MINNEAPOLIS – Someone forgot to tell the Vikings linebackers that they were down a man in their convincing defeat of the Raiders.
Anthony Barr was inactive for Minnesota's game against Oakland because of a groin injury, but his teammates made up for the absence.
Eric Wilson, who started in place of Barr after starting last week for an injured Ben Gedeon, stood out on the field and the stat sheet alike. According to press box stats, he finished the day with a team-leading 11 tackles, 2.0 sacks, two tackles for loss and two quarterback hits.
"We moved around a little bit, it was a blitz, and it opened up wide," Wilson said of getting to Raiders quarterback Derek Carr for his second sack that preceded a missed 51-yard field goal. "I was determined not to let him evade, not to let him go to his back shoulder or the other way. So, I kind of squared him up and got him down."
Eric Kendricks called Wilson a "straight baller" and added that his performance came as no surprise to the team.
"Especially when we have a guy like Anthony Barr out, it's good for him to come in and perform like he did," Kendricks said. "He contributed big-time to this thing. He was a big part of the win."
Added safety Harrison Smith: "Eric has come in and played great for us prior to this game, so I don't think there was a doubt with that."
Wilson wasn't the only Eric to play a significant role in Sunday's home stand.
Kendricks seemed to be all over the field, and he made all seven of his tackles on run plays. The longest gain on a run play finished by Kendricks went for 7 yards; he was involved on three stops that resulted in 1-yard gains, and he combined with defensive end Danielle Hunter to stuff a fourth-and-1 attempt midway through the third quarter.
"They ran power flip earlier in the game, so I figured they had to come back to that power and really run it, so we were just aggressive," Kendricks described of the play. "As soon as they ran it, I knew they had it stopped, and it was just a lot of fun.
"The mentality was to be physical with the running back today," he added. "We knew they had a strong run game, a strong offensive line, so we took that mentality and we applied it."
Through the first two games of the season, the Raiders had totaled 227 yards on the ground, led by rookie Josh Jacobs. Oakland was allowed just 88 yards on the day by Minnesota, with Jacobs contained to 44.
"Coming in, I knew that they were a big, physical running team and they were gonna try to pound us and get the ball downfield five yards, three yards, they were just gonna try to chip away and create the play-action," Kendricks said. "Our mentality was to just stop that. They were double-teaming hard, so it was my job to get through and get tackles, and it happened."
The Vikings put plenty of pressure on Carr, as well.
In addition to Wilson's pair of sacks, defensive ends Everson Griffen and Hunter bagged a sack apiece.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer was pleased with the defensive line's performance and their rush attack on Carr. He pointed out that the Raiders stocked extra blockers at the line of scrimmage on nearly every third down.
"I think they were afraid of the blitzes," Zimmer said. "They gave us maximum protection, and they were able to beat that."
Fine by the Minnesota defense.
"We see maximum protection all the time," Zimmer later added. "People do not want us to blitz them, and so be it. We just get a chance to rush on tight ends, we get a chance to cover, and we get a chance to do some other things."
Among the "other things" Sunday was capitalizing on an opportunity when Carr faced pressure and overthrew his target early in the second quarter.
Smith read the play and put himself in an ideal position to snag the interception, which he returned for 13 yards. Fans watched the play unfold, and a stadium-wide cheer erupted before the Pro Bowl safety even secured the ball.
True to his nature, Smith called the pick "nothing crazy" and credited the defensive line for Carr forcing the throw. But Kendricks didn't allow the significance of the play to pass him by.
"Turnovers are the leading cause of winning games in the NFL, so [they're] huge," Kendricks said. "To get a ball like that and to catch it, it was big-time. We've gotta turn around and get a return [for touchdown] out of it, but that's for later. We'll watch film and get it right."
Minnesota's defense hoped to dominate early after getting off to a slow start last week, and it delivered.
Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph said the unit's performance reflected the team's identity.
"Our success is predicated off starting fast, running the football, playing good defense – and we did all that today," Rudolph said. "When we get a lead and we allow those guys to pin their ears back and rush the passer, I've played against them for the past five months, and it's not fun.
"They're really, really good at getting after the quarterback, and they did that today," he added.
The performance seemed fitting for a game that recognized the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Vikings team and started with Vikings Legend Jim Marshall sounding the Gjallarhorn.
Marshall was joined by Purple People Eaters Alan Page, Carl Eller and Gary Larsen for the pregame tradition.
Asked about putting together an "old-school" style football game in front of the defensive stalwarts, Smith said, "That's kind of the brand that we like."
"We like to be a tough team, a grind-it-out team," Smith said. "It's always good to see guys that came before you and what they did. We have a ton of respect for them and try to emulate them."