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Danielle Hunter Leads Surge by Vikings Defense Against Giants at Key Times

MINNEAPOLIS — Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell was midway through distributing game balls in the locker room.

"Two sacks, seven tackles. He was all over the place," O'Connell shouted. "Where's Danielle Hunter?"

Hunter humbly raised his hand, and the former quarterback spun him a spiral over the heads of teammates and staff.

The answer during the game was in the Giants backfield where he led an aggressive disruption of New York quarterback Daniel Jones in a 27-24 Vikings victory Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Hunter was credited with four of Minnesota's quarterback hits on the day.

"Just keep being persistent, keying off little things. We're all focused as a team," Hunter said. "We had a little change of scheme, but everyone was doing their jobs and some of us were getting home.

"You just can't be scared, because you don't want to power rush the entire game because that's how guys get tired," Hunter added. "Sometimes in games like this, you've just got to take your shot."

View game action photos from the Vikings Week 16 Winter Whiteout game vs. the Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Hunter recorded a sack and a forced fumble (recovered by Giants tackle Evan Neal) to lead to New York's second possession quickly ending with its second punt.

The Vikings offense responded to the momentum and scored its first touchdown of the day on the following possession.

Hunter chased down Jones after a 10-yard scramble late in the first quarter and teamed with interior lineman Khyiris Tonga late in the second quarter to thwart an attempt by New York to tie the game at 10 or take a lead before halftime.

In the third quarter, Hunter forced an incompletion on third-and-3 at the Minnesota 26-yard line, and the Giants settled for a 44-yard field goal to tie the game at 10 with 11:18 remaining in the third quarter.

The following possession also ended with pressure by Hunter, this time resulting in a sack split with D.J. Wonnum to force another 44-yard field goal by Graham Gano. That kick gave the Giants a 13-10 lead with 4:31 remaining in the period, but the Vikings answered with a drive that spanned the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth.

Teammates got in on the action. Za'Darius Smith recorded three quarterback hits, and Dalvin Tomlinson walloped Jones on a play that ended with Patrick Peterson's 33rd career interception with 11:42 remaining in the game. Peterson followed the pick by setting up a penalty kick celebration with Duke Shelley as the goalie.

Last week, Peterson had encouraged the offense that it needed only five touchdowns to complete the historic comeback from a 33-0 halftime deficit to the Colts. A week later he had "a feeling" he was about to get the ball back for the offense.

"It's just a feeling. I don't know what it is, something comes to me in my head, like just say it. Literally, 'All right we need five touchdowns.' That was just intuition that came to me," Peterson said. "Actually, I was on the sideline today and was like, 'I'm going to get a pick pretty soon. Daniel's tried me enough to where now he's feeling a little comfortable and I'm going to go out here and get a pick for us.'

"Ended up getting an interception," he added. "It's just the belief I have in myself, the belief I have in my teammates. I've seen us grind so hard and so much throughout training camp, throughout OTAs, throughout minicamp, and now it's just all coming to fruition."

Peterson also had a laugh about blitzing and getting a quarterback hit on the play that was ruled to be the sack split by Hunter and Tonga.

"I am going to lobby for it," Peterson quipped. "That's a half a sack. I started that. I touched him to force him to step up. I have to talk to DT. First of all, I should get the first half and everybody can split it equally after that."

O'Connell was asked about the use of the blitz by Peterson.

"We've had those. Whether you're sending the nickel, corner, whatever it is. Sometimes a run-stopping pressure. Sometimes just trying to catch off maybe some of their RPO (run-pass option) game or [shotgun] run. I thought [Defensive Coordinator] Ed [Donatell] was aggressive in spots and continues to kind of make adjustments in the game to give ourselves a chance.

"[The defense] held them under 30 percent on third down, forced some turnovers there, and offensively we were able to not have any turnovers," O'Connell added. "When you win that battle, although sometimes it can feel like a grind against that team, you play clean enough, you'll give yourself a chance to win in the end. That's when our team tends to respond."

Tomlinson appreciated the opportunity to get a win in his first time facing the team he played for from 2017-20.

View postgame celebration photos from the Vikings Christmas Eve victory over the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium.

"I feel like with the game plan Coach Donatell came up with, we were just coming from everywhere, trying to get him out of the pocket, trying to collapse the pocket and get out of it and hit him and get batted balls as much as possible to get in his head and affect him throughout the game," Tomlinson said.

Rookie Brian Asamoah II also got into the action when he was rotating in at linebacker behind veterans Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks. Asamoah forced and recovered a fumble after a reception by Daniel Bellinger on the first play of the second quarter.

Instead of Giants ball at the Minnesota 16, it was back in the hands of the Vikings at their own 36 on the way to taking a 10-0 lead. Asamoah snagged a souvenir after the game.

"I was very excited when he got the fumble," Hunter said. "I was expecting him to go all the way, but he didn't. It was a good game for him.

"I ended up giving him my jersey. He asked for it, and I gave it to him because he's a good guy," Hunter added. "I expect a lot of great things in the future."

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