The Vikings minimized mistakes and then forced and took advantage of many New York Giants mistakes to register a 49-17 victory on Sunday night in the final regular season game the team will play at TCF Bank Stadium. The Vikings were penalized just twice and didn't turn the ball over, while they scored 14 points off of Giants turnovers and dominated the field position battle along the way to a win that clinched their first playoff berth since 2012 and has them primed for next week's NFC North division championship in Green Bay.
Here are five reasons why the Vikings came out on the right side of Sunday night's game…
**The Vikings didn't have a single turnover and they took it from the Giants three times. That's an equation that will lead to a lot of wins. The three takeaways were all INTs of Eli Manning, increasing Manning's career INT total against the Vikings to 14. The Viking scored 14 points off those three turnovers, including a 35-yard TD return by Harrison Smith in the 2nd quarter that gave the Vikings a 16-3 lead. Andrew Sendejo had the first INT after Xavier Rhodes tipped Manning's pass and Captain Munnerlyn grabbed the third INT in the middle of the 3rd quarter; Munnerlyn returned his pick to the NYG 4 and two plays later Adrian Peterson plunged into the end zone to increase the Vikings advantage to 29-3. QB Teddy Bridgewater deserves credit for protecting the football but also picking his spots to be aggressive, such as the 28-yard TD pass to Kyle Rudolph and a few clutch connections with Jarius Wright early in the game.
2. Field position
**There were no scores in the first six possessions of the game, but the Vikings turned that around quickly when on the Giants third possession Eli Manning was sacked by DE Danielle Hunter on 3rd and 10. That forced a Giants punt that was fair caught by Marcus Sherels near midfield. With favorable starting field position, the Vikings offense drove 40 yards in 8 plays to score on a Blair Walsh FG. From that point forward, the Vikings generated quality field position by playing complementary football and scored on 8 of the next 9 possessions. The offense did its part by sustaining drives and scoring points, the defense did its part by getting off the field on 3rd downs (NYG were 1 for 11 on 3rd down) and the special teams did its part by holding the Giants to 20.3 yards per kickoff return and 6.0 yards per punt return.
All told, the average starting field position for the Vikings was 21 yards better than the Giants, with the Vikings starting at the -44 on average and the Giants starting at the -23 on average.
3. Defending Adrian Peterson was taxing for the Giants defense
**Adrian Peterson didn't put up monstrous numbers, but it was yet another 100-yard game for the NFL's leading rusher – his seventh of the season – and offensive coordinator Norv Turner called his number 22 times. The more important number of the two may be the attempts number because it forced the Giants defense to continue run blitzing and overplaying the run, which in turn opened up some things in the passing game and it kept the Vikings on schedule in the down and distance.
4. Blair Walsh connected on all 5 FG attempts
Blair Walsh missed a PAT in the 2nd quarter, but he was perfect other than that. Walsh hit from 32, 52, 22, 53 and 27 yards. TDs are certainly preferable to FGs, especially in the red zone, but salvaging scoring drives with FGs time after time can help win games when your defense is playing as well as the Vikings was. Particularly important for Walsh on Sunday night were the two 50-yarders. The first was from 52 yards and increased the Vikings lead to 19-3 right before halftime. A miss there would've given the Giants a boost going into halftime, especially with the Giants scheduled to receive the opening kick of the second half. The second 50-yarder was good from 53 yards and increased the lead to 32-3, but just as importantly it kept the Vikings ahead in the field position battle. A miss there would've kept the lead at 29-3 and would've given the Giants possession at the -42. Ultimately, the 5 for 5 performance should also give Walsh confidence heading into a huge Week 17 game at Lambeau Field.
5. Role players stepped up again
Under the bright lights of Sunday Night Football and with three key defensive starters coming back, it was a handful of role players who showed up once again and factored significantly into the outcome. Hunter, who is playing as well as any rookie in the NFL, had yet another sack early in the game. DT Tom Johnson had 2.0 sacks, Brian Robison had a sack, Sendejo had the INT, Wright stepped up with three big catches for 57 yards and RB Jerick McKinnon was productive with 9 touches for 97 yards and 2 TDs.