MINNEAPOLIS — This was the Vikings defense we've been used to seeing over the past few seasons.
On a day where the Vikings were content to grind out a 20-7 win over the Lions, it was Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer's bunch that led the way in each and every quarter.
How impressive was Minnesota's defensive effort Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium?
Detroit surpassed 100 yards on its 41st offensive play of the game.
"We had to set the tone. We knew this game was big … but we had to come out here and play our defense," said Vikings defensive tackle Linval Joseph. "We had to play credible football. We still haven't played a complete game, but we played better than we did last week.
"We had less mistakes this week than we had last week, and it showed. Once you play all together, you make plays and you win games," Joseph added. "We played small ball. Don't go for the home run. If you go for the home run, you make mistakes and give up big plays. It could be on the back end or up front, but today our goal was to not make too many mistakes."
Added Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks: "I feel like we came out just how we wanted to come out. We had to come out fast, we had a couple three-and-outs, we got the momentum going, we got a sack early. I mean, that's Vikings defense. It was a lot of fun."
Perhaps the only gripe was that the Vikings just missed out on their first-ever shutout at U.S. Bank Stadium when the Lions scored with just over two minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Zimmer was pleased at how his maligned (for his standards) defense stepped up and played Sunday. Entering Week 14, the Vikings ranked 11th in the league by allowing 20.2 points per game and were 16th with 347.4 yards allowed per game.
"Defensively, we played a little bit more like I expect us to play," Zimmer said. "It was unfortunate we let them score that touchdown there at the end."
Not that Vikings safety Anthony Harris was mad about it.
"Honestly, I wasn't even looking at the scoreboard. It was just one play at a time," Harris said. "I'm just looking at down and distance and the situation that we're in and just trying to get off the field on third down."
The Vikings allowed just 231 yards to Detroit, the third-lowest total yielded this season. That included just 161 yards through the air against Blough, who was making his second-ever start [and first on the road].
Minnesota held the Lions to just 3.2 yards per carry on 22 attempts for 70 total rushing yards, but it was the Vikings performance in the passing game that showed the most encouraging signs.
The Vikings allowed just one passing play of 20-plus yards Sunday, and it came when the game was already decided with less than five minutes to play.
Minnesota used a rotation at cornerback to remain a perfect 6-0 at home, and also saw safeties Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo snag interceptions.
Danielle Hunter had three of the Vikings five sacks; Everson Griffen and Jaleel Johnson also got to Blough. Four of Minnesota's five sacks occurred on third downs.
"It's got to be a consistent thing," Harris said of the team effort. "No matter how good those guys are up front, if they don't have time to get there, then it puts stress on everybody.
"And the same thing on the back end … we can cover really well, but if they have time to scramble and get out of the pocket, then that can hurt us," Harris added.
Smith said: "I think when we realize all of the guys we have out there, you're not out there alone. You don't have to be perfect. You've got guys up front, on the back end, in the middle. When you remember that, you play together, and those things, generally, you get the sacks because of coverage, and you get the picks because the pressure is good, so those things go hand-in-hand. You've got to remember you're out there with a bunch of really good players. … When you remember that, you play freer."
The Vikings now sit at 9-4 and have three regular-season games remaining, beginning with a Week 15 road game in Los Angeles against the Chargers.
Smith was the first to say the Vikings defense still has work to do, but Sunday's performance might be the one that gets the unit on the right track.
"We're not where we need to be. We struggled last week and a couple of weeks before, especially on defense," Smith said. "We're not used to that, so just getting back to who we are is what today was about, and we just need to keep that mindset going forward."
Added Zimmer: "I still feel like we can keep continuing to get better … and we need to get back to work."