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Danielle Hunter Forced Fumble Jumpstarts Vikings Defense in 2nd Half

Danielle Hunter jumpstarted the Vikings defense in the second half of Sunday's international matchup.

On the first play of the third quarter, Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer handed off to running back Isaiah Crowell, who surged forward but was met by Hunter. The Vikings defensive end was able to block tight end Seth DeValve while simultaneously reaching an arm out for Crowell and stripping the ball.

Safety Anthony Harris, who started Sunday in place of the suspended Andrew Sendejo, immediately pounced on the loose ball and curled around it.

Minnesota took over on offense from the Cleveland 30-yard line, and the drive ended in a 43-yard field goal by Kai Forbath to give the Vikings a 15-13 lead.

Having allowed the Browns to score two touchdowns at Twickenham Stadium before halftime, Minnesota clamped down and did not permit the AFC North team back in the end zone.

"We were in the locker room saying that we had to step up how we were playing," Hunter said after the game. "We knew we were the first ones out there and just had to play better.

"We were just reading our keys," Hunter continued. "I was making a tackle, and my hand still happened to be on the ball, and I pulled."

Hunter's forced fumble and Harris' recovery set the tone of the rest of the day.

"That might have been the play of the game for us, defensively," Anthony Barr said. "We were able to get three points off of that, and it kind of just changed our mindset, changed the momentum of the game. That was a great play by [Danielle]."

The Browns were able to get into field goal territory on their next two possessions – missing a 35-yarder and then making one from 23 yards out – but were then held by the Vikings defense to three-and-out on three consecutive drives and finished the game without scoring another point.

"That's what our defense is made of – turnovers and guys running to the ball," Hunter said.

Over the first two quarters, the Browns recorded 160 yards of total offense, including a pair of 38-yard passes to Ricardo Lewis and Crowell, respectively, that helped give Cleveland a lead just before half.

Harrison Smith said they weren't necessarily surprised by what the Browns threw at them but that they didn't respond well initially.

 "We were expecting some different looks and some things we saw on film. We just had to focus on ourselves and get back to our basics," Smith said of the team's motivation at halftime. "We just focused on us tightening up and just play our type of ball.

"It was huge, just getting back on top," Smith added. "That's big, and then slowing down the run game, getting up a couple scores – offense did a great a job – that helps out a lot."

Barr agreed, saying the defense could take responsibility for some of the Vikings early issues.

"I think we were a little sporadic there in the first half – a few miscommunications on defense that led to some big plays," Barr said. "Once we settled down, once we got the communication going, it was a better game for us."

After giving up 101 yards through the air in the first half, the Vikings held the Browns to just 60 yards passing over the third and fourth quarters.

Minnesota also was able to get to Kizer. All three of the Vikings sacks were in the second half, when Linval Joseph, Tom Johnson and Everson Griffen took down the rookie signal caller for losses of seven, one and 10 yards, respectively.

Griffen's sack increased his streak to eight consecutive games with at least 1.0 sack, which ties him with Vikings Legends Jim Marshall and Jared Allen for a franchise record. Griffen also joined Dwight Freeney (2009) and Robert Mathis (2005) as the only players with a sack in each of their respective team's first eight games of the season. Neither Freeney nor Mathis extended the streak to nine.

"First and foremost, we're 6-2. That matters way more," Griffen said. "We're 6-2 going into a bye week, and our team is on fire. We've got great team chemistry.

"[The sack streak] just shows my hard work," he added. "But like I always say, I can't do it without my defensive line. It's not me only back there getting the sacks. When I get a sack, everybody's working together. Coach Andre Patterson, best D-line coach in the NFL, we always say we get team sacks. We work together, and that was everybody working together, rushing together. Harrison should have had him, but you know, by the grace of God, he let him go and I got him."

Griffen faced Spencer Drango, who started at left tackle in place of 10-time Pro Bowler Joe Thomas, who suffered a season-ending triceps tear last week.

The Vikings had fewer than 20 snaps of game film to review of Drango at tackle, but Griffen said the young lineman played well.

"He had a good game plan going up against me," Griffen said. "He was worried about my spin the whole game, then I hit him with the spin at the very end. I was trying to beat him with speed, speed to stab-and-go, but he was sitting light on me the whole time. And the quarterback was sitting shallow, and he's a runner, so we had to power down."

Griffen said he was glad to see his teammates also notch sacks of Kizer and that it further demonstrated the way Minnesota's defense works cohesively as a unit.

Heading into the bye week at 6-2 and atop the NFC North, Griffen said he's proud to be a part of this Vikings roster. 

"This is the best team I've been a part of, from top to bottom," Griffen said. "This year we're more dialed in, we're more physical, we're running to the ball more, we're making more plays, and we're doing it on all three phases – on the offensive side, defensive side and special teams.

"I'm worried about being in my right gap, helping this team win and executing my assignment to be able to get where we want to go," Griffen continued. "And that's to the top. But one game at a time, you know. This game was fun." 

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