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Next-Day Stats: Punt Return Pivotal, Run Game Contrasts in Vikings-Rams

EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings started sluggishly and fell behind by 10 points on twice against the Rams Sunday before rallying early in the third quarter of what eventually finished as a 27-20 loss to undercut a two-interception day by Anthony Barr.

A 61-yard punt return touchdown by Brandon Powell gave Los Angeles a 20-10 lead midway through the third quarter, pulling the rug out from under the Vikings feet.

Minnesota fell to 7-8 and must win its final two games of 2021 (and receive some help) in order to receive a berth in the NFC Playoffs.

Here's a deeper dive at some "next-day stats" with an eye on the ever-increasing number of Next Gen Stats. References to rankings across the league include all Week 16 games except for tonight's game between the Dolphins and Saints.

1. Fastest and longest of game

Powell's return proved pivotal.

The Vikings probably feel like they had a case for an illegal block in the back that washed Dan Chisena away from making a tackle as Powell caught the ball, as well as a hold of Kene Nwangwu along the sideline that allowed him to finish the play in the end zone.

View game action photos between the Vikings and Rams during the Week 16 matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Neither were granted in a game that had just three penalties for 25 yards called between the squads.

Powell recorded the fastest speed by a ball carrier in the game, reaching 20.07 miles per hour for the 16th-fastest speed across the NFL in Week 16.

The return also ranked fourth among the longest plays. According to Next Gen Stats, Powell traveled 76.9 yards during the play.

Minnesota's Xavier Woods also was involved on one of the 20 longest plays during his 15-yard interception return of a deep pass. Woods traveled 64.1 yards between his drop into coverage and his return once he snagged the pass.

2. Run game contrasts

Both teams opted for a run play with their first offensive snap. The contrasts were stark and foreshadowed the rest of the day.

Alexander Mattison gained 1 on Minnesota's first play, and a punt quickly followed; Sony Michel picked up 8 to start a Los Angeles drive that Michel ended with a 1-yard touchdown run.

Take away that score, along with a 2-yard touchdown run by Mattison, and a pronounced difference in success occurred.

Mattison recorded the longest run by anyone on either team with an 18-yard carry on his second rush attempt of the game. He also added a 15-yarder. Those two plays accounted for 33 of his 41 net yards as the Rams consistently disrupted Minnesota's run game.

Excluding the 2-yard score by Mattison, nine of 12 carries resulted in a gain of 2 or fewer yards, and five ended with Rams defenders tackling him for losses.

Michel finished with 27 carries for 131 yards. Excluding his 1-yard touchdown, seven gained 0-2 yards and 11 gained at least 5.

3. Passing comparison

It's hard to imagine Matthew Stafford having a worse day than his 46.8 passer rating that resulted from a 21-of-37 showing for 197 yards with one touchdown pass and three interceptions.

The Vikings limited him to a 4-of-13 clip for 79 yards with a touchdown and interception on passes he threw more than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

Kirk Cousins finished the game with a 93.6 passer rating after completing 27 of 38 passes for 315 yards with one touchdown and an interception. Cousins was 8-for-14 with 167 yards and a touchdown pass to K.J. Osborn on throws that were 10 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

The Vikings QB didn't really seem to find a rhythm until Minnesota's final two possessions when his team trailed 27-13 with 11:37 remaining.

Cousins went 6-for-6 with 74 yards and the TD to Osborn to make it 27-20 with 8:21 remaining.

After a field goal by Los Angeles made it 30-20 with 2:03 left in the game, Cousins helped lead a drive that ended with a field goal by completing two passes on three attempts for 46 yards. Minnesota chose to kick the field goal in hopes of getting the ball back via an onside kick with 32 seconds remaining, but Los Angeles recovered.

Prior to those final two possessions, Cousins' passer rating was 70.3 after going 19-for-29 with 195 yards and an interception, which bounced off Osborn, through the game's first three quarters.