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Eric Kendricks' 1-Paw Pick Helps Vikings Defeat Lions

MINNEAPOLIS – One hand is all Eric Kendricks needed.

Lions quarterback Jared Goff threw over the middle toward KhaDarel Hodge, but Kendricks darted to the right, outstretched his arm and snagged the ball with white-gloved fingers.

The linebacker pulled in the pigskin, curled around to the sideline and returned the interception 22 yards to the Vikings 37.

"I kind of was crouching a little bit. I knew [Goff] couldn't really see me, that's how I felt. I couldn't really see him, so I figured he couldn't really see me," Kendricks told media members. "But I figured it was something coming behind me, so I just kind of, like, popped out."

Kendricks' pick helped Minnesota's defense limited Detroit and helped the Vikings come away with a 19-17 division win at home.

And while the play was flashy and left Vikings fans – and this writer in the press box – open-mouthed, Kendricks' teammates weren't all that surprised by the impressive grab.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer referenced Kendricks' last game against the Lions, when he intercepted Matthew Stafford in the end zone in Week 8 of the 2020 season.

"It reminded me a lot of last year," Zimmer said. "It was a great play."

Vikings receivers Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson know a thing or two about one-handed grabs, but they also weren't too starry-eyed over Kendricks' pick. After all, it really is par for the course.

Jefferson pointed out that Kendricks puts in plenty of preparation for just such an opportunity.

"Nice. It was nice," Jefferson said. "He's always over there by me before practice catching balls. Hey – you practice it, and you come out here and do it."

Kendricks said it was "cool" celebrating on the sideline with teammates but confirmed shock wasn't one of the emotions.

"I feel like they kind of expect it at this point," Kendricks said. "I put the work in. I just feel like it's natural for it to come through in the games sometimes. It's always fun celebrating that with your team."

Kendricks' interception was the eighth of his career, tying him with Vikings Legend Wally Hilgenberg, for ninth-most by a Vikings linebacker and giving him the team record for passes defensed by a linebacker. Kendricks now has 47, one more than Chad Greenway and two more than Matt Blair.

It wasn't the only turnover Minnesota forced Sunday afternoon.

At the end of the first quarter, defensive end Everson Griffen strip-sacked Goff for a loss of 7, and the ball was recovered by interior lineman James Lynch. The 22-year-old has been a healthy scratch the first four games but got his chance Sunday in the absence of Michael Pierce and made the most of it.

Goff finished the game 21-of-35 passing for 203 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. His passer rating was 64.3.

Griffen totaled 2.0 sacks of Goff on a day he received a starting nod by Zimmer in recognition of his recent performance. Griffen also had four tackles, a tackle for loss and two quarterback hits.

"Whatever to help my team win," said Griffen, who re-joined the Vikings this fall after spending last season with the Cowboys and Lions. "If they call my number, I'm just going to play my role and do my job. That's what I'm here for.

"This game was crazy, but just to be out there with D-Hunt (Danielle Hunter) and the boys, it feels good. Just to get back in stride, to catch our rhythm," Griffen added. "We got off the field a lot on third downs. We just have to tackle better, play better in the run. We left some gaps open, but we've just have to do better."

The Vikings allowed the Lions to rush for 108 yards. The number in and of itself isn't too appalling, especially considering Detroit's 1-2 punch in Jamaal Williams and D'Andre Swift. But Minnesota did give up a couple double-digit runs and let the Lions chip away in the run game – including Swift getting into the end zone on a 7-yard touchdown run after Alexander Mattison's fumble.

Zimmer saw good and bad in defending the ground game, which the Lions were forced to pivot from somewhat when playing from behind.

"They hit a couple on us today. I was ticked off early," he said. "I think we settled down. We made some adjustments. They copied a few of the plays that Cleveland ran [last week], and then we got out of position.

"Early it was ugly, and then it was much, much better once they cleaned it up," Zimmer added. "Again, they scored one touchdown on us today. There were a lot of good things. I think they were 27 percent on third down, 288 yards, so if I'm going to find some things to complain about, it would be that and that last drive after the fumble."

View game action photos of the Vikings battling the Lions in the Week 5 matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Griffen also addressed the Vikings run defense.

"I just feel like we've got to stay in our gaps, man our gaps, come off the blocks, and really display technique football," he said. "Your gap is your gap. Come off, strike, and stay in your gap. It's really simple when it comes to the run game, but it all works together, at the same time. The D-linemen got to trust the linebackers, the linebackers have to trust the D-linemen. We've just got to coincide and do it all together."

Harrison Smith led the Vikings in tackles with nine, followed by eight from Kendricks – who, in addition to his interception, recorded a pass defensed.

Hunter and D.J. Wonnum each added a sack of Goff, and Anthony Barr totaled four tackles in his first game action in nearly 13 months.

"It was good [to see him out there], man. You know, Anthony Barr's my boy," Kendricks said. "Just what he's been through these past couple of years, obviously, with some injuries, and I know it meant a lot to him.

"He's a guy who cares about football a lot, cares about this team," Kendricks continued. "Nobody wants it more than him, so it was special. I try to not make it bigger than what it was, but I feel like it was but I feel like it was really big, and I'm proud of him."

The Vikings win improved their record to 2-3 on the season, with an opportunity next week at Carolina to reach .500 before the bye.

Defensively, they acknowledged big plays but know there's more improvements to be made, especially early in games.

"We need to realize how they're trying to attack us initially. First quarter, preferably. Then go out there with a plan so we don't have to do those adjustments at halftime," Kendricks said. "And then play sound. Everyone doing their job, everyone flying to the ball. Then make a play when it's presented."