MINNEAPOLIS –It's not often that a 325-pound defensive lineman makes a swan dive, but Toby Johnson looked nothing but graceful as he lunged through the air Thursday night and came down with an interception.
"It felt good," Johnson said. "I was just doing what I have to do to help my team win games."
The play was set up beautifully by teammate Justin Trattou, who was able to get past Rams tackle Andrew Donnal and disrupt Jared Goff's pass.
Johnson tracked the tipped ball and timed his dive perfectly to net Minnesota's sole pick of the night just before halftime.
"I was just thinking, 'I have to get it. I have to get this pick,' " Johnson said. "This could be my last go-around with the team, so I have to do whatever I have to do to make plays and help myself get in a good position to make this team."
The play was quite the way to celebrate his 25th birthday, just four days after Trattou made a splash against the Chargers on his 28th birthday.
"I'm just following in JT's footsteps," Johnson said, laughing.
View images from the first night game at U.S. Bank Stadium as the Vikings took on the Rams.
Following his snag, Johnson threw the pigskin down behind him and jogged to the sideline, where he received quite the reception from his defensive line teammates. Veteran players, including Brian Robison, Everson Griffen and Sharrif Floyd celebrated as if they'd made the play themselves.
"That was a great play by Toby – it got the whole bench riled up," Floyd said. "You don't see that too often from a defensive lineman, so when you do, you make sure you celebrate it the right way.
"It's just a chance for us to sit back a little bit and watch [the younger players] shine," he added. "Let them take the field and show us what they can do."
Johnson said it meant a lot to have the support of his veteran teammates who have been mentoring and teaching him throughout all of training camp and preseason.
"It just felt good – those guys are always on top of me," Johnson said. "They always tell me, 'You can make plays. Just do your job, and when you do your job, plays will come to you.' Tonight was just a prime example of me doing my job. The play came to me, and I just executed."
Rookie Stephen Weatherly had a unique perspective of Johnson's interception, which gave the ball to Minnesota's offense and resulted in a Blair Walsh field goal.
After the snap, Weatherly turned to run toward the screen play and said he heard Trattou bat Goff's pass out of the air.
"It was beautiful," Weatherly said. "Toby just lays out for it, and he snags it.
"Some people were saying that Toby bounced twice when he got it," Weatherly added, laughing. "But no, that was an amazing play. A very athletic play."
Weatherly also had a nice performance in the Vikings preseason finale. He capitalized on one of three fumbles by Los Angeles, jumping onto a dropped ball by Goff just after the two-minute warning in the first half. The defensive end got his first sack of the preseason with a third-quarter takedown of Sean Mannion and joined efforts with Travis Raciti and Zach Moore for a third-down sack of Mannion to end the game and seal the Vikings 25-23 win over the Rams.
"A lot of things just clicked for me today," Weatherly said. "One big thing that I focused on was just having fun. The last two preseason games, I was thinking a lot and overthinking. Tonight I just had confidence that I knew what to do when the plays were called and to just run full speed and show that I could do it."
Weatherly said he and the other young players have formed a bond after spending so much time on the field together – whether in practice or in preseason games – and that they all shared in big plays made on the evening.
"So we just really want to see each other do well and do great things out there," Weatherly said. "So when I see Zach make those sacks and see Toby make that interception, I feel like I'm part of that. We all push each other; we all motivate each other."