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Pressuring, Picking Off Darnold Helps Keeps Jets Grounded

The Jets never got off the ground in New York.

Minnesota locked in and locked down in a 37-17 win at MetLife Stadium.

For most of the day, the Vikings defense affected rookie quarterback Sam Darnold and made big plays when he took to the air.

New York trailed by 10 in the third quarter and lined up on its own 33 to start the drive. Darnold dropped back and threw deep under pressure toward Robby Anderson, but the pass was tipped by Vikings corner Xavier Rhodes.

Harrison Smith was ready with open arms and made the interception in stride.

The All-Pro safety – who, by the way, has his pilot's license – returned it 52 yards to the Jets 9. The Vikings offense took over and capitalized on Smith's pick with a 22-yard field goal to extend their lead to 20-7.

"That wasn't really my play; that was Xay's play," Smith said of Rhodes getting his hand on the ball. "Xay made that play, and I just kind of [took advantage]."

Added Smith with a laugh: "I really wanted to get in the end zone, so I have to work on that a little bit. But I got some good blocks by the guys."

Darnold faced pressure all afternoon, taking sacks three times and on other occasions forcing tight throws.

Danielle Hunter entered Sunday's game having at least 1.0 sack in every game this season. He shared a second-quarter takedown of Darnold with teammate Jaleel Johnson, who started in place of nose tackle Linval Joseph.

On the final play of the third quarter, the Vikings blitzed safety Jayron Kearse, who sacked Darnold for a loss of 8 deep in his own territory. The play brought up third-and-11, and Darnold threw an incomplete pass, one of 25 on the day, which brought up another Jets punt. Darnold finished 17-of-42 for 206 yards and a passer rating of 34.4.

Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks, who totaled five tackles (league stats) and two passes defensed on the day, said that "communication was everything" for Minnesota's defense.

"We talked really well, worked through some problems we had but got through them early and just ran to the ball and made plays," Kendricks said.

The Vikings only allowed the Jets to convert two of their 13 third-down attempts after last week keeping the Cardinals from a single third-down conversion in 10 tries.

"It just depends on the looks that we get," Smith said. "We take a lot of pride in third downs every week. It normally equates to a lot of success for us."

Smith wasn't the only guy in Purple to snag a pick.

Darnold was intercepted on back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter, first by rookie Holton Hill. The undrafted cornerback stepped in when Rhodes when down with an ankle injury, and Darnold targeted Hill on his first play. It turned out to be a mistake.

"I told [Xavier] I got him," Hill said after the game. "As he's walking off the field, guys are like, 'All right, Hollywood, it's your time. Don't let us down. Do what you do. It's just like practice.'

"Then, they give us our defensive call, and the next thing I know, the ball is coming to my hands," Hill continued. "It was a surreal moment, and I'm blessed to have the opportunity to be out there."

The Vikings offense took the opportunity and ran with it. Although it looked like the unit was stopped, quarterback Kirk Cousins took a chance on fourth-and-8 and fired toward the end zone for a touchdown by Aldrick Robinson that all but sealed the game.

When Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes intercepted Darnold three plays later, it was over.

Zimmer was asked postgame if the turnovers were a result of pressuring Darnold or simply good defensive plays, and he responded that it was a little of both.

"I think it was a couple that we maybe confused them a little bit and then a couple that guys just made good plays on," Zimmer said.

It was a big day for young players on Minnesota's defense.

Stephen Weatherly, playing in place of defensive end Everson Griffen, had a strong outing in his fifth consecutive start. On New York's second series of the day, the 2016 seventh-round draft pick showed his speed and broke up a pass intended for Jets tight end Neal Sterling. Weatherly also added two tackles and a tackle for loss.

Kearse also had quite the stat line, finishing the day with four tackles, 1.0 sack, 2.0 tackles for loss and a quarterback hit. The 24-year-old even had a near-fumble recovery on a Jets muffed punt.

"I think we played well defensively today. We had a lot of guys out, we had a lot of guys – Linval didn't play, I don't know, there were quite a few we didn't have, and then guys went out today," said Zimmer. "But that's part of depth and part of the National Football League, and we have to keep fighting to get in there. That's why it's so important that we as coaches continue to push these young guys, because they're going to get in the ball game at some time.

"A guy like Eric Wilson, for instance. We've been playing him in some packages now a little bit, and it's just good for him to get in the game," Zimmer added. "Holton Hill today, Marcus Sherels got in some today. These guys are going to have to play."

Zimmer didn't express serious concern about Rhodes' ankle or Anthony Barr's hamstring injury, but he said, "we'll see."

Whatever the timetable for return, the Vikings will be prepared.

"We're fighters. We're fighters and smart football players," Kendricks said. "It's unfortunate when things like that happen, but it's next-man-up mentality. Guys get their shot, and they come in and make plays for us. That was big on their part."

The Vikings defense had four turnovers in all, including a fumble recovery by defensive tackle Tom Johnson, and the takeaways helped Minnesota pull away and soar to a 37-17 win, the first road win against the Jets in series history.

The Vikings moved to 4-2-1 on the season and will now prepare for back-to-back home contests against the Saints and Lions, respectively.

The defense wants to keep the takeaways coming.

"That's what it's all about on defense – swarming to the ball, creating havoc and getting those turnovers when they're presented to us," Kendricks said. "If we can do that on defense and do what we did today as far as turnovers, it's a good day."

View game action images as the Vikings take on the Jets at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.

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