Kyle Rudolph's 3-yard touchdown was one for the history books on Sunday, but the tight end is more concerned about what the game-clinching score could do for the Vikings near future.
The play-action fake handoff to Matt Asiata, rollout by Sam Bradford and short route to the right gave Minnesota a 25-16 margin with 2:13 remaining, and the Vikings defense completed its fourth-quarter shutout.
The touchdown was Rudolph's team-leading sixth of the season and 28th of his career, placing him in a tie with Vikings Legend Steve Jordan for the most by a tight end in franchise history. It also gave the Vikings breathing room, the first two-score lead of the game for either team, but they have little time to exhale in the postseason race.
"It was the touchdown that put us ahead to seal it," Rudolph said. "When I sit back and realize where it puts me in franchise history, it's huge. Steve is one of the best that's ever played my position for this organization, so to be right there with him means a lot to me."
The Vikings outscored the Jaguars 13-zip in the fourth quarter to erase Jacksonville's only lead of the game, a 16-12 margin claimed with under four minutes left in the third quarter. Minnesota earned 10 first downs in the final period and only allowed two, playing complementary football down the stretch to secure its first road win since Sept. 25 at Carolina.
"We feel like we have to win out if we want any chance of getting in the playoffs," Rudolph said. "You can't win out until you win the first one, so to get a win and for us as an offense to finish the way we did, drive down and get a touchdown after two empty possessions inside the 1. We weren't able to put the game away early, so for us to finish the way we did was good."
Rudolph caught a 44-yard pass on the first play of the game after Bradford was
After the Vikings reclaimed the lead, 18-16, on bulldozing run by Asiata from the 1, the defense forced a quick three-and-punt.
When the Vikings turned over the ball at the 1 on the following possession, the Vikings defense again forced a three-and-out to give the offense another shot with 5:05 left.
Minnesota was just 3-for-11 on third downs, compared to 7-for-16 by Jacksonville, but the Vikings scored a field goal and both touchdowns after moving the chains.
Cordarrelle Patterson came up with a huge conversion, catching a pass shy of the sticks and powering through a pair of tacklers for a gain of 11 four plays before Rudolph's touchdown.
Jerick McKinnon converted a third-and-3 with a 5-yard reception to end the third quarter to set up Asiata's plunge.
The Vikings also got their fourth field goal from Kai Forbath after an 11-yard reception by Adam Thielen in the second quarter.
Zimmer back on sidelines: The Vikings talked about the emotional lift they received by the return of Head Coach Mike Zimmer to the sidelines.
Zimmer missed the Dec. 1 game against Dallas while recovering from emergency eye surgery the night before. He wore a bandage over his right eye during the game and flipped between glasses and shades throughout the game, prompting **reactions on Twitter**.
"He's a tough guy, and when he's out there, we have that mentality," said Thielen, who led the Vikings with 101 yards on four catches. "We kind of feed off his energy. He's going to get after us if we do something wrong, so we've got to be on point."
Added Captain Munnerlyn: "It was good to have our coach back. We tried not to worry too much. We put a little stress on him, but just to get his presence back on the sideline and his voice definitely was a difference. We're glad to have him back.
"You think he wants to be treated like he's fragile? No," Munnerlyn added. "Zim's a tough guy, so he wanted us to act like everything is normal."
Double penalty: There was some question as to whether Zimmer would be on the sidelines or spend the day in a coaching booth, but the sidelines were his preference.
One of the decisions Zimmer made was to have Xavier Rhodes join him on the sideline for a brief moment after the cornerback was flagged for holding in the third quarter. Rhodes' reaction to the call drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that was added to the end of the play. The Vikings opted to have Rhodes step off the field for a couple
"It wasn't nothing serious I said, but he probably didn't like my frustration and how angry I was," Rhodes said. "I hurt my team on that, and I've got to correct it."
Rhodes, frequently a lockdown corner, said Zimmer told him to "calm down and relax because he needed me out there."
Rookie Mackensie Alexander was flagged for pass interference two plays later, moving Jacksonville from the 39 to the 17. Of the 90 yards covered on the drive, 42 were via penalty.
Zimmer spoke about the frequent matchups between Rhodes (6-1, 218) and Jaguars receiver Allen Robinson (6-3, 218).
"Xavier is a good football player," Zimmer said. "He's a power forward—it's who he is, and he was playing a power forward today.
"There's going to be some of that pushing and shoving going on, and he just has to learn the things he can do and the things that he can't," Zimmer continued. "We'll look at the tape and try to correct it."
Zimmer also stood up for Rhodes.
"He's a great kid. He wants to win extremely bad," Zimmer said. "He wants to go against the best receivers. He wants to cover his rear end off, and he's honestly one of the nicest guys that you'll ever meet."
Robinson finished with one catch for 17 yards, but Marqise Lee became the first player to total more than 100 receiving yards against the Vikings defense this year. Lee totaled 113 yards on five receptions.
40 times three: The Vikings offense opened its first two possessions of the game with completions of 40-plus yards.
In addition to Rudolph, Bradford also connected with Thielen for a gain of 41 down the sideline in the first quarter.
Bradford also connected with Stefon Diggs deep down the middle in the second quarter for a gain of 45 that was punctuated with a diving grab by Diggs.
The Vikings had just four receptions of 40-plus yards, and the Jaguars had only allowed nine plays of such distance in their first 12 games of the season.
"We kind of knew going into today that we were going to have some opportunities to take some shots and push the ball down the field, especially early in the game," said Bradford, who had time to throw and was not sacked on Sunday. "That's what we wanted to do, and fortunately we were successful at that and created some explosive plays, which, any time you can do that, it makes it easier for the offense."
Scramble legs:Bradford finished the day 24 of 34 passing for 292 yards with one touchdown and a passer rating of 106.5, his career-best sixth game of the season with a passer rating in the triple digits.
He also rushed four times for 17 yards that included two kneel downs for minus-2 total at the end of each half. The 17 net rushing yards tied his fifth-highest total in a game out of 75 outings.
While not known extensively for mobility, Bradford used his legs more against Dallas and at Jacksonville. The Vikings offensive line didn't allow a sack, and press box statisticians tallied two hits (both by Malik Jackson) of the quarterback.
Contain and sack: Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles entered the game ranked third in rushing yards by a quarterback, but Minnesota's defensive line bottled up Bortles for much of the game. He finished with three carries for 13 yards and was sacked four times.
Everson Griffen led the Vikings with 2.0, giving him 8.0 on the season, and Brian Robison and Danielle Hunter each added to their totals. Robison has 7.0, and Hunter has 10.5 on the year.
Zimmer might have been even more pleased with preventing scrambles than the four pack of sacks.
"We only let the quarterback out of the pocket once, which was a big key," Zimmer said.
View game action images as the Vikings battle the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field.
Young safety steps in: The Vikings started second-year pro Anthony Harris in place of Harrison Smith.
Harris held his own and was credited with seven solo tackles by press box statisticians.
Zimmer said Harris did "good" a year and a day after making his first career start at Arizona, but did add that he could have done better on the touchdown by Jacksonville.
Rookie reserve safety Jayron Kearse helped out on special teams, blocking a punt that traveled just 29 yards, which helped the Vikings manage a third game in a row without punt return specialist Marcus Sherels. Thielen returned one punt for nine yards and allowed one to be downed by the Jaguars. The other two landed out of bounds.