"Rudolph" is a name often heard during the month of December, but the Vikings tight end put on quite the holiday show for Thanksgiving.
Kyle Rudolph had just four catches in Thursday's game, but each one played a significant role in Minnesota's 30-23 defeat of Detroit to move to 9-2 with a three-game lead in the NFC North.
On the Vikings first drive of the game, Rudolph caught a 6-yard pass from Case Keenum to put the offense within manageable distance to convert a third down, which Keenum scrambled for. Minnesota continued to drive the ball down the field, eating up nearly seven minutes on the clock to arrive at first-and-goal from the 2.
After Latavius Murray took the handoff for a gain of 1, Keenum on the following snap found Rudolph open in the back of the end zone.
"We've been really successful on the goal line to this point, on goal-to-go situations," Rudolph said of the touchdown.
He came up big once again late in the second quarter.
Starting at their own 26 and with a 10-point lead, the Vikings drove down the field in just five plays thanks to Rudolph.
On second-and-11, Keenum dropped back and lobbed a pass toward the right sideline for Rudolph, who caught it near the 38. He was able to shake safety Miles Killebrew, who fell down, and made it to Detroit's 41-yard line before being chased down by the Lions other safety, Tavon Wilson.
Rudolph's 34-yard play was followed by a Jerick McKinnon run for no gain and a 14-yard grab by Jarius Wright.
On first-and-10 from the 22, Keenum felt heat from the defense but again launched a deep pass for Rudolph, who tracked the ball over his shoulder and hauled it in across the corner of the end zone for his second touchdown of the day.
"Any time an opposing defense gets pressure on you, that obviously makes it harder to throw the ball," Keenum said after the game. "Detroit has got a great defense and mixes up pressures quite a bit. Our offensive line does a great job of protecting, but they did a great job."
Rudolph said that Keenum's ability to stay composed and get the pass off was key.
"The one right before half was a huge drive for us to take the ball down the field in a two-minute situation and score points," Rudolph said. "Points are at a premium when you're playing a quarterback like Matt Stafford, and we knew that we had to keep scoring. He's resilient, he was never going to quit."
Rudolph finished the Thanksgiving Day outing with four catches for 63 yards and the two touchdowns. His receiving yards were third on the team behind Adam Thielen (89) and Diggs (66).
"We have a ton of playmakers on offense," Rudolph said. "The hardest part is that there's only one ball.
"There's so many playmakers for us on offense that it's important for us to stay on the field," he continued. "The more we stay on the field, the more opportunities we have to expose those playmakers. We get three more cracks every time we get a first down."
Rudolph and his teammates were adamant in the short week leading up to the division matchup that the game was being approached like any other.
After walking away from Ford Field with a win, however, and snapping a three-game losing streak to the Lions, Rudolph acknowledged the statement that Minnesota made with its seventh consecutive victory.
"We knew it would be tough to come in here and get a win. The Lions are great, not only at home but especially on Thanksgiving," Rudolph said. "And we experienced first-hand last year how hard it is to come in here and get a win. So it's big."
He added a disclaimer, though, echoing the mentality that Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has instilled in the team:
"The only thing that being 9-2 guarantees us is that we can finish no worse than 9-7," Rudolph said. "If we don't continue to approach each and every week like we have for the past 11, then it will all be for naught."