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3 things we learned about the Vikings

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DENVER — Peyton Manning put the Denver Broncos in position to win, and then the defense secured it.

Brandon McManus kicked three field goals, including a 39-yarder with 1:51 remaining, and the Broncos hung on to beat the Minnesota Vikings 23-20 Sunday to remain undefeated.

“You’re going to play in a lot of close games football games and you better know how to win those,” Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. “The thing that I love about the football team is I think it has the belief that it’s going to find a way.”

Manning, shaking off two interceptions, led the Broncos into position for the tie-breaking score with C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman also contributing key runs. Hillman had 103 yards rushing, including a 72-yard touchdown run.

McManus has converted all eight of his field-goal attempts this season, including a 33-yarder and 47-yarder prior to the game winner.

“We’re trying to get it down there as close as we can and put us in touchdown position; if not, make it as short a field goal as possible,” Manning said. “(McManus) has been outstanding. He is kicking with a lot of confidence. It’s great to have him on the team.”

Denver, off to a 4-0 start for the seventh time in franchise history and the second time in the last three years, sealed the win when blitzing safety T.J. Ward ended the last-ditch possession of Minnesota (2-2) at midfield by sacking quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and forcing a fumble that linebacker Von Miller recovered. Bridgewater, who was sacked seven times, previously extended the drive with an 11-yard run on third-and-10.

“I think they’ve got some great rushers,” Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer said. “We didn’t block them good enough to win. We didn’t play very well offensively in the first half. I thought we had to get used to the speed of their defense. We didn’t start off very good that way.”

What we learned about the Vikings:

1. A month into his return after missing all of last season, Adrian Peterson already re-established himself as one of the NFL’s elite running backs. His line opened up a big hole for him on a fourth-and-inches play, but Peterson’s acceleration through the line of scrimmage was breathtaking. He turned what began as a short burst into a 48-yard touchdown run that got the Vikings back in the game. He finished with 81 yards on 16 carries.

2. The Vikings are discovering some depth in their wide receiving corps. Charles Johnson missed the game because of a rib injury. Mike Wallace led the way with eight catches for 83 yards and a touchdown, but young wideouts Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen also made their presence felt in Johnson’s absence. They each had six receptions, combining for 157 yards.

3. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is increasingly asserting himself as a leader with a willingness to deflect criticism aimed at teammates by putting it on his own shoulders. When asked about the offensive line’s role in surrendering seven sacks, Bridgewater said, “This isn’t a finger-pointing session.” He added that he bore some of the responsibility. “Maybe if I throw the ball away or something like that — throw the ball in the dirt and live to see another down — avoid some sacks, then maybe we’ll be in a different ballgame.”

Etc.

–K Blair Walsh missed his first field-goal attempt, a 38-yarder, wide left, then came back to convert a 38-yarder and a 33-yarder that tied the game up briefly in the fourth quarter. However, his miss was what coach Mike Zimmer remembered. “It was disappointing,” Zimmer said. “He needs to make those kicks.”

–CB Xavier Rhodes had a tough day in the secondary, getting flagged three times. He was called for pass interference and a horse-collar tackle during a drive that ended in a Broncos touchdown in the third quarter and drew another pass-interference call during the fourth-quarter drive that ended in a tiebreaking field goal by Denver.

–LB Anthony Barr set up a Vikings touchdown when he intercepted a Peyton Manning pass and returned it 32 yards to Denver’s 27-yard line. The second-year man is making strides as a playmaker for the Vikings. He led the team with a career-high 12 tackles in the season-opening loss to San Francisco and had a sack and forced fumble on Sept. 27 in a win against San Diego. Barr was the ninth overall selection out of UCLA in the 2014 draft and the first player taken during Mike Zimmer’s head-coaching tenure.


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