MINNEAPOLIS — The Vikings had unanswered scoring runs of 21 and 20 points on Sunday in what became a 41-17 victory over the Dolphins.
The Vikings improved to 7-6-1 and maintained their standing for the No. 6 seed in the NFC Playoffs with two games left.
The major storyline facing Minnesota before the game was the decision to relieve John DeFilippo from his role as offensive coordinator and replace him with quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski on an interim basis.
View game action images as the Vikings take on the Miami Dolphins at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday.
Pregame question: What would the Vikings offense look under Kevin Stefanski?
It could have been a chaotic situation, given the short week and a quick turnaround, but Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Stefanski was “very calm, never got panicked at all during the day.”
“I thought he did well,” Zimmer said. “I think there were times when he said something like, ‘I need to get back on schedule,’ or something like that, but it wasn’t really anything chaotic. I thought the other coaches helped him a lot today. I thought he did a good job.”
The Vikings were able to have a balanced attack and keep the Dolphins defense off-balance.
Minnesota opened cleanly and crisply with three consecutive touchdown drives of 76, 60 and 70 yards.
The offense didn’t have a penalty or a negative play on any of the possessions and scored 21 points in a first quarter for the first time since posting 28 against Arizona in 2011.
A holding penalty and a false start undermined Minnesota’s first possession of the second quarter. The drive ended when Minkah Fitzpatrick picked off Kirk Cousins on a third-and-15 and returned the ball 50 yards for a score.
The Vikings went three-and-punt on their next two possessions, but a 70-yard punt return by Marcus Sherels enabled Minnesota to add a 36-yard field goal from Dan Bailey to make it 24-17 with 8:40 left in the third quarter.
A hands-to-the-face penalty negated a 12-yard pass play on a third-and-9 on Minnesota’s next possession.
Late in the third quarter, the Vikings dialed up the perfect play against the look they wanted. On a third-and-1 from the Minnesota 36, Cousins found rookie tight end Tyler Conklin for a 33-yard reception to extend a drive that ended with a 34-yard field goal by Bailey for a 27-17 lead early in the fourth quarter.
The Vikings defense continued clamping down on the Dolphins, and Minnesota followed with a 40-yard touchdown pass from Cousins to Aldrick Robinson. Minnesota pushed tempo and caught cornerback Torry McTyer unprepared at the snap, allowing Robinson to zoom past McTyer and gain the inside track on a post route.
The offensive line — which received a game ball from Zimmer — protected the pocket nicely, and Cousins delivered a dime to the receiver who has caught five touchdowns since being added to the roster in September.
After another unsuccessful possession by Miami, Cook added an impressive 21-yard touchdown run.
Playing ahead allowed the Vikings to play comfortably, “pound the beef” by running the ball 40 times and attempt just 21 passes.
Zimmer on how Stefanski did:
“He handled it well. I met with him last night. I met with him Friday afternoon, throughout the week,” Zimmer said. “He was always calm and collected. I think Kevin knew what I wanted, so I think that was part of it. There was many times there that he said, ‘I’m going to run the ball here. I’m going to run the ball here.’ I think our offensive line appreciated the support. It’s easy when you’re getting five and six (yards) a pop.”
Zimmer on the 3rd-and-1 call for the pass to Conklin:
“We had, I won’t say how many, but we had some up and then they were kind of debating between that pass and another type of run,” Zimmer said. “I think everybody felt like the defense they were in, that would probably be open.”
Zimmer, who had cited “too much volume” as a potential problem for the offense, on if the game plan had been streamlined:
“It was cut back a little bit, yes, but it was more we got up there on the ball and went fast,” Zimmer said. “We got up there a couple times, and we had passes killed to runs and runs killed to passes. We got up there and just snapped the ball and didn’t really care what they’re in. The flow kind of helped that way … If you have 215 plays, you can’t call them all, anyways so that is part of it.”
Thielen on the game plan this week:
“It definitely was simpler, but we still had everything we needed,” Thielen said. “Coach did a great job of keeping the defense on their heels. They didn’t know if it was run or pass. He let the guys that were playing well and hot take over and carry our offense.”
Thielen on catching the Dolphins off-guard:
“I think it’s everybody on the same page, doing their job. Coach said it a few times, it’s not the plays that you call. It’s letting guys do what they’re good at,” Thielen said. “I think that’s what he did a really good job at, letting us go play fast. We have enough guys on this team, enough guys in this offense to make plays. We’re going to make them when we need to. When we’re able to play fast and not think, things can go well.”
Kyle Rudolph on Stefanski stepping into the role:
“I think Kevin was as prepared as anyone for this opportunity. He’s obviously been here the longest of anyone on the offense, and he’s a guy that has worked under many different offensive coordinators,” Rudolph said. “He saw what they did well and maybe what they didn’t do well, what he would do when it was his turn, and I think you saw that throughout the week with little changes.
“He didn’t come in and overhaul everything,” Rudolph added. “But there were some things we did a little bit differently where you could tell Kevin has been waiting for his opportunity to do this. I think Kevin learned a lot of things last year from our offense and what [former Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur] did with this offense. I think we got back to that today and had success with it.”
Cousins on the Vikings execution:
“I go back to that it’s not the plays so much as the players and the execution,” Cousins said. “I’ll go back to game after game this year where the plays are there, they’re good plays, but we’ve got to execute. We’ve got to make the coaches right. Today I think there was execution early, quickly, and that enabled us to jump out to a lead and put our defense in a position where they like to be, and it went from there.”