Complete Effort Shows Vikings' Ceiling in Upset Win Over Saints
Kirk Cousins is the obvious headline from the Vikings' shocking victory in New Orleans, and deservedly so. In the type of game he's become known for losing, he stepped up and willed his team to a win in overtime. For someone who has to deal with most of the blame when the Vikings lose, he deserves the lion's share of the praise for this win. It was the type of performance that should change the entire narrative around his career.
But the first thing Cousins will do is tell you that it wasn't just him. And he's right. It wasn't. This was a complete effort from the Vikings in all three phases, one that showed off the depth and talent of the roster Rick Spielman has assembled and the coaching excellence of Mike Zimmer.
It was a win that proves that these Vikings can beat anyone in the league when they're firing on all cylinders.
"We won the game today because we played great defense, got a turnover, had good special teams, great play-calling and a great plan," Cousins said. "We protected and ran the football. We probably had 30-40 rushing attempts. There’s a whole lot of reasons we won the game. Does the quarterback play a role in that? Yes, but it was a team win.”
Written off by just about everyone this week, the Vikings never stopped believing. They embraced the underdog mentality. Then they went out and showed the world that doubting them was a mistake.
On offense, the healthy duo of Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen overwhelmed the Saints defense. Cook ripped off some chunk gains early on, Thielen repeatedly moved the chains, and the Vikings offense moved the ball. The offensive line played an outstanding game in both run-blocking and pass protection. And Kyle Rudolph played hero at the end. The Vikings offense did enough to win despite Stefon Diggs gaining just 27 yards on four touches, which is a sign of a team that can beat you in multiple different ways.
Defensively, the Vikings offered a reminder of what has gotten them to the playoffs three times in the last five years. This is a team that's built on defense, and even though it's been a struggle at times this season, it was that side of the ball that won this game. Moving Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen inside on third downs was a stroke of genius from Zimmer. The duo combined for three sacks, including Hunter's crucial forced fumble late in the game.
“It’s always nice when you do something and it works,” Zimmer said. “It doesn’t always work, but you have to try it.”
The list of key contributors on defense is almost endless. Anthony Harris continued his incredible season with another interception. Harrison Smith had 11 tackles. Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr were excellent. Andrew Sendejo stepped in for Mike Hughes and Mackensie Alexander at slot corner, a position he had never played before, and was a huge part of the win. Xavier Rhodes, who has had a difficult and mentally taxing season, played a big part in holding Michael Thomas to 70 receiving yards. His second half was the best he's played in a long time.
Even the Vikings' special teams were effective; Dan Bailey drilled two field goals and Britton Colquitt averaged almost 50 yards on six punts.
"I thought we played well in all three phases," Zimmer said. "Proud of my team and the way they fought and competed today."
Now, they want more. "One down, three to go," yelled Griffen after the game. They'll need to clean some things up, to get Diggs more involved, and to get ready for a very good 49ers team on a short week.
But this was a win that showed how good the Vikings can be when everything clicks. The ceiling is there. They're healthy and appear to be heating up at the right time. If they can bottle up this effort and execution and keep it going, there's a chance this underdog story might have a few more chapters.