It took overtime to do it, but the Vikings collected their fourth consecutive win on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium by defeating the St. Louis Rams 21-18. For the second consecutive week, it was a Blair Walsh walk-off field goal that provided the winning margin.
The win improves the Vikings to 6-2 and puts them in a tie atop the NFC North with Green Bay.
Here are five reasons the Vikings came out on top on Sunday…
1. Veterans stepped up
In what was a hard-hitting, physical, grinder of a game, several Vikings who've been through a lot games just like that stepped up to make a difference. Resilience was vital for the Vikings on Sunday, and veterans led the way. DT Linval Joseph was a one-man wrecking crew in the middle of the Vikings defense, finishing with 10 tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss and a half-sack. LB Chad Greenway stepped up and played more than usual with starting middle LB Eric Kendricks out; Greenway also had 10 tackles. CB Captain Munnerlyn was outstanding in the slot and made a number of open-field tackles after diagnosing WR screens. Offensively, Adrian Peterson stepped up by rushing for 125 yards and 1 TD on 29 carries and QB Shaun Hill stepped in for an injured Bridgewater to help guide the Vikings for the final 13:18 plus overtime.
2. Big plays on special teams
Special teams have played a particularly significant role in several Vikings wins this season, and Sunday's win over St. Louis was yet another illustration of that. Blair Walsh logged the biggest special teams play of all by nailing the 40-yard field goal in overtime to win it. But much like last week, it was a Marcus Sherels punt return that will likely go underrated but was certainly a huge play. Last week it was his 65-yard punt return TD in the 1st quarter that was significant for the Vikings. This week it was a 26-yard punt return down the right sideline following a 63-yard Rams punt in overtime. On the play, Sherels gained the edge and tip-toed for the final 10 or so yards, giving a second effort that produced better field position and eventually led to Walsh's game-winning kick.
3. Defense dominated
Sunday's win was a team win and provided another example of complementary football. But there's no question one could throw a lot of compliments toward the Vikings defense. They held the Rams to 2 of 16 (13%) on 3rd downs, an average of only 5.09 yards per pass attempt and one touchdown all game. Also, here's how the Rams final eight possessions ended: punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, missed FG, FG, punt.
4. Zimmer's overtime decision
It may have caused a double-take for some, but it was the right move at the time for the Vikings and it was instrumental in producing the sixth win of the season. The Vikings won the overtime coin toss and elected to choose which end to defend. Consequently, the Rams opened overtime with possession. But Zimmer knew two things: first, his defense was on fire and, secondly, the wind was a major factor in the game and having it at your back may turn out to be more advantageous than having the first possession of overtime. The Vikings kicked off, St. Louis promptly lost six yards and went three-and-out, and the Vikings took over on the minus-49. Six plays later and after 29 rushing yards (27 by Peterson), Zimmer sent Walsh onto the field to convert the game-winner.
5. Two-point plays
Executing and producing in critical situations is something coaches emphasize to their teams beginning with Day 1 of the offseason program and continuing through the final game of the season. A crucial play in football is the two-point conversion, and the Vikings had two of those plays in Sunday's win. They executed properly both times. The first two-point conversion play was after the Rams first and only TD of the game. They handed it to Todd Gurley and the rookie RB was promptly thwarted by DT Linval Joseph, leaving the score at 10-6 in favor of the Vikings. The second two-point conversion play came after Bridgewater's TD run. The Vikings called a passing play, but Bridgewater saw no one open and was pressured, so he escaped the pressure by scrambling to his right and eventually pulled the ball down and dove for the front right pylon to convert the two-point play and put the Vikings ahead by three points.
In a game that went to overtime and was decided by three points, executing better on a pair of two-point conversion plays to capture a four-point swing is significant.