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Vikings Opportunistic Defense Pounces on Turnovers in Win

MINNEAPOLIS — The Vikings led by a pair of touchdowns early in the fourth quarter as the Buccaneers offense crossed midfield looking to make it a one-possession game.

But Tampa Bay quarterback's Jameis Winston's next pass hung in the air a little too long and was corralled by Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo, whose interception return put Minnesota in field goal range.

The Vikings took advantage and added three points to push their lead to three scores on the way to a 34-17 win in Week 3.

"He threw it right to me. I should have caught it," Sendejo said. "That was pretty much it. The guys up front did a great job of creating pressure, and he just kind of laid it up for me."

Sendejo's teammates knew the magnitude of what the interception meant in terms of stunting Tampa Bay's momentum.

"It was huge," said Vikings safety Harrison Smith. "He gets a god return, and we get a field goal out of it to go back up by three scores. That was big."

Added Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks: "Our whole sideline got juiced. We were hungry. We knew what the dynamics of the game were."

Sendejo's grab was one of three interceptions the Vikings opportunistic defense tallied against Winston on Sunday.

Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes and Smith also each had one against the former No. 1 overall draft pick.

The Vikings finished plus-11 on turnovers for the 2016 season, a stat in which Minnesota ranked tied for fourth in the NFL.

Minnesota was minus-1 in the department entering Sunday's game but are now plus-2 in that department.

"Whoever wins the turnover battle usually wins the game in the NFL," Smith said. "(Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer) was kind of on us and bearing on it so getting three was big."

All three of Minnesota's interceptions came as Tampa Bay was looking to score.

Smith and Waynes both nabbed their picks near the goal line. Sendejo secured his on the 29-yard line.

"They were all down when they were getting into scoring territory," Sendejo said. "So that was all big time to get turnovers in that area of the field and give the offense the ball back."

Added Vikings defensive end Brian Robison: "It's great for us and it's demoralizing for them. We definitely need to have those turnovers and put our offense in a good field position to be able to score."

Winston finished with 328 passing yards and two touchdowns but had a passer rating of just 80.0 thanks in part to the three interceptions.

Minnesota's defense was buoyed by a strong day from a Vikings offense that put up 494 yards. As a result, the Vikings allowed just 26 yards on nine carries.

"The offense did a great job," Kendricks said. "It being 21-3 at one point changed the dynamic of the game.

"It makes them more pass-heavy. We were doing a good job stopping the run," Kendricks added. "Anytime we can do that, it's team football."

Of course, those three interceptions from a hungry defense didn't hurt either.

"Of course we'd been talking about it," said Vikings defensive tackle Linval Joseph. "At the end of the day, you want to get two turnovers a game. Today, we got three. It was a good start, but we now have to keep doing this every week."

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