign for the Vikings.
5. 10 days to prepare for the Bears
As close as the Vikings were to capturing what would've been a huge win, they must now turn their attention to moving forward, learning lessons from the loss and applying those lessons to their preparations for the next opponent. The next opponent is the Chicago Bears. Aiding the Vikings efforts against the Bears will be 10 days to rest and recuperate. The Vikings will have the weekend off and will return early next week for a division opponent and for a key three-game stretch to close the season. Following the bout with the Bears in Minnesota in Week 15, the Vikings will host the NY Giants in Week 16 and then travel to Green Bay for Week 17. At 8-5, the Vikings are in solid positioning in the NFC playoff field but they have more work to do. Ten days between now and their next game will help them get ready to take on the challenges.