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Vikings-Panthers Notebook: Griffen's Relentlessness Helps Pass Rush

CHARLOTTE — Everson Griffen fought through an illness and then through the Panthers offensive line on Sunday.

Although he missed some reps in the Vikings convincing 22-10 victory, he didn't miss Cam Newton on multiple opportunities.

Griffen recorded 3.0 sacks for losses of a combined 37 yards and was credited with four of Minnesota's 12 quarterback hits tallied by press box statisticians.

"I was sick, but I fight for my team," Griffen said. "I love this game, I love the way we work, I love the way we play, I love the way we're disciplined, and we just go out there and work every single play. It's unbelievable. We're 3-0, and we got to keep it going.

"They're team sacks. Without the team, you don't get sacks," Griffen added. "We've got Linval [Joseph], he got a sack; [Danielle Hunter] got a safety; Harrison [Smith] got a sack. It's all around the board, man."

The Vikings sacked Newton a total of eight times, which tied the team's third-highest total in a road game. It was the most since 2003. Minnesota had nine on Dec. 20, 1970, in Atlanta and on Oct. 25, 1993, at Chicago.

Teammates and Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer were impressed by the resiliency of Griffen, who is in his third season as a starter and second in a row as a captain, and matched it with their own relentlessness.

"He continued to grind through it after he got some fluids and continued to push through," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "Three sacks on top of it in and NFL game. It's a credit to him and how he played. He cares about this football team and organization. You can tell it with how he plays."

Zimmer said trying to block Griffen is "an all-day affair."

"He's never going to take a play off," Zimmer said. "The great thing about him is that he is a tremendous football player, but he is a tremendous team player as well. I think he understands the help he gets from the other guys and the other guys understand the help that they get from him."

Hunter's safety, which occurred after the Vikings flipped field position for the first time and a holding penalty against Ed Dickson erased a 20-yard run was the first sack of Newton on the day. The second-year pro leveled Panthers left tackle Michael Oher and also plowed past left guard Andrew Norwell to hit Newton from behind.

"I think after Danielle got the safety, we kind of woke up," Barr said. "I think the first two drives we were sluggish for whatever reason, but once he got that sack, that really just kind of got us going. That was a huge play in the game, and we kind of just took off from there."

The two points began a run of 22 unanswered by the Vikings, who allowed 10 points in the game's first 10 minutes but zero for nearly the final 50.

Zimmer said he had the team play more coverage than in the past before going a little more exotic in the second half. The Vikings ability to build their lead reduced the role of the run game in a potent attack.

Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera noticed Zimmer increasing the Vikings approach, mentioning the plays that resulted in the sacks by Barr and Smith that were the first two this season by players not on the Vikings defensive line.

"The thing that happens is when you put yourself in position that you can attack, then you can do those things," Rivera said. "Once he got into that position, he went after it and they did some really good things.

"It looked like they had a [quarterback] spy with Anthony Barr. He kind of waited until he saw the opening and we went after it and got one of the big hits on Cam," Rivera said. "Another time, they overloaded and we didn't have enough blockers for them. That's when the safety came in and made the hit. So they did some good things because again, they were able to because they were in that position. We had a chance to take them out of that position early on and we didn't capitalize."

Next man up again

In a three-week span, the Vikings offense lost Teddy Bridgewater, Adrian Peterson and Matt Kalil. Sam Bradford made his second start in Minnesota at quarterback. Matt Asiata (six carries for 15 yards) and Jerick McKinnon (16 carries for 45 yards) shared responsibilities at running back, and T.J. Clemmings started his first game ever at left tackle.

Clemmings said he thought it went pretty well, but he's also looking forward to reviewing the film to

"I did some good things, but like always, there's some things I have to work on," Clemmings said. "I'd say it was solid, but I've got to watch the film and see what my coaches' corrections are and what I see myself that I can work on and improve. It was a good team win."

The Vikings also had to fill in at left guard during the game. Alex Boone, who joined the Vikings during free agency this spring, suffered a hip injury and was replaced by Jeremiah Sirles.

"Boone came out, and Jeremiah came in and we didn't miss a beat," Clemmings said.

After being limited to 26 yards on eight carries and netting eight passing yards in the first half because of two sacks of Bradford, the Vikings didn't suffer a sack in the second half and blended runs and passes to help even out time of possession after the break.

Zimmer said Boone is scheduled to have an MRI on Monday.

Bradford's bounce back

Bradford was limited to 4-of-11 passing for 26 yards in the first half of his first road start with the Vikings. He bounced back in the second half, going 14-of-17 passing for 145 yards and a touchdown to finish the day with a collective passer rating of 93.0.

"I think in the first half we just never really found the rhythm," Bradford said. "Obviously when you're not converting third downs it's hard to get in the rhythm. I have to do a better job on third down of extending drives, keeping us going, trying to get us into a rhythm early."

The second half included leading the Vikings on a scoring drive to start the third quarter, capped with a beauty of a throw that Kyle Rudolph coolly collected for a 15-yard touchdown. Rudolph led the Vikings with seven catches for 70 yards.

"He's a pretty good friend of the quarterback," said Bradford, noting that the two have connected off the field as well. "He's a big target, he has a wide catch radius, he has strong hands, and he seems to bring in everything that's around him. He is one of those guys where if you throw with him a few sessions, and you feel like you can trust him."

Six of Rudolph's catches occurred in the second half when Bradford also connected with Stefon Diggs three times for 32 yards, with Adam Thielen twice for 23, including a one-handed snag that gained 19 for Minnesota's longest offensive play of the day.

"I think it's just the trust that [Sam] has in all of us," Thielen said. "When a guy trusts you and he's going to throw you the ball, you better go get it. So you just keep that trust and keep getting opportunities. Just keep going out there and keep getting better every day, and I think another thing is, you see all these guys staying after with Sam and keep getting extra routes, and clearly it's proven to do well in games."

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