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Vikings take confidence from holding onto wobbly victory

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The Sports Xchange

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — In hindsight, Sunday’s wobbly finish by the Minnesota Vikings against the visiting Kansas City Chiefs should serve as a useful lesson in overall team perseverance and the messy art of closing out a game in today’s evenly-matched NFL.

But in real time, the sputtering finish to a 16-10 win at TCF Bank Stadium wasn’t particularly enjoyable for a Vikings team that’s 3-2 and now heading to Detroit to play a Lions team it has already beaten by 10 points this season.

“I had to get my pacemaker readjusted after that one,” joked coach Mike Zimmer of the Chiefs game.

“I’m already going bald and that stressed me out a little bit more,” added cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.

It sure didn’t start out that way. When the Vikings led 10-0 at halftime, the Chiefs had 51 yards of offense, 50 yards in penalties and hadn’t driven the ball farther than the Vikings’ 46-yard line.

The Vikings extended their lead to 13-0 in the third quarter when Blair Walsh made the second of his three field goals during a sigh-of-relief 3-for-3 afternoon on field-goal attempts.

The Chiefs finally scored when they kicked a field goal with 13 minutes left in the game. But purple pulses began to quicken about 2 1/2 minutes later when quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw his second interception of the game. About 2 1/2 minutes after that, Zimmer sent a seven-man blitz against a screen pass on third-and-10.

“I wish I had that one back,” Zimmer would say after wide receiver Albert Wilson slipped past the charging defenders for a relatively easy 42-yard touchdown that made it 13-10.

From there, the Vikings managed to hold on against a one-win Chiefs team that was missing running back Jamaal Charles, its best offensive player, who is out for the season with a torn ACL.

After Walsh’s third field goal, a 45-yarder, the Chiefs were on the move when tight end Travis Kelce caught a 37-yard pass. But running back Charcandrick West fumbled on the next play when Chiefs left tackle Donald Stephenson inadvertently punched the ball loose while blocking rookie defensive end Danielle Hunter. The other defensive end, Brian Robison, recovered the fumble.

The Chiefs got the ball back with plenty of time to score, but threw four straight incompletions.

Afterward, the Vikings were able to enjoy the confidence-building exercise at the end of the game. In the end, they were able to overcome interceptions by Bridgewater in the red-zone and the fourth quarter. They also were able to overcome an afternoon in which their No. 2-ranked running game could muster only 2.4 yards per carry overall and just 2.3 from Adrian Peterson, who needed 26 carries to gain 60 yards.

“This,” Peterson said, “was a good team victory.”

REPORT CARD VS. CHIEFS:

–PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus. In just his second game after three weeks as a game-day inactive, rookie fifth-round draft pick Stefon Diggs has emerged as the team’s best receiver. His speed, instincts and precise route-running has gained quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s trust and attention. Diggs had game highs in targets (nine), catches (seven) and yards receiving (129). But this wasn’t a highlight game for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. He threw two ill-advised passes that could have lost the game. In the first half, he was intercepted in the red zone when he tried to force a ball to tight end Kyle Rudolph. In the fourth quarter, he got greedy on a deep ball that was intercepted and turned into seven points in a game that became closer than it should have been.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: D. The offensive line was dominated for most of the game by a Chiefs defensive front that was determined not to get pushed around. The Vikings came in ranked No. 2 in rushing. They finished with 84 yards on 35 carries (2.4). Adrian Peterson needed 26 carries to gain only 60 yards (2.3). But there was a significant highlight. Coach Mike Zimmer went for it on 4th-and-1 at the Kansas City 42-yard line in the second quarter. The play call was Peterson up the middle. He gained three yards to extend a touchdown drive that gave the Vikings a 10-0 lead.

–PASS DEFENSE: C-plus. The Vikings dominated the game in all phases defensively for nearly three full quarters. But there were some hiccups against the pass down the stretch. One of them was the result of Zimmer making the wrong call at the wrong time. He sent seven defenders on a 3rd-and-10 blitz against a screen pass. The Chiefs lean so heavily on the screen that even Zimmer admits he’d like to have a mulligan on that call. The result was a 42-yard touchdown pass and stressful end to what should have been a much easier win. The Vikings also gave up a 39-yard pass to Jeremy Maclin into the red zone in the third quarter and a 37-yarder to tight end Travis Kelce. It took a 4th-and-1 stop to negate Maclin’s big gain and a fumble to erase Kelce’s big play.

RUSH DEFENSE: A-plus. Granted, the Chiefs were without their best player, running back Jamaal Charles. But the Vikings still had one of their best run-stuffing performances of the Mike Zimmer Era. The run defense has been up and down for the past two years, but Sunday, the Vikings were consistently good, holding the Chiefs to 57 yards on 18 carries (3.2). The highlight came when the Chiefs tried to run up the middle on 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1 from the Vikings’ 7-yard line. With the Vikings holding on to a 13-0 lead, linebacker Anthony Barr stuffed fullback Anthony Sherman for no gain on third down, while defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd shot through a gap to drop Charcandrick West for no gain on fourth down.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A. The punt team could have done better, but Sunday was about kicker Blair Walsh beginning the process of reestablishing his confidence. He made a 24-yard field goal to give the Vikings a 3-0 lead. No big deal there. But then he made two 45-yarders. One of them gave the Vikings a 13-0 lead and the other was a calming moment that gave the Vikings a little fourth-quarter breathing room at 16-10. Walsh had missed two mid-range field goals and an extra point in three of the first four games. For him to go 3-for-3 with two mid-range makes in a game the Vikings won by six was a big moment for the special teams.

COACHING: B. Zimmer was too aggressive with a seven-man blitz against a screen-heavy team. That resulted in a 42-yard touchdown that put the Chiefs within three points. But, overall, Zimmer’s defense dominated for most of the game and had enough juice left at the end to make some game-clinching plays. Offensively, the problems were more with execution. Bridgewater threw the two picks and the line couldn’t create running room for Peterson. But offensive coordinator Norv Turner probably got a little too conservative a little too early. Overall, this was a win that will serve as a teaching moment for how to finish games in the future.


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