EAGAN, Minn. — It was less than a month ago that the Vikings were 2-2 and coming off a disappointing loss in Chicago.
There was palpable frustration in Minnesota, but players and coaches knew the only way they could turn things around was to get back to work — and win one game at a time.
As the Vikings prepare to hit the halfway point of the 2019 season, they have won three consecutive games to climb to 5-2.
But there is still work to be done in the second quarter of the season, as the Vikings can complete a perfect four-game stretch with a win tonight against Washington. Kickoff is at 7:20 p.m. (CT) from U.S. Bank Stadium.
"You hopefully get the job done and then when the game is over, you have a few days to catch your breath," said Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. "That weekend is a big difference whether you win or lose, so we want to make sure we get the job done."
The Vikings have reeled off such streaks before.
In 2015, Minnesota was 2-2, won four straight games to move to 6-2 and eventually finished 11-5 to win the NFC North.
And in 2017, the Vikings were 2-2 and had a perfect second quarter of the season that was part of an eventual eight-game win streak. Minnesota finished 13-3, winning another division title and making an NFC title game appearance.
Even if Minnesota gets a win over Washington, there will still be plenty of work to be done in 2019.
But if the Vikings get the victory, they will have has positioned themselves in the NFC playoff picture with eight games down and eight games remaining.
Here are three areas to watch in tonight's contest, plus some noteworthy stats on both teams:
Defense looks to bounce back | By @Eric_L_Smith
There's been plenty of chatter about Minnesota's resurgent offense this week, as the unit has racked up 1,440 yards in the past three games.
But the Vikings usually stout defense wasn't at its best Sunday in Detroit, where the unit allowed a season-high 433 yards.
There was also undisciplined play, as the Vikings had five penalties accepted for 58 yards, not counting a roughing-the-passer call that was offset by a Lions penalty.
Expect that group to come out with some fire and intensity, especially at U.S. Bank Stadium, a place where the defense has allowed just 15.7 points per game since the venue opened in 2016.
The Vikings defense will face a couple of familiar faces in Redskins quarterback Case Keenum and running back Adrian Peterson.
Washington ranks 11th in the NFL with a pass percentage of 61.42, meaning its offense has thrown the ball on roughly three-fifths of plays so far in 2019.
But with Washington making a head coaching change, the offense has skewed toward the run game in recent weeks. Over the past two games, Washington has passed the ball on just 40.1 percent of its plays.
"They're obviously running the ball a lot more," said Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer. "Passing game is similar, but a few more runs, few more different types of runs."
Washington ran just 41 offensive plays in a waterlogged Week 7 loss at home to San Francisco, but 26 of them were running plays.
Continuing the Cousins hot streak | By @LindseyMNSports
Over the past three games, Cousins has been on a roll. The quarterback has racked up 976 passing yards, eight touchdowns and just one interception with a completion percentage of 75.98.
For reference, over the first four games of the season, he passed for 935 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions, and his completion percentage was 67.55.
Cousins has stacked a trio of dynamic outings, and the offense looks to be clicking on all cylinders.
It's fair to say that the team has gotten into a routine as it nears the midpoint of the season. This week will shake up that sequence with a Thursday Night Football game, and Cousins will face his former team for the first time since signing with Minnesota during free agency in March 2018. How will Cousins and the offense respond and perform on a short week against some familiar faces?
"Our schedule, our routine is a little off, but [I'm] looking forward to getting back home with a home game in front of our crowd. Great opportunity," Cousins told media members on Tuesday. "I know there's probably some questions coming about playing the Washington Redskins, my former team. In honesty, it happens all the time. Players have to play former coaches, former teams, former teammates, and I'm no different in this case."
Filling in for No. 19 | By @pcraigers
Adam Thielen entered Week 8 leading all active receivers with 87 consecutive games played and ranking second behind Larry Fitzgerald in consecutive games started with 43 in a row.
He also did so hobbling with a hamstring injury suffered during yet another incredible catch by the Minnesota native, a 25-yard scoring strike from Cousins last week at Detroit.
Cousins and Co. responded to Thielen's departure with multiple eligible receivers taking an oar. Six other players caught passes on the day, led by Stefon Diggs (seven receptions, 143 yards). Veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph had season highs of five catches for 58 yards and a score on his 400th career reception, and his rookie running mate had career highs of five catches and 60 yards.
Another rookie, Bisi Johnson, chipped in with four grabs and 40 yards, including his first career touchdown, and fullback C.J. Ham recorded his first receiving touchdown on a 5-yard pass.
Dalvin Cook did most of his damage on the ground or helped with pass protection, but he has shown his capabilities as a pass catcher, too.
The biggest display of teammates rising up may have been on third downs. Thielen leads the NFL with 72 receptions on third downs since 2017, and 54 of those (75 percent) have resulted in first downs.
The Vikings faced 10 third downs after Thielen left the game. One was a penalty for defensive pass interference, and another was a kneel-down in victory formation. Minnesota earned first downs on six of the remaining eight plays, the same conversion rate as Thielen's.
Diggs converted a pair of third-and-10-plus situations with receptions of 27 and 14 yards, and Rudolph converted two third-and-2s. Ham rushed for 9 on a third-and-1, and Cook carded his longest rush of the day (23 yards) on a third-and-1.
— Vikings kicker Dan Bailey has made all 26 of his career field goals against Washington. Bailey, who is also perfect on all 36 extra point tries, attempted all of those kicks while with Dallas.
— The Vikings have tallied 11 rushing touchdowns in 2019, already surpassing the nine they had in 2018. Cook leads Minnesota with eight scores on the ground.
— Washington's offense ranks 32nd in the NFL in time of possession (26:39 per game). Minnesota ranks 17th at 29:49.
— The Vikings have lost four consecutive games on Thursday Night Football. Minnesota's last win on Thursday in prime time was a 34-27 victory over Washington in Week 10 of the 2013 season.
"It's the first time since I've been here that we've had a Thursday night game on a short week at home, so hopefully the crowd is really into it and loud. Go out and show the nation all about the intensity that our fans have in this ball game, and we can follow it up with our play."
— Zimmer on wanting a raucous atmosphere at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Extra rest upcoming
The Vikings will have nine days of rest before they visit Kansas City in Week 9.