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Vikings Finish Regular Season With NFL's No. 1 Defense



MINNEAPOLIS — After another dominating performance, it was hard to keep track of the stats, accolades and honors the Vikings defense wrapped up in Sunday's regular-season finale.

But as Minnesota turns its attention toward a potential deep playoff run, the collection of Vikings defenders know they hold a special place in both team and league history.

Minnesota finished first overall by allowing just 15.8 points per game, the first time a Vikings defense had led the league in that stat since 1970. The Vikings also finished first overall in yards allowed per game with 275.9, Minnesota's best defensive season in that stat category since 1993.

"It's a heck of an achievement for our guys," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said of the accomplishment. "You can't do that if your offense isn't running the football and controlling the ball. You can't do that if your defense is out there all the time.

"It's a nice stat for the defense, and these guys take a lot of pride in it," Zimmer added.

The Vikings entered the day knowing they could allow 11 points or less to secure the fewest points allowed crown for 2017. Minnesota had given up 10 points when the Bears moved inside the 5-yard line with less than four minutes remaining.

Minnesota promptly produced one of the most memorable goal-line stands of the season, keeping Chicago out of the end zone as the Bears ran six plays inside the 5-yard line.

How many defenses in the NFL could make such a crucial stand?

"As far as how many, I know one of them that can," said Vikings defensive end Brian Robison. "I think that's a testament to guys understanding what we have to do and a testament of not getting rattled, understanding that sometimes you're going to face adversity, and it's about how you respond. That was an adverse play for us, and guys responded.

"We're very unselfish. But we understand that if we do what we need to do and do our job and do what the defense is called, nobody can stop us," Robison added. "We need to bring that mentality and understand it has to be all 11 guys on the same page and go play ball."

That stand included two stops on third downs, as the Vikings finished the day by limiting Chicago to just one of 12 chances on third downs. It was the fourth time this season Minnesota had allowed just one third-down conversion in a game.

Amidst all of the accolades, the Vikings also now boast the top third-down defense since the NFL started tracking third-down percentage in 1991. Minnesota allowed 51 conversions on 202 attempts (25.2 percent).

"We've got good players. When corners can cover, and safeties can blitz and pressure, linebackers can blitz and cover, defensive line can rush, it's important" Zimmer explained. "We spend an awful lot of time on it. I don't think we do anything fancy. We've just got good players."

Added Robison: "It's also a testament of how hard we work and also a testament of being good on first down. That was a big point of emphasis for us back in OTAs, was being better on first down, being better in critical situations, third down being one of those. It's the reason we're here today."

Perhaps lost in the shuffle of Sunday's performance was that the Vikings defense tallied one less point than the Bears offense.

Chicago tallied a field goal while Minnesota's defense notched a safety when Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky was called for intentional grounding in the end zone late in the second quarter. Vikings defensive linemen Linval Joseph and Danielle Hunter closed in on Trubisky, who underhanded a pass with no receiver in the area.

"I felt like he was not expecting the pressure," Joseph said. 

Added Hunter: "It seemed like he didn't want to get tackled, so he just threw the ball."

After the Vikings defense wrapped up a 23-10 victory that clinched the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye, chatter in the locker room didn't center around celebrating a stifling season.

Instead, the unit peeked toward what lies ahead, ready to get back to work shutting down opposing offenses.

"We've played well for 16, well, 13 games. We made plays, but special defenses, I think those are the ones that lead their team to the Super Bowl," Vikings cornerback Terence Newman said in reference to Minnesota's wins total. "I'm not going to sit here and speculate about how good we are and how good we aren't. We still have work to do, that's all I know. 

"If you're not a Super Bowl champion," Newman later added, "and you have the top-ranked defense, then what does it mean? To me, you have to get it done and go all the way."

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