MINNEAPOLIS —Teddy Bridgewater kept calm until Jerick McKinnon flashed his explosive speed for a 68-yard touchdown, the Vikings final score of the night in a 49-17 victory over the Giants.
By that point, a little under four minutes remaining in the game, Bridgewater had quarterbacked his team to a 10th win of the season, enabling it to secure its first postseason berth since 2012 in his second pro season with a calm demeanor, despite the bright lights of Sunday Night Football.
The sight of watching McKinnon's career long from the sidelines, however, prompted a response more demonstrative that what Bridgewater showed when he was still under center. The QB ran down the field to jump and congratulate his 2014 NFL Draft classmate.
Bridgewater and McKinnon are roommates when the Vikings travel, and they've sometimes discussed celebrations that McKinnon, who scored his first ever touchdown last week against Chicago, would like to execute.
"I was very excited for him," Bridgewater said. "He's a guy last year, I recall, every time we got down to the red zone, the goal line, we would take him out. He didn't get any rushing touchdowns last year, so to see him get in the end zone this year, I was really excited for him.
McKinnon finished with seven carries for 89 yards, including the career long that was his second touchdown of the night.
"When I saw the hole, I just straight bee-lined," McKinnon said. "I got a great block on the perimeter."
He had another scoring run (24 yards on a jet sweep) taken off the board because of a penalty that occurred just before the snap.
"I was hoping it was on the defense, but we still got points out of that drive," the affable McKinnon said.
McKinnon helped salt away the victory and added a threat to the constant challenge presented by Adrian Peterson, who rushed 22 times for 104 yards and his 101st career touchdown (96th rushing). The Vikings rushed 37 times for 222 yards before reserve QB Shaun Hill took three snaps in the victory formation.
Big-time throws: The drive that McKinnon appeared to cap with the jet sweep was finished with a 28-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph.
In addition to delivering the ball on time and on a dime, Bridgewater also kept safety Landon Collins from heading Rudolph's direction until it was too late. Rudolph powered through contact at the line of scrimmage from safety Craig Dahl, gained a step and boxed him out.
"That was the whole route. As long as I won at the line of scrimmage, Teddy pretty much did the rest," said Rudolph who had two catches for 53 yards. "The way [Bridgewater] was able to keep the post safety away from me and just put the ball on the money, I don't think I saw the ball until it was about three quarters of the way there. For him to have the trust in me and know I'm going to be at the spot where I need to be shows a lot of his poise and confidence he has back there in the pocket."
Said Bridgewater, "He set the guy up on the route and gave me a throwing lane, and we just played pitch-and-catch."
Bridgewater finished 15-of-25 passing for 168 yards with one touchdown but no turnovers for a rating of 93.4. The stats aren't eye-popping like his 335 yards at Arizona or his 17-of-20 passing clip against Chicago last week, but he made additional plays, protected the football and capitalized on drives repeatedly beginning with advantageous field position because of a dominant defensive effort.
Bridgewater had a pair of impressive 18-yard connections to Jarius Wright on the Vikings first two scoring drives, including one that required early improvisation.
"Teddy makes a lot of plays with his legs. I guess you could say I had an in route and I saw Teddy getting ready to come back out, so I went back that way," Wright said. "The cornerback had a choice, it was either stay on me and let Teddy run for the first down or take Teddy. He decided to take Teddy, which left me open. Teddy does a great job of throwing on the run. That's one of his best attributes."
Bait and pick: Harrison Smith's franchise-record fourth interception return for a touchdown gave the Vikings a 16-3 lead and was part of 22 unanswered points by Minnesota. The Vikings defense nearly posted a second pick six, but Captain Munnerlyn made it 32 of the 36 yards he needed before running out of room along the sideline.
"Don't tell me about it. I'm kind of mad about it," Munnerlyn joked. "It could have been number six to the crib in my career. I fell a little short. I know guys are going to be on me about that. I've got to go airborne and get into the end zone. Even though I'm 5-foot-9, I can jump. I should have jumped.
As for the interception, Minnesota's third of the night, Munnerlyn explained, "We were in zone coverage and I played high to low and kind of baited Eli a bit and he threw it. I made a play. I had to make sure I caught it first. It's kind of cold out there, but I got my hands on it and tried to take it to the house."
Ninth-coldest temp for a home game: The Vikings hadn't dealt with too many extremes in their second of two seasons of outside home games, but Sunday night became one of the 10 coldest temperatures.
The mercury at kickoff was 13 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the ninth-coldest air temperature for a Minnesota home game. The wind chill made it 2, which didn't crack the top 10.
"It actually wasn't that bad," said Munnerlyn, who is from Mobile, Alabama. "I thought it was going to be worse, with me being a down South guy and not a cold weather guy. I don't know what the temperature was, but I think I had a little extra pep in my step because I knew it was going to be cold and I was OK. My hands and feet were cold, but other than that, I feel like I handled it pretty well."
Walsh ties personal record: Blair Walsh was a perfect 5-for-5 on field goal attempts, tying a personal record from December 2012. He was good from 32, 52, 22, 53 and 27. Walsh said he felt comfortable from 55 yards or less, kicking either direction, based on pre-game kicks.
"We did a good job protecting, snapping and holding all game," Walsh said. "It makes my job easier. You need good protection so you can kick the ball lower and get it out there on those deep kicks. Kevin [McDermott] and Jeff [Locke] were setting me up with good spots and holds all night."
Peterson leads with one week remaining: Peterson, who set a franchise record for running backs with his 112th start, heads into the final week of the regular season atop the NFL list of rushers in 2015. He has 1,418 yards and is 64 yards ahead of Tampa Bay's Doug Martin.
Stats that stood out: A glance at the stats book usually reveals some interesting numbers. Here are three:
1.The Vikings had nine scoring drives, and eight of them required gaining 58 yards or less, including three of 26 yards or less in the second half.
- Despite the short fields, Minnesota kept the ball 34:57, by blending a heavy dose of 40 rushes with 25 pass attempts.
- The Vikings were flagged just two times for a total of 10 yards, compared to seven infractions for 48 yards to the Giants.