With his team leading by 14 points in the fourth quarter, Everson Griffen finally got to the quarterback. His sack of DeShone Kizer virtually clinched the game for the Minnesota Vikings and extended Griffen’s remarkable sack streak to eight consecutive games.
It also fulfilled a vow Griffen made a month ago, when he said the Vikings needed to go 4-0 in the second quarter of the season following a 2-2 start. With a 33-16 win over the Cleveland Browns, Griffen and the Vikings accomplished just that.
Minnesota heads into its bye week on a four-game winning streak and will fly home from London perhaps more relieved than anything. The plucky Browns led the game 16-15 in the third quarter before a series of blunders put the Vikings in the driver’s seat.
Jerick McKinnon scored a 1-yard touchdown after Adam Thielen drew a pass interference call in the end zone, then added a 2-point conversion to put the Vikings in front 23-16. On the next Minnesota possession, the Browns committed three defensive penalties to set up Case Keenum for a 4-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph, giving Minnesota its first two-possession lead at 30-16.
McKinnon finished with 122 yards from scrimmage, with 72 of them through the air — his second-highest total all time. Head coach Mike Zimmer said after the game that Pat Shurmur instructed Keenum to use his check-down option more frequently, which worked well as McKinnon made receptions of 20, 16, 12 and 11 yards.
Thielen had another outstanding game with five receptions for 98 yards, including a first-half touchdown catch and first-class celebration. He extended his own streak of having five receptions or more in each game this season, but he came up just shy — again — of having another 100-yard receiving game. Thielen has yardage totals of 96, 98 and 98 this year. He started the season with a 157-yard performance against New Orleans.
The Vikings offense got moving in the second half after struggling to find a rhythm in the first half, taking a 13-12 deficit into the locker room. Keenum recovered from an early interception for the second straight week to finish 27-of-43 for 288 yards and two touchdowns.
Minnesota will have a decision to make with the quarterback situation after the bye with Teddy Bridgewater potentially getting activated and Sam Bradford perhaps returning to health. If this was Keenum’s final game, he deserves myriad accolades for getting the Vikings to the bye week in control of the NFC North.
Defensively, the Vikings were a bit more porous than usual, though their 16 points allowed was still below their season average (17). Minnesota allowed 115 yards on the ground, tying a season-high. They fell behind early following a 26-yard touchdown run by Isaiah Crowell that featured a missed tackle by Anthony Harris, who was filling in for the suspended Andrew Sendejo. Xavier Rhodes also allowed a deep reception by Ricardo Louis on the sideline that kickstarted Cleveland’s second touchdown drive late in the first half.
But all in all, the defense bore down in the second half, holding Cleveland under 100 total yards until the Browns’ meaningless final drive. All three of their sacks came once they had built a two-touchdown lead.
Very few of the Vikings’ wins have been aesthetically pleasing this season, but that shouldn’t matter. They are starting to resemble the 2015 division championship team that also started 2-2 before rattling off a long winning streak.
Now the test will be to handle the bye week better than last season, when they lost four games in a row after their hiatus. This year, Minnesota has four of five road games after its bye, starting with a Week 10 test at Washington.