Minnesota’s defense was relentless.
The New York Giants weren’t without chances Sunday afternoon, but the Vikings time and time again pressured rookie quarterback Daniel Jones and made big plays when it most counted.
One defining moment occurred after running back Dalvin Cook rattled off a 19-yard run and neared the end zone but had the ball punched out by Giants safety Jabrill Peppers.
What could have been a deflating turnover instead fueled Minnesota’s defense to take back the momentum. As the Giants lined up at their own 1-yard line, the Vikings took advantage.
Just as the ball was snapped, linebacker Anthony Barr exploded across the line. No sooner had rookie running back Jon Hilliman taken the handoff than he was tackled by Barr in the end zone for the rare safety.
Barr said the 2-point play went exactly as planned. Eric Kendricks said the defense was “licking our chops” to get Hilliman down in the blue paint.
“It was unfortunate what happened [with the fumble]. But we have an opportunity there … to change the game around,” Kendricks said. “I feel like AB was aggressive at the right moment. We all had a chance, but he made a good play.”
Added Barr: “I was just trying to do my job and help the offense. Sometimes that happens, but we can turn around and make a play and get the offense back on the field.”
The Giants trailed by eight at halftime but started the third quarter on offense and picked up a handful of chunk plays, driving down the field and into the red zone. They had multiple chances inside the 20 but were stifled repeatedly.
Back-to-back tackles for loss by Trae Waynes and Kendricks, followed by an incompletion by Jones on third-and-goal, forced the Giants to settle for a 28-yard-field goal.
During the kick, Vikings defensive tackle Linval Joseph made contact with long snapper Zac DeOssie and was flagged for unnecessary roughness, subsequently awarding the Giants a first down.
Minnesota was tasked with stopping New York once again, this time from the 5, and answered the call.
Danielle Hunter sacked Jones for a loss of 10 to start the series, and from there the Giants could only move backward and settled for (another) field goal attempt from 32 yards. The entire drive ate up half of the quarter, but New York emerged with just three points.
“That’s perfect. And I think they kicked it further from when they kicked before. I wish he would have missed it,” Kendricks said after the game. “We were frustrated with the penalty, but we all rallied. We didn’t let us affect us. It affected us positively. We were just aggressive and played what we saw.”
Head Coach Mike Zimmer emphasized the team’s performance in the third quarter, during which the Vikings defense was on the field for 12 minutes and hit with a handful of penalties. Among the flags was a pass interference on Waynes that Zimmer challenged, but the call was upheld.
“I saw Trae looking back for the ball, like this, and [Giants receiver Cody Latimer] reaching both hands around his shoulders and going into him,” Zimmer said. “They’re probably never going to overturn them, unless it’s in the NFC Championship Game. But the thing that bothers me is that’s a 50-yard penalty. It’s not like it’s five yards and let’s get a first down; it’s a long penalty. In my opinion, humble opinion, they need to clean all this stuff up.
“These guys are fighters, and they’ll continue to fight,” Zimmer later added. “We had some adversity, and I felt like we fought through that adversity, which is a sign of a good bunch of guys.”
The Giants made one more run at a comeback in the fourth quarter, and the Vikings held strong.
A third-down sack by Everson Griffen put New York at fourth-and-12 on the Minnesota 7. Jones threw over the middle to receiver Sterling Shepard, who leapt in the end zone but was well-covered by Vikings cornerback Mike Hughes and had the ball knocked away.
The Giants challenged the no-call of defensive pass interference, but officials confirmed after review that coverage by the second-year cornerback was clean.
Hughes had an impressive outing on Sunday, recording pass breakups twice earlier in the game that were near interceptions. And he did so without wearing a knee brace in his third game back since rehabbing a torn ACL.
Zimmer said that Hughes’ performance didn’t surprise him.
“Mike’s a good football player. I know you guys were asking me what would change [after the injury], and I knew nothing would,” Zimmer told reporters. “He’s got great quickness and acceleration, and he’s a great competitor.”
Kendricks, Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris also broke up plays and came close to creating turnovers, and Barr picked off Jones late in the game to seal the Vikings victory.
On the day, Minnesota racked up 11 passes defensed.
Zimmer said on Friday that he had a “healthy respect” for Jones and his ability to move outside of the pocket, and he built a game plan that helped Minnesota affect the first-year passer. Griffen, Hunter (two) and Ifeadi Odenigbo combined for four sacks of Jones.
Aside from a 35-yard touchdown by rookie receiver Darius Slayton, the Vikings were able to largely contain the Giants offense.
“I felt good about some of the pressures that we had this week,” Zimmer said. “Quite honestly, we had another pressure drawn up for one other thing, and they really didn’t do it today. I wish they would’ve, because I wanted to see if it worked.”
“But I thought we rushed well with our front guys, and other than a couple of penalties and the first long ball, we covered decently today,” he added. “We keep talking about getting tighter in the coverage and keep emphasizing it so we can do better.”
Kendricks said it was a matter of being aggressive and trusting instincts as a group.
“We knew he was going to try and sling it a little bit,” Kendricks said of Jones. “It was on us on the back end to stop it, and we did a real good job matching routes and concepts.”
View game action images as the Vikings take on the New York Giants in New York on Sunday.
Jones was 21-of-38 passing for 182 yards, one touchdown and one interception with a passer rating of 65.9. The Vikings limited the Giants, who were without running back Saquon Barkley, to 64 yards rushing and did not allow any one player more than 20 yards on the ground.
A big win in the Big Apple energized a Vikings team coming off a tough loss.
Griffen said the combination of a revived Minnesota offense and execution on defense created a much-needed momentum.
“It all works together. It’s a big circle,” Griffen said. “When they’re pushing the ball down the field and scoring points, it gives us that extra edge to go out there and give them the ball back again. The more points that are scored, it gives us more time to rush the passer.
“We played well as a team,” he added. “We’ve just got to keep it going, keep our foot on the gas pedal and don’t look back. We’ve got a good football team.”