The Vikings traded in snowy Minnesota for sunny Jacksonville, and the defensive line brought the heat in a 25-16 win over the Jaguars Sunday.
Defensive end Everson Griffen proved to be a nightmare for Jacksonville's offense. He showed up throughout the day, making four big plays that influenced the game's outcome.
On the Jaguars second possession of the game, Griffen was able to get around the edge and sack Blake Bortles for a loss of 6. The play moved the Jaguars back to their own 37, and they found themselves unable to recover, ultimately punting on fourth-and-6.
In the second quarter, Griffen stopped a Bortles scramble after a gain of 5 on second-and-18 in the second quarter.
Griffen's second sack of the game came after halftime. Griffen cut back in to the middle and got to Bortles for another 6-yard loss. On that same drive, Griffen batted down a ball intended for Jaguars running back Corey Grant.
Heading into the game, Minnesota was the NFL's only team to have a trio of defensive ends with at least 6.0 sacks apiece. That benchmark extended to 7.0 for each with Brian Robison and Danielle Hunter also sacking Bortles.
Robison made Minnesota's first sack of the game, finding his way to Bortles on a third-and-10 play early in the first quarter. Robison later put pressure on Bortles along with safety Anthony Harris on a blitz play shortly before halftime. While neither Viking could ground Bortles before the throw, the blitz disrupted the play and forced an incomplete pass.
"Defensively, we played pretty well for the most part all day," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said. "We only let the quarterback out of the pocket once, which was a big key."
Hunter's late-game sack of Bortles set the Jaguars up for third-and-18 on their final drive. Jacksonville committed a penalty and then attempted a 61-yard field goal with 21 seconds on the clock, but Linval Joseph blocked the kick.
Hunter's sack increased his total to 10.5 for the season. He now leads all defensive ends from the 2015 draft class in total sacks (16.5), over first-round pick Vic Beasley (14.5) and second-round pick Preston Smith (12).
"Danielle is a young guy that's come in and is very coachable," Griffen said. "And he listens. He takes what he learns and takes it to the field.
"He's athletic, he's a freak and he's been doing a great job for our team all year," Griffen added.
The defensive line as a unit came up big following a third-down fumble by Matt Asiata on the goal line in the fourth quarter. The Jaguars took over from their own 20-yard line, but the Vikings defense held them to three-and-out. In addition to two incomplete passes by Bortles, running back T.J. Yeldon was stopped by Hunter and Joseph on second down for no gain.
The halted drive put the ball back in Minnesota's hands for its game-clinching offensive drive, one that ended in a Kyle Rudolph touchdown to give the Vikings a two-possession lead.
"It always comes down to the fourth quarter," Griffen said.
Zimmer said he wants to make a few adjustments this week but felt like Minnesota's defense looked more like itself in Jacksonville.
"That's kind of who we are," Zimmer said.
The win at Jacksonville improved Minnesota's record to 7-6 with three games remaining down the stretch, including two at home.
Robison said that as nice as it was to get the 'W,' there's not much time to revel in it before getting back to the grind.
"With our team, whether it's a win or a loss, we get ready for the week ahead. That's what keeps this team going," he said. "We put ourselves in a situation that we have three games left to get this thing done and put ourselves in the best possible situation at the end of the year, so this week is going to be no different than last week.
Added Robison: "We have to put the game behind us and make sure we keep marching forward."