Minnesota Vikings believe this can be special season

By The Sports Xchange  |  Nov. 20, 2017 at 7:41 PM
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings take good health, a strong offensive line, a dominant defense and the momentum of a six-game winning streak into what appears to be the most grueling three-game stretch of the season.

But they are 8-2, lead the NFC North by two games, hold the NFC's No. 2 seed and are starting to believe this can be a special season.

Next up: at Detroit (6-4) on Thanksgiving followed by two more road games in Atlanta (5-4) and Carolina (7-3).

"(Offensive coordinator) Pat Shurmur has been preaching it to us all year," said tight end Kyle Rudolph. "Just look around the league and why not us? Why can't it be us? ... We have a pretty good defense and they usually set us up in pretty good situations."

Sunday, the Vikings beat the Rams 24-7 at U.S. Bank Stadium. They used a raucous home crowd and a run defense that gave up just 45 yards to control a Rams team that had scored 117 points in their previous three games.

Meanwhile, Case Keenum gave another strong pitch that he, not the now-healthy Teddy Bridgewater, should be the quarterback who steers the team through at least the next three games. He threw for 280 yards and a touchdown, posted a 100.8 passer rating and didn't turn the ball over, although he did take a couple of risks that caused head coach Mike Zimmer to say, "He's got a horseshoe right now."

"It's going to be hard to yank him out of there right now," Zimmer added.

As for Keenum, he just smiled and said, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Whether it can stay unbroken the next three weeks will say a lot about just how good this team really is.

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Tight end David Morgan shook his head when asked about his 5-yard reception in Sunday's 24-7 win over the Rams.

What looks like an ordinary reception in the stat book was anything but that in terms of how much time quarterback Case Keenum had to look over the defense, roll to his right, stop, look some more and then finally dump the ball to Morgan.

"I gave him my eyes and let him know I was there," said Morgan, who originally was in as an extra blocker on the play. "That's one of the longest times I've ever seen an NFL quarterback have to throw."

The Vikings had a seven-man protection called. The Rams rushed only four.

"They're rushing four, so they weren't getting by us," Morgan said. "I checked my guy and then came down to help other guys. And Case still had the ball and he's looking and looking."

Keenum has thrown 300 passes this year. He's been sacked five times.

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Anthony Barr, the player who altered the NFC North race by breaking Aaron Rodgers' collarbone a month ago, is at a loss for how officials want him to treat quarterbacks.

Barr wasn't flagged for taking Rodgers to the ground after a throw last month. But Sunday he was flagged and might be fined for a roughing-the-passer penalty against Rams quarterback Jared Goff.

As Goff released a pass, Barr closed, lowered his helmet and hit Goff in the chest.

"The ref said I hit him with my helmet, but, I mean, I honestly don't know what else I'm supposed to do," Barr said. "I tried to move so I didn't hit him in the head, and they still called it. Whatever, man."

That came two snaps after Kai Forbath missed a 48-yard field goal. The Rams were rolling right up to the 1-yard line. But that's where safety Anthony Harris stripped receiver Cooper Kupp of the ball and fell on it to preserve a 7-7 tie late in the first half.

"That was the play of the game," Barr said. "It changed the whole game. It could have been 14-7 at the half. And then our offense came out and went three-and-out to start the second half. It would have been a different game at that point."

NOTES: DE Brian Robison had a streak of 76 consecutive games played snapped when he missed Sunday's game because of a back injury. Stephen Weatherly got extra snaps in place of Robison and had a key tackle for loss in the red zone in the second quarter. ... DE Everson Griffen's streak of consecutive games with at least one sack was snapped on Sunday. Playing at less than 100 percent against mammoth left tackle Andrew Whitworth, Griffen couldn't get near Jared Goff. Griffen's streak of eight consecutive games with a sack ties him for the franchise record with Jim Marshall in 1969 and Jared Allen in 2011. ... SS Andrew Sendejo missed his third game of the season. It was his second because of injury. He also was suspended for one game for unnecessary roughness. Anthony Harris replaced Sendejo for the third time, led the team in tackles and had a forced fumble that he recovered at the Vikings' 1-yard line. ... DE Danielle Hunter has 23.5 sacks to rank sixth in team history for a player in his first three seasons. He had one on Sunday. The leader is Jared Allen with 40. No. 5 on the list is Keith Millard at 25. ... WR Adam Thielen has 916 yards receiving through 10 games. That's the third-highest total through 10 games in franchise history. Randy Moss owns the top two spots with 1,023 in 2003 and 920 in 2000.

REPORT CARD VS. RAMS

--PASSING OFFENSE: A -- Case Keenum didn't turn the ball over, wasn't sacked and posted a 100.8 passer rating as he continued to hold off the team's move to a now-healthy Teddy Bridgewater. The offensive line was superb. Keenum has thrown 300 passes and been sacked only five times this year. This was the sixth game with no sacks, a franchise record for a season. Receiver Adam Thielen had six more catches for 123 yards, including one short grab that he turned into a 65-yard burst past two defenders for a touchdown.

--RUSHING OFFENSE: A-plus -- The offensive line blew open holes and running back Latavius Murray responded with 95 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries (6.3 average). Murray still lacks the speed and burst many expected, but he ran through arm tackles and busted through two defenders on his 2-yard touchdown run. As a team, the Vikings put up 171 yards and averaged 4.9 yards per carry.

--PASS DEFENSE: B -- It was sloppy on the first drive of the game. The Rams went no-huddle and marched right down the field to take a 7-0 lead. But after that, the Vikings contained Jared Goff. After that opening drive, Goff completed 19 of 32 passes for 175 yards. Strong safety Anthony Harris, who got his third start of the season in place of the injured Andrew Sendejo, stripped receiver Cooper Kupp of the ball and fell on it at the Vikings' 1-yard line late in the second quarter. With the score tied at 7-7, it changed the whole game.

--RUSH DEFENSE: A-plus -- Already ranked third in the league in run defense with 81 yards a game allowed, the Vikings slammed the Rams, holding them to 45 yards on 17 carries (2.6 average). Todd Gurley had 37 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries (2.5 average). After the opening drive, Gurley had only 17 yards on 11 carries.

--SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- Just as he got his extra-point woes corrected, Kai Forbath missed consecutive field goals of 48 and 39 yards before making a 39-yarder in the fourth quarter. He pushed the 48-yarder wide right and then hooked the 39-yarder off the left upright. Fortunately for him, the Rams turned those misses into a turnover and a three-and-out. Forbath had missed only one field goal in 16 games as a Viking before Sunday.

--COACHING: A-plus -- On the biggest stage of the season so far, the Vikings were energized, focused and dominant defensively against the league's highest-scoring team. The defense is healthy and stopping the run better than it ever has under head coach Mike Zimmer. That enables Zimmer to get creative and aggressive in third-and-long situations. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has an offensive line that went from the team's biggest weakness last year to its biggest strength this year. That has allowed Shurmur to play balanced, aggressive and creative football.

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