The Minnesota Vikings (4-2-1) have recaptured first place in the division, jumping over the idle Packers (3-2-1) and the suddenly scuffling Bears (3-3), who lost 38-31 to New England.
They did it with a 37-17 win over the New York Jets, running away from the AFC East foe, winners of two in a row themselves entering play.
Let’s look at some of the positives and negatives from MetLife Stadium.
The running game kept producing chunk plays
Latavius Murray rushed for touchdowns of 38 and 11 yards and Roc Thomas added a tout of 23 yards that continued the Vikings’ famine-famine-feast pattern in the rushing game.
Head coach Mike Zimmer was vocal all week — and again after the game — about staying patient with the run, and it’s now paid off two consecutive weeks as Murray has been one of the Vikings most productive players (behind Adam Thielen, that is).
It’s certainly easier to stick to the run when you’re leading, which the Vikings were most of the day. They ran it 24 times for a team total of 88 yards, though the average was depressed by a pair of huge losses by Stefon Diggs and Mike Boone.
Especially in the second half, though, the run game came alive as the Vikings continue to show improving balance on offense. Murray also had a pair of 10-yard runs nullified by penalty.
Adam Thielen narrowly kept his 100-yard streak alive
It looked a little dicey late as Thielen sat at 84 yards with the Vikings possibly going into clock-killing mode, but Kirk Cousins hit Thielen on a 3rd and 6 with 7:06 to go to propel Thielen above 100 yards and tie him with the late Charlie Hennigan for most 100-yard outputs to start a season.
Thielen began the game with a tumbling 34-yard touchdown catch on the opening drive and later added to his legend when FOX cameras caught him spitting blood on the sideline after Jamal Adams hit him helmet to helmet on a tackle.
Thielen’s new pace for the season: 153 catches, 1,879 yards, 11 touchdowns. His potential reception total would beat Marvin Harrison’s NFL record (143), and his potential yardage total would put him 85 yards shy of Calvin Johnson’s record mark (1,964).
Rookies stepped up
Zimmer was complimentary of his young players afterward, as he should have been. Brian O’Neill had another sturdy game at right tackle, Holton Hill recorded his first career interception, Brandon Zylstra made his first career catch, and Jalyn Holmes got his first career sack. Boone and Thomas also contributed in the run game.
With numerous injuries plaguing the Vikings coming into Sunday’s action — and several more popping up throughout the game — Minnesota’s depth has been and will be tested. Sunday’s performance was a win for a rookie class that many felt wouldn’t be impactful in 2018.
The Jets were the second-most opportunistic defense in the league with 15 takeaways. Sunday they recorded none, while the Vikings feasted on rookie Sam Darnold, intercepting three passes and recovering a fumble off a botched QB-RB exchange.
All three interceptions came in the second half, and all three came within the first three plays of the Jets’ drive. It’s fair to assume the quick picks helped wear down a tiring Jets defense, which had to take the field eight times in the second half.
Cousins also snapped a four-game streak of having a lost fumble.
Injuries keep piling on
Minnesota entered play with five starters out and added three more to the list by the time the game had ended. Tom Compton left with a knee injury, Anthony Barr with a hamstring and Xavier Rhodes with an ankle.
Zimmer downplayed the injuries to Barr and Rhodes afterward without commenting on Compton, but any missed time for the trio could severely thin the Vikings in several areas.
Compton’s absence left just one reserve lineman on the bench in Brett Jones as Danny Isidora entered in Compton’s place. Eric Wilson came in for Barr, leaving just one addition linebacker (Kentrell Brothers), and Hill replaced Rhodes (and caught an interception on his first play after the injury). Without Mike Hughes, who tore his ACL the week prior, Minnesota was down to just Marcus Sherels as a reserve corner.
Getting at least a few of their eight injured starters back would be massive against the streaking New Orleans Saints (5-1) next Sunday night.
The Vikings held the Jets to 2 for 13 on third down, but their offense managed an even worse result, going 2 for 15 with zero conversions in the first half.
Minnesota has been below 40 percent on third down four of the past five weeks, with Sunday’s effort being the worst of the bunch. Though there was gusting wind throughout the game, Zimmer denied that the wind had much bearing on the passing game.
More batted balls
Speaking of the passing game, Cousins had at least three more passes batted at the line of scrimmage Sunday after having six the previous week. Cousins entered the game tied with Joe Flacco for the most batted balls in football (11). He’ll likely be the leader by himself heading into Week 8.
The swirling wind seemed to play tricks on receivers, punt returners and kickers throughout the day, so Bailey’s 42-yard miss wasn’t totally unexpected. It was jarring, though, to see a makeable field goal appear to be short of the crossbar, as well as wide to the left.
Bailey also had a 22-yard field goal that barely snuck inside the right upright.
As kicking woes continue to infect the league, the veteran Bailey has not been immune.