The Minnesota Vikings mounted seven scoring drives Sunday afternoon against the Baltimore Ravens.
Sure, six of them resulted in field goals by Kai Forbath, but it turned out to be plenty as the Vikings won comfortably 24-16 at U.S. Bank Stadium to move all alone into first place in the NFC North thanks to the Green Bay Packers’ loss.
Forbath’s six field goals were a career high, Latavius Murray’s 113 yards were a season high and the Vikings outgained an undermanned Ravens offense 357-208 in yards.
“I told the team all week long, this was going to be a grind today,” said head coach Mike Zimmer, who’d coached against Baltimore many times as the Bengals defensive coordinator. “I know how the AFC North teams play. I was in that division for six years.”
Forbath made three field goals in each half, including two beyond 50 yards, to pace the Vikings, who had a hard time reaching the red zone.
Minnesota led 9-6 at halftime as Forbath exchanged kicks with Justin Tucker. But the Vikings running game awakened in the second half, and quarterback Case Keenum played mistake-free football in the final two quarters after throwing a first-half interception that led to three Baltimore points.
Murray was the offensive star of the game for Minnesota as he converted runs of 29 and 35 yards, the former going for Minnesota’s only touchdown to make the score 18-6 in the third quarter. After Jerick McKinnon carried the load on the ground for the previous two games, Murray had by far his best performance.
In three contests without rookie starter Dalvin Cook (knee), the Vikings ground game has produced 147 yards per game, which would currently rank second in the NFL over the entire season.
“It felt really good,” said Murray. “It felt like it had just been a while, and I wanted to be productive for the team, so today I felt good about that.”
Minnesota struggled to get the passing game going without Michael Floyd (hamstring) or Stefon Diggs (groin), but Jarius Wright stepped up with three receptions for 54 yards, two of them coming in diving fashion and two of them converting third downs.
“Whenever my number’s called, I’ll make a play,” said Wright, who has been in and out of the rotation the past two years.
The Vikings defense continued playing at a high level, making some of the team’s offensive inadequacies moot.
Everson Griffen recorded two of the team’s five sacks to extend his sack streak to seven consecutive games to begin the season, becoming the first Viking since Jim Marshall to accomplish the feat. Anthony Barr rebounded from a concussion last week to make 11 tackles against the Ravens, including a sack of his own. And the Vikings were stifling against the run once again, allowing just 3.2 yards per carry on the ground.
Minnesota has now held six of its seven opponents below 20 points.
“When we play together,” said Barr, “It’s hard to beat us.
“Cohesiveness, the trust that we’ve built and the friendships that we’ve built, we are a pretty close group.”
The Vikings finished the game with their third-string left guard and second-string right tackle after Jeremiah Sirles and Riley Reiff went down with knee injuries.
Sirles was hurt late in the second quarter when a falling player landed on his knee and was replaced by rookie Danny Isidora. Sirles, already filling in for the injured Nick Easton, was seen in the locker room with a sleeve on his right knee.
Reiff exited in the third quarter with a knee injury of his own and was replaced by Rashod Hill. Reiff stayed in uniform on the sideline and continued to sit in on the offensive line meetings.
It was certainly a dose of deja vu for the Vikings after getting their offensive line decimated a season ago, but the fill-ins performed well in relief, particularly Isidora, who laid a key block on Baltimore’s Brandon Williams to clear the way for Murray’s touchdown run.
“To not notice any of the operation or anything else, I think that’s a really good thing,” said Keenum of the injuries. “I think we kept our foot on the gas pedal and came down and scored again.”
Zimmer was optimistic about the injury situation after the game.
“I don’t think it’s anything serious,” said Zimmer. “We’ll see with these other guys. Hopefully we’ll get Easton back next week, and we’ll go from there.”
Minnesota has kept Keenum from being sacked in three consecutive games, including his second-half appearance in Chicago. He was last sacked in the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions in Week 4. According to Pro Football Focus, Keenum has the lowest sack percentage under pressure of any NFL quarterback.
Headed to London
The Vikings will stay in town until Wednesday night and then leave for London, where they’ll play next Sunday against the winless Cleveland Browns.
Zimmer said the team will be arriving a day earlier than most teams do after hearing presentations from sleep experts on how to manage the week’s schedule.
“I was looking into all the scientific things for this,” said Zimmer, who has never coached a game in London.
The last time Keenum played overseas, he threw four interceptions in a 17-10 loss against the New York Giants.
Minnesota’s last London game in 2013 resulted in a 34-27 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers.