MINNEAPOLIS — The Vikings were going nowhere fast.
So they headed for the ol’ drawing board to adjust what the Broncos were seeing and stuffing.
Minnesota did so with such speed that it reversed a 20-point halftime deficit and 16-point margin at the start of the fourth quarter, and turned it into a 27-23 victory to improve to 8-3 on the season.
There was also plenty of grit involved on a day when the Vikings vaunted run game was plugged by the Broncos. Minnesota finished with just 37 rush yards on 18 attempts, an average of 2.1 per carry with a long of 6.
That’s the second-fewest rushing yards that the Vikings have totaled in a win under Head Coach Mike Zimmer (30 yards on 22 carries against the Packers in 2016 in U.S. Bank Stadium’s Inaugural Game).
The paltry total was after last week’s victory during which Minnesota ran the ball on 10 consecutive plays to score the decisive touchdown.
Pre-game question: Could the Vikings win even on a day when the running game is less than robust?
The Vikings entered the game riding the wave of Dalvin Cook, who entered Week 11 as the NFL’s leading rusher.
Cook, however, had just four carries for 9 yards in the first half, which brought his total on the season to 1,000. He finished with 11 rushes for 26 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter and has 1,017 on the season.
The Broncos were successful against runs by other players, too. Alexander Mattison (three for 5 yards), Ameer Abdullah (one for 5), Cousins (two for 1) and C.J. Ham (one for 0) combined for seven carries that netted 11 yards.
Denver also tackled Cook for a loss of 3 on a screen play at the end of the first half.
The Vikings benefited from a heavy dose of determination as well as the ability of adaptability.
Minnesota pushed tempo with its no-huddle offense and drove the ball down the field in the second half.
Four second half possessions, four touchdowns. The drives were nine plays for 75 yards, 18 for 75, three for 62 and five for 67.
The Vikings were able to use their play-action game and bootleg plays despite their struggles in the run game. Part of that is on the reputation that they’ve built, part of it is Cousins’ skills at playing on the move and part is finding a way to tweak things so that they couldn’t be stopped by Denver.
Minnesota didn’t abandon the screen game, for instance, but instead popped one to Cook for a gain of 21 to open what became its game-winning drive.
“I go back to college [at Michigan State]. Whenever we were stalling, [Spartans Head Coach] Mark Dantonio would say, ‘Hey, jump into 2-minute [offense].’ Many times you jump into 2-minute, it has a different feel to it, and next thing you know, you're going. You hesitate to do it because you also know they have Von Miller and a really good pass rush, and you don't want to just get in a drop-back game with some of the best pass rushers to ever play. It worked today. I don't know if that's because you run play after play after play without huddling and they start to get a little winded, and now they don't have the same get-off as they do in the first half when they're huddling every play. I'm not sure. I also have to just credit [Denver Head Coach Vic] Fangio and their defense for what they did in the first half. To stay in our base offense clearly wasn't working. So I wonder, if it had been a closer game, if you still want to jump in at 2-minute, just because they were defending us so well in the first half to what we were doing. We just weren't running the football, and they were taking away a lot in the pass game.
— Vikings QB Kirk Cousins
“You have to have a lot of code words, so you're saying the same thing with a different word. You have multiple hand signals for the same play. You try to dress it up with motions and shifts, and then you get pretty inventive. We started drawing stuff up. [Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski] got out a white board for the first time this year and started drawing some stuff on the white board. One of them was a big play to Dalvin. Again, that's why I'm saying our coaches did a great job of adjusting and saying, ‘All right, they're taking this away, but how can we still run this but present it differently to the defense?’ There were a few times they did that and ended up being big plays, which is a great job by them on the fly in between possessions to make adjustments.”
“Showed a lot of heart, showed a lot of guts, showed a lot of courage. Obviously, we didn’t play very well in the first half. We had penalties, fumbles, gave up big plays. Just did not play very well. But we came together, we fought pretty darn good in the second half and made just enough plays to win. I told the team all week long this was a good football team we're playing. They're really good on defense. Hopefully, they listen next time.”
— Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer
“We knew what type of offense we could be, we just needed to find our rhythm. It was just like the first half of the game, we never found ourselves. Once we did, we got it rolling. We can be whatever we want to be, we’ve just got to keep chipping away.”
— RB Dalvin Cook
“We started going no-huddle because Stefanski … knew that they couldn’t match our intensity and tempo, so I felt like once we started going fast, moving guys all over the field, that had them in a bind because they were stuck on the field with certain guys. I feel like once we did that, Kirk was dialing it up, and it was there from then.”
— TE Irv Smith, Jr.
“That’s going to happen. That’s the game, that’s the NFL, that’s football. I mean, they schemed us; there’s a lot of film out there now, and they know a lot of our tendencies, a lot of our motions, a lot of what we’re doing to set up our running game and how good it’s been so far. … I think that’s a good wake-up call for our guys, because it’s going to come down to us just executing that much better. Today, I’m glad we came up with the win and found a way to execute with some big passes. And the play-action game – I think that’s really what’s helping us. We run the ball so well that play-action can help us in the long run. So in my opinion, the run game still helped us today because those big-shot plays wouldn’t have been there if they didn’t respect the run.”
— RB Ameer Abdullah
“You never like to have that – you never like to be down in that hole and not able to run the ball, and that falls on us as an o-line. But as a team, just being able to find different ways to win is big for us. The more that we can do that, understand situational football and kind of get ourselves back in the game – Coach Zimmer always talks about the last 10 minutes of the game and being able to finish strong. That’s big.”
— RT Brian O’Neill