EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — All that stands between the Minnesota Vikings and a 6-2 start heading into their bye week is the woeful Cleveland Browns and their 0-7 record.
“I think our team will understand that this is a pretty good team once we start getting into our preparation,” Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said Monday, a day after the Vikings’ 24-16 win over Baltimore at U.S. Bank Stadium. “They lost by three to Pittsburgh. They lost by three to Indy. They lost in overtime to Tennessee, which is leading that division.
“It’s going to be about us and how we play. That’s how it always is. Can we prepare the same way? Can we play with the same intensity?”
Throwing a potential wrench in all of that, of course, is the trip to London for the game. The Vikings will leave after Wednesday’s practice, fly through the night, land on Thursday morning and practice about five hours later.
“This is the best we’ve played, but we have to keep it up,” said defensive end Everson Griffen, who had two of the Vikings’ five sacks of Joe Flacco and now has eight in seven games. “We’re 5-2 and going to London. So we have to be smart with this trip and go there and handle business. This (trip) is not for fun.”
Backup quarterback Case Keenum, who was sloppy but kept the turnovers to only one on Sunday, will start his sixth game of the season. Whether he’ll have left tackle Riley Reiff (knee) or left guard Nick Easton (calf) remains to be seen.
Easton missed his second straight game on Sunday. Then his backup, Jeremiah Sirles, went down in the second half with a sprained knee. That forced rookie Danny Isidora into action. He played well and helped the Vikings grind out the clock in the fourth quarter.
Zimmer said he thinks the Vikings have a good chance of getting “most” of their injured players back in time for Sunday’s game. He said he doesn’t think Reiff’s injury is anything serious. And he also said he thinks receiver Stefon Diggs could return after missing the last two games because of a groin injury.
Zimmer has never been to London. When asked if he’ll make time to see some of the sights or keep his mind focused strictly on football, the old-school coach simply said, “Football.”
–Sunday was a good day for defensive end Everson Griffen.
He wore custom-made cleats to honor his late mother, Sabrina. Her face and the words “Best momma in the world” were on the cleats.
Then, on cancer-awareness day, he gripped the hand of his mother-in-law, Rebecca Brandt, a breast cancer survivor, and walked to midfield for the coin toss. Brandt was the honorary captain. The Vikings won the coin toss and forced a quick three-and-out.
And, oh yeah, Griffen also had two more sacks, giving him eight in seven games. He and Jim Marshall (1969) are the only Vikings to have a sack in the first seven games of a season.
Griffen needs a sack against the Browns in London next week to join Marshall (1969) and Jared Allen (2011) as the only Vikings to have a sack in eight straight games.
“We’re winning games, and that’s all that really matters,” Griffen said. “I’m just going out there and beating my man when I get the opportunity.”
–Former Viking and Raven Matt Birk got a robust cheer when interviewed on the field during a break in the action of Sunday’s Vikings-Ravens game at U.S. Bank Stadium.
During the interview, which was shown on the stadium’s massive jumbotrons, former Vikings punter and current team radio sideline reporter Greg Coleman asked the St. Paul native what he would do if he were commissioner for a day.
“Get rid of offensive holding,” the former Pro-Bowl center joked. “Play every game on natural grass. And make everyone stand for the national anthem.”
The crowd cheered as soon as he said that. The Vikings are one of the teams that have yet to have a player kneel or sit for the anthem.
NOTES: WR Stefon Diggs (groin) missed his second straight game. Before that, he caught only one pass for four yards the week before in Chicago. A groin injury stopped his momentum a year ago as well. … LG Nick Easton (calf) missed his second straight game. The Vikings might try to get by without him this week against the Browns. They have a bye the week after. …LG Jeremiah Sirles started his second straight game in Easton’s place. He played well again, but sprained a knee in the second half and didn’t return. … LG Danny Isidora, a rookie third-string guard, had to jump in Sunday when Jeremiah Sirles went down. He also played well, got to the second level cleanly and helped the Vikings drive the ball and run out the clock in the fourth quarter. … QB Sam Bradford didn’t play for the fifth time in seven games and doesn’t appear to be close to returning from the left knee injury he suffered in the season opener. … LT Riley Reiff left the game late in the third quarter because of a knee injury. Head coach Mike Zimmer said he doesn’t believe it to be serious. Reiff stood on the sideline in uniform after being removed. Backup Rashod Hill didn’t make any glaring errors and helped the Vikings grind out the clock with two fourth-quarter drives. … SS Andrew Sendejo returned after missing the Packers game because of a groin injury. He was flagged for a vicious blow to the head of Ravens receiver Mike Wallace three minutes into the game. Wallace, whose helmet was knocked off as he slammed to the turf, suffered a concussion and didn’t return.
REPORT CARD VS. RAVENS
–PASSING OFFENSE: C — Case Keenum raised his record as a starter this season to 3-2. But he was far from sharp. Despite not taking a sack, Keenum had a sloppy performance that saw him miss several receivers, throw his second interception of the season and post a 67.7 passer rating. Keenum threw for only 188 yards as the Vikings settled for field goals six times. Receiver Jarius Wright had a nice game with three catches for a team-high 54 yards and three first downs. Two of his catches converted third downs, while the other was a game-high 30-yarder.
–RUSHING OFFENSE: A — The run blocking was excellent and running back Latavius Murray capitalized with the first good game of his Vikings career. Given the lead-back role for the first time since signing as a free agent this past offseason, the former Raider had his first 100-yard game, rushing for 113 yards with a long of 35 and a touchdown from 27. He had 18 carries and a 6.3-yard average.
–PASS DEFENSE A — The Ravens started the game with three receivers on the inactive list and lost a fourth, Mike Wallace, to a concussion three minutes into the game. Safety Andrew Sendejo was flagged for a vicious blow to the head that knocked Wallace’s helmet off. The Ravens had little ammo after that as the Vikings clamped down on Joe Flacco. The defense didn’t get a takeaway, but it harassed Flacco all day. Everson Griffen had two of the Vikings’ five sacks. No Ravens player had more than 38 yards receiving. And Flacco’s only touchdown came on the final play of the game, with the Vikings leading 24-9.
–RUSH DEFENSE: A-plus — The Vikings won the game because they stopped the run and forced Flacco to beat them. Facing the seventh-ranked running attack, the Vikings’ third-ranked run defense was better. The Ravens came in averaging 129.5 yards rushing per game. They had 64 on 20 carries. Fourteen of those yards came on two 7-yard runs the Vikings were more than happy to surrender as the Ravens ran out the clock in their territory in the closing seconds of the first half.
–SPECIAL TEAMS A — Facing the league’s best special teams units, the Vikings stepped up with their best special teams effort of the season. Kicker Kai Forbath nailed all six of his field-goal attempts, including 52- and 51-yarders to keep pace with All-Pro Justin Tucker, who hit a 57-yarder for the Ravens. Forbath’s odd mental block on PATs continued, though. He missed one for the sixth time in his 14-game Vikings career. Marcus Sherels and the punt return unit were excellent. Sherels averaged 27.7 yards on three returns, including a 46-yarder in the first quarter. Punter Ryan Quigley punted only twice, but averaged 46 yards with no returns.
–COACHING A — The Vikings are 5-2 and in first place even though they’ve had to lean on Keenum to win four of those games. The offense is keeping turnovers to a minimum, blocking well enough to sustain drives and letting the defense take over. Mike Zimmer’s defense is stopping the run better than it ever has. And that’s allowing Zimmer’s creativity and extraordinary personnel shine in third-down situations. Also, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer deserves praise for getting his units ready for the challenge of facing a team that came in off a game in which it scored on punt and kickoff returns.
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