On a crisp autumn day in Minnesota that provided perfect football weather, the Vikings found a way to stave off a late Kansas City Chiefs rally notch a 16-10 victory and move to 3-2. The victory was an illustration of complementary football, with all three phases of the Vikings stepping up at various times to chip in for the win.
Here are five reasons why the Vikings came out on the right side of Sunday's nail-biter...
1. The Defensive Line Dominated
Everson Griffen wasn't active, but the rest of his linemates stepped up and were at times dominant in the victory. The Vikings defensive front consistently won at the line of scrimmage, holding Kansas City to only 3.2 yards per carry on 18 rushing attempts and sacking QB Alex Smith twice. Five times with to-go distances of four yards or fewer, the Chiefs were stopped short of a 1st down while trying to run the ball. Perhaps the most impressive moment was a series with five minutes to go in the 3rd quarter when the Chiefs faced a 2nd and 4, ran the ball three straight times, and failed to register a 1st down. DT Linval Joseph teamed with LB Eric Kendricks to make the stop on 2nd down and then DT Sharrif Floyd made the stop on 4th down at the Minnesota 7 to give the ball back to the offense.
2. Rookies Stepped Up
Danielle Hunter got the call when it was determined Griffen was unable to go. And the 3rd-round rookie responded, sharing a sack with Floyd and getting his hand in on a key fumble late in the game. Hunter wasn't the only rookie who stepped up. WR Stefon Diggs followed up an impressive debut performance in Denver by starting on Sunday and leading the team in receptions and receiving yards with 7 and 129, respectively. Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer specifically pointed out Kendricks as someone who played well; he was unofficially credited with 10 tackles and also had 1.0 sack and 1 pass defensed. Credit should also go to TJ Clemmings, who was tasked with blocking All-Pro Justin Houston for most of the day and did an admirable job. Those four 2015 draft picks stepped up and all played key roles in Sunday's win.
3. Quality Play on Tough Downs
Both teams threw (and took) punches, but it was the Vikings who played better more frequently on crucial downs. The Vikings converted their only 4th down attempt, handing it to Adrian Peterson and watching him grind his way behind the right side for the 1st down; the Vikings scored a TD on that drive. The offensive also converted 35% of its 3rd downs, including four in the first half along the way to building a 10-3 halftime lead. Diggs was clutch on 3rd down, hauling in 3 of his 7 catches and averaging 20.0 yards per catch on that down. One of those conversions was a 3rd and 15 in which Bridgewater scrambled to buy time, Diggs broke open, and the two connected for 30 yards to extend the drive and eventually set up Walsh for his third FG on the day to give the Vikings a six-point lead.
Defensively, the Vikings held Kansas City to 3 of 12 (25%) on 3rd down. Key defensive plays on 3rd downs included sacks by Kendricks, Floyd and Hunter and then Captain Munnerlyn pass breakups on back-to-back 3rd down plays. The Chiefs were also 0-2 (0%) on 4th down, including the impressive series mentioned in item No. 1. Kansas City was also 0-2 in red zone TD%.
4. Blair Walsh was perfect
Walsh was a perfect 3 of 3 on FG tries Sunday, an important statistic in a game decided by six points. When offensive drives stalled, Walsh was there to salvage point and help the Vikings build a lead that would not be relinquished. Walsh was good from 24 yards and twice from 45 yards; he also converted his lone PAT attempt. Another important statistic in a close game is field position, and Walsh did his part there by blasting 3 touchbacks in five kickoffs, with Kansas City averaging just 19.5 yards per kickoff return on two attempts.
5. Complementary Football
There are a lot of ways to win a game. But the best way to win is to play complementary football. The Vikings defense dominated early, holding Kansas City to only 51 net yards, three 1st downs and 1 of 6 (17%) on 3rd downs. After Kansas City scored 10 straight points to pull to within 13-10, the Vikings offense responded with a 10-play, 53-yard drive that took four minutes off the clock and resulted in a Walsh FG. And the Vikings special teams was solid, with Walsh standing out in both the place kicking and kickoff phases. The coverage units also were sound, yielding only 63 yards on a 4 combined kickoff and punt returns.