Kirk Cousins threw the ball right over the Arizona linebacker trailing Adam Thielen on third-and-1, a neatly executed seam route by Minnesota’s star receiver after a stutter step sprung him open for a 13-yard touchdown catch .
Then Thielen circled the offense together in the end zone for a choreographed dead-arm dance he recalled from college, his teammates clumsily swinging to an imaginary beat as the crowd celebrated a 10-point lead over the Cardinals early in the third quarter.
There was nothing awkward about this 27-17 victory on Sunday for the Vikings , though. They played a back-to-the-basics game, leaning on some powerful running by Latavius Murray and a smothering defense.
”We know the offense is very capable of going out there and making big plays and scoring points, especially with the teams we’ve played with the past few weeks,” linebacker Anthony Barr said. ”If we do our job on defense, we’re going to keep giving ourselves the chance to win.”
After Thielen scored, the Vikings forced a three-and-out when Harrison Smith had one of Minnesota’s four sacks of Josh Rosen to take the rookie down at the 2-yard line. The Vikings took over in Cardinals territory at the 43, and three plays later Cousins sprinted across the goal line on an option-style keeper from the 7. The dead-arm dance broke out again, and the Vikings (3-2-1) were in control.
”I like to embrace my limitations as a dancer,” Cousins said. ”I guess I’m honest about it. That’s a dance I can get behind.”
Cousins has clearly embraced his role as a team leader, even though he’s only been a member of the Vikings for seven months. He was nominated last week by defensive tackle Linval Joseph to lead the breakdown prior to pregame warmups on the field in Philadelphia with a message about finishing strong. On the flight home after the Vikings beat the Eagles, Joseph told him to be ready for a repeat. This time, Cousins screamed at his teammates to encourage a similar effort and urge the defense to harass the rookie Rosen.
After drafting Teddy Bridgewater, trading for Sam Bradford and signing Case Keenum over coach Mike Zimmer’s first four drama-filled seasons, the Vikings let all three of them leave as free agents and signed Cousins instead.
”The thing I love about this guy is his passion for the game, his intensity that he has,” Zimmer said. ”He’s come in here and taken charge as a leader.”
Here are some other key developments from the game:
Coming off his first career NFL win against the San Francisco 49ers, Rosen faced a much stiffer test on the road against a Vikings defense that was in sync at all three levels after several displays of uncharacteristic vulnerability over the last few games. Rosen threw one interception while completing 21 of 31 passes for 240 yards, and the Cardinals were 0 for 10 on third down conversions. They were also stopped twice on fourth down tries.
”The opportunities are there,” said Rosen, who took over for Bradford last month. ”We find ways to miss them.”
The Cardinals had 269 total yards, which happens to be their season high.
”Am I concerned? Majorly,” coach Steve Wilks said.
Cousins and the Vikings recovered from that sack-fumble-touchdown trifecta in time for a 48-yard field goal by Dan Bailey on the last play from scrimmage of the first half that gave them a 13-10 lead. Then they took the second-half kickoff and went on the 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that included four catches for 47 yards by Thielen. The Vikings have actually been focusing on the importance of scoring on the last possession of the first half and the first one of the second half since Zimmer brought it up in a team meeting during organized practices in May.
”He calls it a `double dip,”’ Cousins said.
KEEPING UP WITH JONES
In three career games against the Vikings, Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones now has 18 tackles, five tackles for loss, 4+ sacks, four quarterback hits, two forced fumbles, one pass breakup and a touchdown return of a blocked field goal.
Jones chopped the ball out during a second quarter sack of Cousins, and Budda Baker scooped it up for a 38-yard touchdown return . The Cardinals also sacked Cousins four times, hit him seven times and deflected seven passes, but those became background highlights on an afternoon when the Vikings revived a dormant rushing attack with 195 yards on 32 attempts.
”Me being one of the captains and one of the leaders of this team, it’s my job to stay on top of the guys and get this thing turned around,” Jones said.
ANOTHER LOSS FOR FITZGERALD
The Cardinals have lost 10 straight games at Minnesota, with the last win coming in 1977 when the franchise was in St. Louis. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been a part of six of those , and the 15-year veteran’s latest visit to his hometown might have been his last as a player.
”You hope you can change quickly, but all you can do is just keep working at it,” Fitzgerald said.
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