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Vikings Stack Winning Plays in Meaningful Win Over Cardinals

MINNEAPOLIS — The decibel meter at U.S. Bank Stadium hit 115 early in Sunday's Vikings 34-26 win over the Cardinals.

If there had been a meaningfulness meter, triple digits for sure, with some chart-breaking spikes.

Whether it was …

Former Cardinals captains Patrick Peterson and Jordan Hicks making big-time plays against the team that cast the veterans aside in the past two offseasons;

Adam Thielen catching six passes to move into third all-time for career receptions by a Viking, passing Vikings Ring of Honor member Steve Jordan (498);

Dalvin Cook breaking the 100-yard barrier for the first time in 2022 on a day the running game revved its engine;

Johnny Mundt catching his first touchdown in his 54th regular-season NFL game;

Za'Darius Smith attacking from multiple points of the defense to record his fourth career game with 3.0 sacks and first as a Viking;

Harrison Smith nabbing his 32nd career interception against the Arizona team that yielded his first career pick back in 2012;

Or Jared Allen entering the field of play via horseback — yes, that happened, too! — on his way to his halftime Vikings Ring of Honor induction ceremony …

… the contest featured meanings beyond the scoreboard, which provided Minnesota with its fifth consecutive win, fourth home victory in as many chances and improved the team to 6-1 on the season.

"There are two players in this locker room that once had a 'C' on their chest for that team over there, and both of them made huge plays and led us all day," Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said during part of his locker room speech to the team before awarding game balls to Peterson and Hicks.

The Vikings prevailed because they withstood a challenge from another team, overcame some mistakes, forced a key turnover of special teams and executed at critical moments.

Sound like the pre-bye 2022 Vikings?

Thought it might.

"The feeling you get on our sideline, in our locker room, no matter what the circumstances are, I do feel like these guys believe in each other, they believe in what we're doing, and ultimately they believe that we're one play away from being where we want to be, maybe, if the momentum isn't on our side," O'Connell said. "That's a proud feeling for a coach."

Peterson recorded three pass breakups as Arizona didn't mind trying to test him. His celebrations with teammates, one of which he said was a little early on the Smith interception, were enthusiastic expressions and rejecting some hate mail from Cardinals fans that had reached the eight-time Pro Bowler in his later years. Keep an eye out for him here…

Hicks' signature play of the day was a tackle of Eno Benjamin on a pass that gained 3 on fourth-and-4.

In passing, Eric Kendricks credited "nonverbal communication — just knowing what to do" on the way to Hicks' locker. Hicks then emphasized how much he enjoys manning the middle of Minnesota's defense with Kendricks.

"It's hard to find somebody to play with that sees things the exact same way you do, and when you're out there, it just happens naturally," Hicks said. "That's what happens with Eric, and it's special. I love playing with this guy.

"We knew where they were trying to attack based on … the formation," Hicks added. "The ball was either going to [tight end Zach] Ertz on a slant or to the running back on the angle. [Kendricks] played high on Ertz. I felt him up there and squeezed it back and was able to make the play."

View postgame celebration photos from the Vikings 34-26 win over the Arizona Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium on Oct. 30.

Mundt's TD

Mundt's scoring catch put the Vikings up 14-3 in the second quarter. The 1-yarder on third-and-goal was part of Minnesota going 5-for-5 in the red zone Sunday.

Minnesota built off Mundt's reputation as more of a blocker, enabling Cousins to find him wide open.

"Me coming off the rock, fitting my hands, selling run and then a violent shed," Mundt said. "Kirk did a great job of putting the ball away from any of the secondary that could have broken it up. Great ball, great protection, just a great football play by all 11.

"Getting in the end zone is so special. I'll cherish this moment for the rest of my life," Mundt added. "Hopefully there's many more to come, but the first one feels awesome."

Cousins credited coaches for the play design, noting he had been able to find Irv Smith, Jr., in Miami on a similar set up "with a play-action, where the tight end is able to sneak through for a touchdown."

"Have to give the coaches a lot of credit for coming up with that. He came over to me after he scored on the bench and said, 'That's my first career regular-season touchdown.' I don't know if he was emphasizing he had scored in the preseason or playoffs. I said, 'That's tremendous.' He is doing so many things for us," Cousins said. "He wears a lot of hats. The tight end position does in general. Pass protection, route running, blocking in the run game. To see him get a touchdown is outstanding."

Mundt, by the way, had caught one touchdown in the 2017 preseason with the Rams and one this preseason with his new squad. He did not record one in five postseason games with Los Angeles.

Smith adds a little calf roping

Za'Darius Smith made his mark on the game by attacking from multiple places. He played through a knee injury suffered late in the second quarter and had enough to record a sack on the game's penultimate play (which was followed by a sack by Harrison Phillips to end the day).

His first sack of the day included a calf roping celebration in honor of Allen's famed act that came to follow most of his 136 career sacks.

"Yeah, we talked to him, I think it was Tuesday when we came back to work and he was there," Smith said. "I was telling him, 'Look if I get a sack, I'm going to hit it one time.' He demonstrated to me, showed me how to do it and as you can see, I pulled it out today."

Smith also created pressure on the pass that Harrison Smith nabbed for the pick.

Coming through in the clutch

The Vikings are 5-0 in one-score games this season after going 6-8 in them in 2021.

"A lot of guys are relying on a lot of experience, experience from last year, experience from previous years in our career, and then the confidence from this year, from this team, this family, kind of just this bond that we're building," Thielen said. "It's providing a lot of confidence that we can go out there and not have to be perfect because we know in this league, you're not going to be perfect. That's just building our confidence."

Cook credited an early impact by O'Connell that has continued to show up from spring to summer to fall.

"The feeling of going to work, being in this locker room, being around these guys, everything about this group feels like family," Cook said. "Kevin knew what that was on day one when he walked into the building. He knew how we wanted to play, what type of team we wanted to be outside of this stadium, and just having fun. Building that culture around here has been fun. We are still hunting a lot of teams to get where we need to go. I'm just happy I'm on this team with these guys and heading in the right direction."

The Vikings have reestablished their home-field advantage by again stacking winning plays at different points of games.

"It's not always the fourth quarter, end of the first half, second half. Sometimes it can be a winning play in my mind when your quarterback scrambles for a touchdown against kind of a single-high man look," O'Connell said. "Jordan Hicks, won't go in the stat sheet as a turnover, but that tackle a half-yard short, being where he needs to be at that moment to make that play, winning play.

"Special teams obviously accounting for that extra turnover there with the fumble recovery by Troy Dye. Those guys have been huge for us," O'Connell added. "We'll continue to search for those plays as much as possible. I'm really proud of our team, proud of our fans. Another unbelievable experience here at U.S. Bank. Good for us, really hard for our opponent. We're hoping to have that each and every time we get to play here."