MINNEAPOLIS – The Vikings needed a big play defensively and delivered. And then they did it again to reclaim momentum in what became a 41-17 victory.
Minnesota took a quick 21-0 lead over Miami to start the day, but a couple of critical errors – a pick six and a 75-yard touchdown run given up by the Vikings to open the third quarter – enabled the Dolphins to score 17 unanswered points.
Down by just 4, Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill looked to lead his team down the field. His plan was thwarted, however, by back-to-back sacks. Anthony Barr and Danielle Hunter logged consecutive takedowns of Tannehill to swing the momentum back in Minnesota's favor.
Barr told media members after the game that Minnesota's defenders knew not to panic.
"We had been playing good, and we're not going to let one big play deter us from what we're doing and from our M.O.," Barr said. "[We] just continued to be aggressive and make plays when [they came our] way."
The pair of sacks put Miami at third-and-27, and Tannehill dumped off a short pass to Danny Amendola for a gain of 8 to force a punt.
"Anytime you get sacks back-to-back, that's a real advantage for the defense," Hunter said. "They lose yards, [and they] call plays where it enables the quarterback to try to get the ball out of his hand quickly. It was part of the game plan, just focusing in and doing what we needed to do in order to affect the quarterback."
The Vikings affected Tannehill all day long.
After notching just one sack in the first half (Barr), Minnesota relentlessly pressured the passer in the second, adding eight sacks to set a franchise record for the most in one half.
It seemed like everyone shared in the fun. Barr and Hunter had two sacks apiece, and five other teammates also added takedowns: Eric Kendricks, Sheldon Richardson, Tom Johnson, Everson Griffen and Mackensie Alexander.
"That's what it's about for us. It's not a one-man show," safety Harrison Smith said. "Everybody do your job, and somebody's going to reap the benefits. It's fun to watch."
Barr, who led the team with seven total tackles and had two tackles for loss and two quarterback hits, was in his element when he rushed the edge.
"I think it just plays to my strength," Barr said. "I'm better going forward than backwards. … It's more natural for me. I'm able to affect the game more, I feel like, when I do that. They put me in position to do that today, so kudos to the coaches."
Griffen emphasized the benefit to using Barr as a pass rusher.
"When they're trying to go max protection, and you're getting double-teamed and stuff like that, having the linebacker blitz and come up the middle really allows the linebacker to come free. That's what he did today," Griffen said. "He [has a lot of] tenacity, and he's out there playing at a high level for us."
Four of the Vikings sacks came on second downs to create third-and-long situations that Minnesota has defended well all season long. Tannehill also was sacked on both of Miami's fourth-down attempts.
Hunter increased his sacks total to 14.5 for a new single-season career high. His 40 career sacks surpassed Hall of Famer Alan Page (39) for most in franchise history through a player's first four NFL seasons. Jared Allen had 62 in his first four seasons as a Viking after being traded by Kansas City.
Coincidentally, Page was honored as the Vikings Hometown Hero during the game.
"It's a good feeling, [but I] can't do it by myself," Hunter said. "Since day one, I've been taking notes from everybody else around me. It's a good organization, coaches and players. But it's definitely a good feeling to know you're in some good company."
Overall, the Vikings held the Dolphins to 193 net yards. Tannehill finished 11-of-24 passing for 108 yards (37 net) with no touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating was 59.0. Miami did record 156 yards on the ground, half of which came when Kalen Ballage ran for a 75-yard touchdown.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer shouldered responsibility for the big run.
"[It] was my fault. It was a bad call," Zimmer said. "I had it in my mind all week I was going to call it, and they kind of caught us.
"I was trying to hit them in a blitz," he later added. "It was kind of an overload. One guy ended up blocking two basically, and then the back end didn't get to the right place."
The consensus in the locker room was that it was important to hit the reset button and not get flustered after the play.
Safety Anthony Harris said the defense was able to "just settle down" and get back on track.
"Once that play happens, it's pretty much over with, and you have to move forward," Harris said. "I think it's just being able to refocus, buckle down and get back to playing some good defense."
Added Griffen: "Honestly, in the game of football, things are going to happen. Mistakes are going to happen. You can't allow yourself to get frustrated. We just came back, regrouped. We just came back there, we played our keys, stayed on task, and everything worked out for us."
Minnesota's defensive hinged on communication and execution, and it paid off in the end.
"Everybody was just dialed in. We knew what we had to do, we went out there, we got a couple sacks, got the momentum going, got some more sacks," Kendricks said. "We [communicated] well on defense. We talked well amongst the DBs and the linebackers, and we had a good day."
The Vikings know they can't bask too long in this win before looking ahead to next week at Detroit. Sunday's home win improved them to 7-6-1 on the season, and they remain in the mix for a playoff bid.
"Every game is a big game. We know what's in front of us," Hunter said. "We just have to focus in and keep doing what we're doing, [have] the same mentality on defense, and continue to execute on offense and special teams."