The Minnesota Vikings stand at 6-2 after their 21–18 overtime win over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, but nobody in Minnesota's locker room was talking too much about the win, or about the team's second half of the season and where things could go from here. Instead, the focus was on the hit Rams defensive back Lamarcus Joyner laid on quarterback Teddy Bridgewater early in the fourth quarter. The optics were not good for Joyner, who appeared to be targeting a sliding quarterback. Referee Ron Torbert's crew threw a flag on the play, but it wasn't the first time in the game the Vikings were angry about an uncalled penalty they thought should have been called as a result of defensive play that went over the line. And there seemed to be questions about whether Joyner should still have been in the game.
Because Bridgewater was out of the game at that point, and his status for next Sunday's game against the Raiders is uncertain. He'll have to go through the league's concussion protocol throughout the week.
“I know that guy,” Joyner said after the game. “I grew up across the railroad tracks from him. My mom knows his mom. My dad knows his mom. I would never intentionally do a dirty play like that on Teddy Bridgewater. It was a bam-bam play. He's a taller-in-stature guy compared to me. I did not know he was to slide when I launched. He slid, and we connected. If I could take it back I would, because I'm not a dirty player.”
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer wasted no time addressing the hit after the game—it was the first thing on his mind as he stepped to the postgame podium.
“I thought it was a really hard-fought game. I know we played really clean on our side of the ball... I do know that there is a history there with their defensive coordinator. I'll leave it at that. We're a disciplined football team. We do things right. That's why we are the least-penalized team in the league, because we play by the rules, and we continue to play by the rules. Just because other teams don't do it, that doesn't mean we're going to do it.”
Zimmer was asked outright if he thought Joyner's hit was a cheap shot, and he said he believed it was, adding that “if we were out in the street, we probably would have had a fight.”
Vikings guard Brandon Fusco was even more outspoken.
“He’s full of crap,” Fusco said when it was relayed to him that Joyner pled his innocence after the game. “I don’t agree with the hit. I think some of those players on that team are pretty cheap, to tell you the truth. I hope we see them again because it was a fun game to play in and a physical game. I just don’t like seeing our quarterback go down that way.”
Gregg Williams, the Rams' defensive coordinator, was one of the main instigators in the New Orleans Saints' BountyGate scandal from 2009 through 2011, and he served a protracted league suspension for his involvement—Williams allegedly encouraged his players with incentives to take opposing players out of the game with legal or illegal hits. Williams's rep will follow him throughout his career, and though it's unknown whether there was any sort of directive from the sideline in this case, Joyner's explanation really doesn't hold water when you watch the play.
The story of the game before the game was the matchup between two great running backs, Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, and the Rams' Todd Gurley, the most exciting rookie back the league has seen in years. Peterson won the statistical battle with 125 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries, while Gurley amassed 89 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. It certainly wasn't Gurley's best day, but he still ranks third all time in total rushing yards through the first six games of an NFL career—his 664 yards is behind only Eric Dickerson's 787 in 1983, and Peterson's 670 in 2007.
The Rams added different types of runs to their offensive palette with receiver Tavon Austin, who had 66 yards on just eight carries, but the real difference in this game was the relative inability of Rams quarterback Nick Foles to set the pace on offense. Foles finished his day with 18 completions in 33 attempts for 168 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. He frequently missed open receivers and continues to struggle under pressure.
Before his injury, Bridgewater had completed 13 of 21 passes for 144 yards, no touchdowns and an interception, and backup Shaun Hill completed just two of six passes for 15 yards after Bridgewater left the game. It was an ugly contest led by the kickers, especially the Rams' Greg Zuerlein, who attempted five field goals and made four—but the big narrative is obviously what happens for Bridgewater this week, and the NFL's response to Joyner's tackle.