MINNEAPOLIS —The Vikings defense and special teams have been able to sway momentum in games this season, but on Sunday they just piled on the fast-track start by Minnesota's offense.
Even though the Vikings were without starting receiver Stefon Diggs and lost right guard Brandon Fusco on their opening possession, Minnesota scored two touchdowns before Houston ran a fourth offensive play in **a 31-13 Vikings victory*** *at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Sam Bradford connected with Adam Thielen for a 36-yard touchdown to cap the Vikings opening drive, and Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata handled much of the movement for Minnesota's second possession that ended with a 1-yard touchdown by Asiata.
"I think it was 14-0 before I even sat down, so that's a big deal because now they're forced to be more one-dimensional and trying to keep up with us," linebacker Anthony Barr said. "If you're down 14-0, it's going to be tough to score three touchdowns against our team."
The Vikings (5-0) talked about the importance of stopping the Texans running game that was averaging 112.5 yards and 30 carries per game. They wanted to be stout against Lamar Miller who had rushed 93 times for 351 yards in the first four weeks of the season.
The quick offense and a **79-yard punt return for a touchdown** by Marcus Sherels that put the Vikings up 24-zip with 8:46 left in the first half took the ball out of Miller's hands.
He finished with eight carries for 20 yards, getting just one carry for a yard in the second half.
"I don't think running the ball was going to be able to get us back in the game as quickly as we probably needed to get back into the game," Houston Head Coach Bill O'Brien said.
Then, the Vikings were able to do what they've done best this season: contest passes at the start and finish of plays, putting quarterbacks under duress and challenging receivers for flying footballs.
"I'm probably the one that underestimates them the most," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said. "Each week when we go in to game plan, I'm the most miserable person in the world trying to figure out how to stop a team. They go out and they perform. I think they like to compete. I think they like to try prove how good they can be."
Minnesota recorded four sacks, 13 quarterback hits and eight passes defended, including two each by Terence Newman and Eric Kendricks. The Vikings didn't allow the Texans (3-2) to convert a third down until their final possession with about five minutes of game time remaining.
"Once we get to rushing the passer, we just leave that to the coaches because they know the game plan allows us to rush the passer the way we want," said Danielle Hunter, who won a race to Osweiler for his fourth sack of the season.
"We always talk about competing. We go out there and we compete against the other team, but there's always an inner competition going on with the defensive line," Hunter said. "All props to [defensive line coach Andre Patterson]. He's the main one making it happen."
The Vikings forced a fumble during one of two sacks by Brian Robison that Miller recovered, and Andrew Sendejo intercepted Osweiler to push the Vikings turnover margin to plus-11.
Osweiler finished 19-of-42 passing for 184 yards with a touchdown, the pick and a season-low passer rating of 56.1.
"I think he wasn't comfortable. I don't know that he was necessarily getting frustrated, but I don't think he was comfortable," Robison said. "We did a good job once we got in passing situations, we got around him and got some hits on him. We didn't let them just sit there and look down field. We had seen it all week, where if he was comfortable in the pocket, he was able to throw 40-, 50-yard bombs and score touchdowns, get big gains. When we're able to get around his feet, he can't look down field."
The Vikings defense limited DeAndre Hopkins (five catches for 56 yards and a touchdown) and Will Fuller V (one catch for four yards) to an average of 4.0 yards per target.
Johnson was credited with six hits on Osweiler by press box statisticians that included one sack. He narrowly lost a footrace with Hunter.
"I was trying to steal it and touch him, but he had already got him, but it's always good," Johnson said with a laugh. "It's always fun, guys flying around. At the end of the day, somebody is going to get back there. An offense has a lot on their plate to try to stop all of us at one time."
Barr said every quarterback is a little different, but he thinks the Vikings were able to limit Osweiler.
"Today, I felt like he was looking at the rush, looking at the linebackers more so than most guys do," Barr said. "I don't know if that's how he plays, or maybe through the course of the game it affected him. I feel like he took his eyes off his reads a couple of times, and it cost him."
Bradford manages pressure with precision: The Vikings weren't the only team to pressure a quarterback on Sunday. The Texans recorded two sacks and eight hits on Bradford, but he kept his composure and accuracy strong.
Bradford finished 22-of-30 passing for 271 yards with two touchdowns for a **season-high passer rating of 123.1**. It is the second-highest passer rating of his career, just shy of 134.6 in 2013 as a member of the Rams against the Texans.
The quarterback, who joined the Vikings on Sept. 3, said it was nice to start fast this week.
"It seems like it's taken us a little bit to get into a rhythm," Bradford said. "So, it was nice to kind of start the way we did and play with a lead. I think when we play ahead and give our defense a chance to get after the passer, I think that it's pretty tough on the team."
He connected with eight different players, led by Thielen's career-highs of seven catches for 127 yards. Bradford also completed four passes to Cordarrelle Patterson for 39 yards and a touchdown and Jarius Wright four times for 32 yards.
"This is my first week getting a chance to play, and Sam acts like he's been throwing to me all year," Wright said. "It was good to get a chance to get out there and help the team."
The Vikings are just the second team since 1933 to start a season 5-0 without throwing an interception, joining the 1969 Rams.
Filling in fine: Bradford started his fourth game with the Vikings, Asiata and McKinnon continued filling in for Adrian Peterson, the receivers stepped in for Diggs, and the offensive line continued to overcome injuries.
T.J. Clemmings started his third game ever at left tackle, Jeremiah Sirles started at right tackle in place of Andre Smith (elbow), and Zac Kerin filled in for Fusco.
"I think that's been the greatest thing about this team so far, just its resiliency," Bradford said. "We've overcome a lot of hurdles and some adversity early in the year. I think everyone understands when somebody goes down, it just means it's an opportunity for the next guy to come in and step up and play well."
Added Zimmer: "I keep saying this, we're a team. We're not a bunch of individuals. We're just going to keep fighting."
Interesting choice: The Texans had linebacker Brian Peters, who spent the 2015 offseason with the Vikings, handle duties for two kickoffs instead of kicker Nick Novak. Peters kicked the opener 66 yards with a hop that might have thrown off timing for Cordarrelle Patterson, who returned it 17 yards to the Minnesota 16. Peters' other kickoff traveled 57 yards and was angled toward Charles Johnson, who returned the ball 16 yards to the Minnesota 24.