MINNEAPOLIS — The disruption by the Vikings defense wasn't as outlandish as in the first three weeks of the season, but it was distinctly effective in Minnesota's 24-10 win against the New York Giants on Monday Night Football.
The defensive stat sheet wasn't filled with sacks or quarterback hits, but there was a hidden impact.
The Vikings (4-0) appeared to affect throws by Manning on a night when he went 25-for-45 (55.6 percent) for 261 yards with an interception and a passer rating of 63.3.
Manning had thrown for more than 350 yards in each of the past two weeks. His collective numbers the first three weeks of the season were 76-of-107 (71.0 percent) for 925 yards with four touchdowns, three interceptions and a rating of 98.1.
The Vikings predicted that their eight-sack, 12-hit performance against reigning NFL MVP Cam Newton in Carolina resonated on the game film. They expected Manning to frequently implement quick passes and were prepared to go step-for-step with a trio of talented receivers (Odell Beckham, Jr., Victor Cruz and Sterling Shepard). The trio totaled 103 yards on 12 catches for the Giants (2-2).
"They didn't give us anything easy, anything quick. It was tough," said Manning, who is now 3-6 all-time against the Vikings and 0-2 with Mike Zimmer at Minnesota's helm. "You're going to have to buy some time. We did a few things where we had to buy some time and get a few completions but they had a good game plan and they played differently than we had anticipated. They did a lot more two-high [with the safeties], and it slowed us down a little bit."
Linebacker Anthony Barr recorded one of five pass breakups with a hard charge up the middle in the fourth quarter, but the Vikings didn't bring as much heat as they are capable of bringing. Barr said even though Manning's jersey stayed clean, the Vikings observed their plan paying off.
"We were pretty disruptive last game (at Carolina). That was kind of our top game. So, it's just a different type of disruption, though," Barr said. "It's not in the face of the quarterback every day; it's more so focused on the receivers, because they have three great receivers. All those guys can make big plays, and they all make big-time catches. So, it was an emphasis to play coverage this week try to limit those three guys as much as possible.
"He was dropping really short today. Seven yards, and he's stepping up and getting the ball out," Barr said. "So, I don't think that's really what he wants to do. He wants to be able to step back, scan the field and be able to throw the ball down field, and we were able to limit that tonight. That was a big key to success."
The rush effort that the Vikings did get went hand-in-hand with coverage by Minnesota's secondary.
"I think the key to it was obviously being able to get a good push and get around his feet. When you do those quick passes, you have to be able to run and tackle well. Our defensive backs did a great job of being on those wide receivers when they were getting quick passes. They didn't get to turn up field and make a bunch of moves or anything like that. Our defensive backs were there ready to make plays."
Neither the Vikings nor Giants recorded a sack in 132 total offensive plays, including a total of 81 pass attempts.
In an effort to avoid pressure on one play, however, Manning heaved a deep shot toward Beckham that was errant and tracked down* *by Xavier Rhodes.
"They had a pretty good blitz on it, and I didn't know if I was going to be protected or not," Manning said. "We ended up getting it protected enough. Tried to clear it up to Odell. Looks like he got a little contact there at the end that threw off his angle. Had to throw it before he made a stick on his route, so I didn't know where he would come out of. Left it a little too high and a little more to the middle of the field."
The Vikings totaled 33 carries for 104 yards and two rushing touchdowns, and Kyle Rudolph completed 26-of-36 passes for 262 yards and a score. Bradford's night included a touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph and completions of 30 and 40 yards to Charles Johnson, who entered the game with three catches for 20 yards on the season.
The 40-yard toss to Johnson set up a 4-yard touchdown run by Jerick McKinnon that provided the game's final points and an immediate answer to a touchdown drive by the Giants that made it a one-score game in the fourth quarter.
"I think when you're playing with a lead, it allows you to stay a little more balanced as opposed to when you fall behind, especially if you're behind in the second half," Bradford said. "It turns into more of a throwing game. The defense kind of knows what's coming. Playing with a lead is always nice because you can keep them a little bit more off balance."
Bradford finished the night with a passer rating of 101.9, his third game in a row with a rating of 93 or higher.
Sirles steps in again
Last week, Jeremiah Sirles stepped in at left guard when Pat Elflein was sidelined with a hip injury. Boone returned to the lineup Monday, but right tackle Andre Smith left the game with an elbow injury. Sirles stepped in again, showing his versatility.
Sirles said the whole team prepares for whenever they are needed.
"I think guys buy into [the 'next man up' philosophy], and we work really had during the week," Sirles said. "I love the way we all work; we all continue to play really hard and those little runs we had in the beginning started to pound on them and weigh on them in the end."
Bradford was impressed by Sirles and the whole unit.
"I thought he did a great job out there for us tonight," Bradford said. "I think the game ball should go to those guys up front. They kept me clean and kept those guys going in the run game."
Rudolph's touchdown catch gave him 25 for his career, moving him past Visanthe Shiancoe for sole possession of second place in franchise history for touchdowns by a tight end. It was Rudolph's third straight week with a touchdown. He is three shy of Steve Jordan's franchise record by a tight end.
The Vikings have the ninth 4-0 start in franchise history and first since 2009. Minnesota recorded its seventh regular-season victory in a row and held an eighth consecutive opponent (including the Wild Card game) to 17 or fewer points. The Vikings also snapped a seven-game losing streak on Monday Night Football.