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'Ultimate Grinder' Keenum Finds Groove in 2nd Half

Someone once told Case Keenum, "It's not how. It's how many." As of Sunday afternoon, Keenum has nine.

The quarterback has racked up nine wins in Purple – eight as a starter – to help improve the Vikings to 10-2 on the season, Keenum's most recent victory being a 14-9 defeat of the Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Keenum said the Vikings week of intentional preparation for Atlanta's defense paid off.

"I mean, this is a great defense. We knew it coming in, but still, playing against them, it's kind of like, 'Whoa, these guys are good,' " Keenum said of facing an explosive and athletic front. "They're fast, a great rush, and they get off the ball.

"So we [had] our work cut out for us, and I think the offensive line knew that coming in, and they did a great job today. They really did," Keenum continued. "Running the ball when we needed to, protecting against a rush like that with those guys that they have, I thought they did an excellent job."

Keenum was sacked two times by Grady Jarrett and Takkarist McKinley, respectively, but for the majority of the day was given time to evaluate and make a play. The Falcons covered well, and Keenum at times checked down before making the throw.

"We were really close on a few big plays early, I think, that would have put us in a better chance to score more points," Keenum said after the game. "But somebody told me once, 'It doesn't matter how. It matters how many.' And we have a good football team that fought today. I think it was a really good team win."

Atlanta took an early lead with a 38-yard field goal. On Minnesota's third drive of the day, however, the Vikings found a groove and answered back – without utilizing a single receiver. Running backs Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray combined for 41 yards rushing on five attempts – including a monster 30-yard run by Murray, who also made one catch for nine yards on the possession. Fullback C.J. Ham also participated in the series, converting a crucial third-and-1 from the Atlanta 44.

Keenum capped off the drive on second-and-goal from the 2, finding Atlanta-area native Jerick McKinnon in the end zone for Minnesota's first touchdown of the day.

The second touchdown came in the third quarter. The Vikings started at their own 11-yard line and went 89 yards over 15 plays, their longest scoring drive of the season. On second-and-goal from the 6, Keenum threw a pass over the middle to a wide-open Kyle Rudolph in the back of the end zone.

"It's one of those where you're so wide open, it seems like the ball is in the air forever," Rudolph said. "We've got to give Case a ton of credit again. He stands right in there and puts the ball on the money."

The touchdown was the Vikings second come-from-behind score, and they then held the lead for the remainder of the game.

"We knew if we go down and score points and take this lead, our defense was rolling," Rudolph said.

Keenum was 12-of-17 in the first half and in the second half was perfect, completing 13 of 13 pass attempts. He chipped away throughout the afternoon and finished with 227 passing yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 120.4.

Keenum deflected credit for his accuracy, however, saying it was the result of a complete offense.

"We had great play calls, I thought [Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur] did a great job calling the game, and guys making plays and getting open," said Keenum, who connected with nine different teammates throughout the course of the game. "The second half, you know the whole game, I thought they did a great job."

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said in his post-game podium session that he appreciates the way Keenum made the plays he needed to make without "trying to overdo things."

Zimmer also emphasized once again that he's been pleasantly surprised by Keenum's ability to evade pressure and extend plays.

"I didn't probably know that he was as good of movement guy in the pocket as he is, because he's done a great job with that all year," Zimmer said.

A couple of mistakes were made and acknowledged by Keenum, but Rudolph said the quarterback's confidence level and toughness was what helped Minnesota bank its eighth consecutive victory. 

"It kind of goes along with how the game was," Rudolph said. "It wasn't necessarily spectacular or pretty by any means, but we gutted it out and fought for four quarters and are leaving here with our 10th win.

"It was just gritty," Rudolph added. "We moved the ball down the field with some huge, long scoring drives, and Case extended some plays. Right before the half, Case scrambled around and hit Michael [Floyd]. Things like that, making plays happen with his feet but still looking down the field. This whole team, we fought for four quarters and it's kind of just the way we are. It's all we know and our DNA."

Adam Thielen was held to 51 yards, but his longest catch of the day came at a critical moment.

On third-and-4, Keenum connected with Thielen for a 22-yard gain that enabled the Vikings to make two more plays before lining up in the victory formation at the 2-minute mark.

After the game, Thielen called Keenum "the ultimate grinder."

"He's a guy that it doesn't really matter what happens on the last play, he's going to come out the next play and give it everything he has," Thielen said. "I think our confidence in him as an entire team, we know we're going to get the same Case every single play, and if we keep doing our job, he's going to find us and give us an opportunity. That's what he was able to do all day."

While Keenum has preached confidence from day one, he said it becomes even easier to build on that sureness as a team as Minnesota continues to beat tough opponents and add tallies to the "W" column.

"I think guys have confidence in each other; I think receivers have confidence in me I have confidence in receivers, the offensive line is trusting each other," Keenum said. "I mean, we trust the defense to make a stop every time they're out there, and I think the defense trusts us to go down there and win ball games and put drives together when we need them.

"It's all three phases trusting each other," Keenum added. "Being successful breeds confidence."

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