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Pace & Metellus Takeaways Key in Vikings Shutout of Raiders

When the Vikings needed a play, rookie linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. responded with a backflip.

Well, the acrobatics came after the play.

It took more than 58 minutes for the Vikings to break a scoreless tie with the Raiders Sunday at Allegiant Stadium. Following a 36-yard Greg Joseph field goal, Pace capped his career game by intercepting quarterback Aidan O'Connell on a pass intended for a slanting Davante Adams and celebrated like a gymnast with his teammates in the end zone.

Pace, who has been starting in place of an injured Jordan Hicks, dropped underneath O'Connell's throw and nabbed his first career pick. The Vikings needed all of Pace's 13 tackles, one sack and game-sealing takeaway to win 3-0 and improve to 7-6.

"First and foremost talking about our defense and what they were able to do for our organization today," Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said. "They continue to [have] individual players thriving in their roles, but it's the collective effort of those guys over there. We're playing a lot of guys different personnel groupings. Flo' (Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores) and his staff continue to do a great job. We really leaned on them, and I thought they were huge and just gave us a chance."

The Vikings had to rely on their defense, and once again, Flores' scheme thrived. The undrafted rookie linebacker has that "dog" in him, proving he belongs in the NFL and can shine. His combination of tackling, quickness, intelligence and ball skills is why Flores entrusts Pace to wear the green dot and call the defense following Hicks landing on Injured Reserve on Nov. 14.

"We are a brotherhood out there on defense," Pace said. "We have a strong bond, and we go out there and play every play. We needed stops or needed to hold them to field goals, and that's exactly what we did coming out of the bye week."

Pace's pick exemplified his playmaking. He anticipated O'Connell's pass and dropped directly into the throwing window. He also recognized the route combination and knew Adams would run a quick slant.

Pace's backflip preceded a sideline hug with Flores, culminating the first time the Vikings defense did not allow a single point in 95 games.

Flores' defense has established itself as one of the league's best units. The Vikings did not allow an offensive touchdown for a third straight game.

Sunday's win was the NFL's first 3-0 victory since 2007.

"I saw Adams to my side, and I knew they were going to throw it there," Pace said. "We were in the right defense. They said Adams was going to get the ball, and I had to take it away from him, and that's what I did."

The Vikings needed everything from their defense since the offense struggled to sustain drives all afternoon. O'Connell even made a quarterback change in the fourth quarter, benching starter Joshua Dobbs for backup Nick Mullens.

Mullens entered with about nine minutes remaining and completed his first pass, a 26-yard tipped throw to tight end T.J. Hockenson. Mullens' first drive lasted just four plays and ended with a punt. But his second traveled 62 yards on 12 plays and netted the game's lone points.

"We did decide there in the second half that maybe Nick [Mullens] would provide us not only with a spark but just knowing that we would probably have to have three two or three or fourth or third down conversions [it] felt like my trust in Nick and with his preparation, he could be called upon," O'Connell said. "We got him some reps last week to make sure that he was ready to go. And he did exactly that."

Pace, Flores and the Vikings defense was historic. Sunday's win was the lowest-scoring indoor game in league history. Minnesota had not won without scoring a touchdown since 1993.

The Vikings sacked O'Connell four times and had five tackles for a loss. Pace's 13 tackles led the team. Safety Josh Metellus was second with seven. He also forced a third-quarter fumble that likely saved three points. Metellus punched the ball from receiver Hunter Renfrow following a two-yard catch inside the red zone.

Rookie cornerback Mekhi Blackmon recovered the fumble, stifling a five-play, 44-yard Raiders drive that was their only possession to reach the red zone.

The Vikings bent but never broke in Las Vegas. The Raiders first two drives lasted 19 total plays, gained 66 yards and generated zero points.

Pace, D.J. Wonnum, Harrison Phillips and Troy Dye each recorded sacks, with Dye's being his first career. But it was Pace and Metellus who made game-changing plays at critical moments. Both embody what Flores' defense is.

According to the FOX broadcast, Metellus has aligned at 12 different positions this season.

"To win the turnover battle just teaches you a lesson," O'Connell said. "It's not always going to be pretty. There's going to be a lot of things that are tough to deal with and execution that we've got to clean up, and certainly we all can do better on offense. But [if] you win the turnover battle and your defense plays the way they did, [then] you've got a chance to win a football game in this league."

Minnesota kept the Raiders offense bottled up all game. Star running back Josh Jacobs gained just 34 yards on 13 carries. He left the game in the fourth quarter with a knee injury after Phillips tackled him at the line of scrimmage.

Adams was held to 53 yards on seven catches, his fifth-lowest total of the season. O'Connell completed 21 of 33 passes for 171 yards and one interception.

The Vikings (7-6) travel to Cincinnati next week before ending the season with three straight division games against the Lions, Packers and then at the Lions. Pace and the defense could push the Vikings right into the playoffs with a few more wins.

"He's answered the bell and filled in a huge role, especially in our defense, where there's so much personnel variation," Kevin O'Connell said. "He played a fantastic football game today. He had the interception there at the end to really kind of seal it for us. [I'm]just looking forward to what's out in front Ivan Pace, because he's an undrafted free agent. He's doing a heck of a job for our team right now."