Resilience after rough starts has been hallmark of Vikings
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) Consider that dreadful performance by the Minnesota Vikings in their season opener a fumbled handoff.
They've quickly recovered.
Their 28-19 victory over Detroit on Sunday could be summed up as such, too. The Vikings trumped an early deficit against the Lions with a commanding finish, again displaying the type of calm confidence in their ability and their strategy that can portend a trip to the playoffs.
''We started off a little slow, but we fought back,'' defensive end Everson Griffen said. ''Yesterday we became a better team. We found a way to overcome adversity during the game, and that's what you want to see.''
The Vikings (4-2) overwhelmed the Lions from the second quarter on, limiting them to 139 total yards over the final 45 minutes of the game while sacking Matthew Stafford seven times.
Teddy Bridgewater, despite taking a bunch of hard hits himself, had the best game of his young career. Adrian Peterson reeled off a 75-yard run. Smart clock management allowed Blair Walsh, as time expired in the first half, to kick one of five field goals he made on the afternoon.
''This is a resilient team. We could have easily shut it down being down that quick on the road in a hostile environment,'' Walsh said, ''but that's not in our DNA.''
The Vikings have not beaten an opponent with a winning record. Those opportunities will come steadily throughout the second half of the schedule.
Good teams win at least a handful of games on the road, though, and the victory over albeit-sputtering Detroit was step one. Good teams, too, bounce back from bad days and rough starts.
''I think our guys have a lot of confidence as we continue to move forward,'' coach Mike Zimmer said on Monday.
The Vikings hadn't won on the road against a division foe since beating Detroit on Sept. 30, 2012, and were 1-15-1 against the NFC North away from home since the victory at Green Bay on Nov. 1, 2009, until vanquishing the Lions.
''This team is very hungry. We work our tails off. From Monday to Sunday, we're always working. We're always in the lab trying to get better,'' cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said.
Fueled by the emergence of rookie wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who has 324 yards on 19 receptions in the first three NFL games he's played in, Bridgewater found quite a groove on Sunday. He completed 25 of 35 passes for 316 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, connecting with 11 different receivers. The focus by the Lions on stopping Peterson created an opportunity for play-action fakes.
''Teddy was back there spinning it,'' Diggs said.
The defense has been rather quietly developing into one of the best in the league under Zimmer, whose blitz-heavy scheme has worked well for decades considering his time as a defensive coordinator for Dallas and Cincinnati.
The Vikings are seventh in the NFL in yards per game allowed and tied for second in points given up per game. They haven't been racking up sacks or turnovers like some of the league's best units, but that's actually a sign that the strategy is working as long as the opponent's score stays low.
With Griffen leading a strong front four, linebackers Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Chad Greenway and safety Harrison Smith have been able to supplement the pass rush with well-timed blitzes. Munnerlyn and defensive tackle Linval Joseph have made major strides in their second season under Zimmer, after slow starts last year as free agents.
''We're all playing as one. It's not about stats with this defense,'' Munnerlyn said.
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