EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Two days after starting quarterback Sam Bradford boarded a private jet en route to Florida to get a second opinion on his ailing left knee, the entire morale surrounding the Minnesota Vikings was lifted by an unlikely source.
Yeah, the same Case Keenum who looked jittery and overwhelmed when he started the week before in a loss at Pittsburgh.
The journeyman won his 10th career game in his 26th start as he and the entire offense played near flawless football while destroying the Buccaneers 34-17 at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday.
So, head coach Mike Zimmer, what was the difference this week?
“I think a lot of it had to do with the timing of when he knew he was going to play, changing the plan,” Zimmer said Monday. “I think he was confident going in, felt good about the plays, and then you have to give all the guys some credit. They executed.
“The offensive line, we ran the ball well, (Dalvin) Cook had some really good runs, the offensive line blocked, protected well. We made some really good catches. (Adam) Thielen had a great catch. (Stefon) Diggs had a great catch. Sometimes it’s just how it goes.”
As for Bradford, Zimmer still isn’t saying much. He said Monday that Bradford is day to day, and that he doesn’t know what will happen Sunday when the Vikings host the Lions.
Bradford has missed the last two games because of swelling and instability in the left knee that he had reconstructed through ACL surgery in 2013 and 2014.
Andrews agreed with the Vikings’ doctors, who said there is no structural damage to the knee and that surgery is not needed.
Bradford was back at Winter Park on Monday after spending time in Pensacola, Fla., visiting Dr. James Andrews, who performed both of Bradford’s ACL surgeries.
“I had a nice talk with him (Monday),” Zimmer said. “Just a nice, easy talk.”
The lack of stress in that conversation might have something to do with the fact Keenum led the Vikings to an easy 17-point win.
Keenum wasn’t sacked and was hit only three times. He responded by completing 25 of 33 passes for a career-high 369 yards, three touchdowns, a 142.1 passer rating and no turnovers.
The performance vaulted the Vikings’ offense to No. 2 in the league, a lofty ranking that hasn’t been reached by this team in quite a while.
Zimmer, of course, isn’t too excited about rankings after three games. Nor is he concerned about the people who were already writing the Vikings off when Bradford was declared out for a second straight week.
“We just try to go one week at a time and see what happens,” Zimmer said Monday. “It’s a week-to-week proposition in the NFL. Media and everybody, it’s, ‘This week we’re great, next week if we lose we’re terrible.’
“It’s just the way it is. We just try to do the best we can to prepare and get better each week. And that’s really all we’re trying to do now is prepare for Detroit.”
–For the first time since Colin Kaepernick began the series of national anthem protests during the 2016 preseason, the Vikings engaged in a public demonstration of unity. Sparked by President Donald Trump’s comments criticizing players who knelt during the national anthem, the Vikings stood and linked arms before Sunday’s home game. Coaches, owners Zygi and Mark Wilf, and general manager Rick Spielmen joined in the linking of arms.
After initially deferring to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s statement in response to Trump, the Wilfs did put out a statement right before kickoff. It didn’t mention Trump, but said, “rather than making divisive comments, we believe in promoting thoughtful, inspiring conversation that unifies our communities. We are proud of our players, coaches and staff for the important role they play in our community.”
Head coach Mike Zimmer was asked about the team’s pregame show of solidarity and Trump’s comments.
“I’m glad our guys are a team,” he said. “I’m a football coach. I’m not a politician. I’m not going to get into any of that.”
Veteran defensive end Brian Robison added: “For us it was about our team, showing solidarity and showing a unified front and made sure everyone knew we are a brotherhood. I think there’s a lot of comments that are going outside the football facilities and I think we were able to stand up and make a big-time statement today with what we did.”
–Receiver Stefon Diggs had two touchdown catches, tying his career high of four in a season — after three games.
In his second start in place of the injured Sam Bradford, Case Keenum targeted Diggs 11 times. Diggs caught eight of them for 173 yards with touchdowns of 17 and 59 yards. The latter came on a free play when Keenum called for a quick snap to catch the Bucs with 12 men on the field.
“It’s fun when that guy is on the field,” Keenum said of Diggs. “He’s a special dude.”
NOTES: RB Dalvin Cook scored the first touchdown of his NFL career. The 1-yard score came while he had 169 yards from scrimmage. He had 97 yards rushing on 27 carries, and 72 yards receiving on just five catches. … WR Adam Thielen has 19 catches this season. That’s the eighth-highest total after three games in franchise history. Percy Harvin had the most, 27, in 2012. Thielen’s 299 yards receiving is the third-highest total through three games. Gene Washington had the most, 397, in 1969. … QB Case Keenum is 10-16 in his career as a starter, but he is 3-0 against the Bucs. He posted career highs for passer rating (142.1) and passing yards (369). … FS Harrison Smith grabbed the 13th interception of his career. He returned it 12 yards, giving him 288 career return yards, seventh-most in Vikings history. …DE Everson Griffen had another sack and has four in three games.
REPORT CARD VS. BUCCANEERS
PASSING OFFENSE: A-plus — With a lot of fans turning to Twitter to give up on the season, Case Keenum played the game of his life, leading the Vikings to an unexpected offensive explosion. Keenum completed 25 of 33 passes for three touchdowns and career highs in yards (369) and passer rating (142.1). Receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen continued to attack defenses down the field, combining for 271 yards on 13 catches. Diggs had two touchdowns, while Thielen set the tone with a great over-the-shoulder catch for 45 yards on the third play of the game.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A — The average per carry wasn’t great at 3.4. But the Vikings showed again just how far they’ve come in terms of blocking and hitting holes since they finished dead last in rushing a year ago. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur was able to call a balanced game (37 rushes, 33 passes) because the running game was sound. The game opened with Dalvin Cook rushing for gains of six and four yards before Keenum hit Thielen for a 45-yard gain. Cook finished with 97 yards and his first career touchdown on 27 carries.
PASS DEFENSE: B — Jameis Winston threw for 328 yards and two touchdowns, but the Vikings offset that with three interceptions. The Vikings didn’t have a takeaway in their first two games. Trae Waynes, Andrew Sendejo and Harrison Smith all intercepted errant passes. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes shadowed big receiver Mike Evans for most of the game. Evans finished with only 67 yards on six catches (9.6).
RUSH DEFENSE: A – The offense jumped on the Bucs so fast and so hard that Tampa Bay had to abandon the run early. The Bucs only ran the ball nine times, finishing with 26 yards. They had no runs longer than four yards.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B — After missing point-after attempts in each of the first two games, Kai Forbath went unnoticed with four successful extra points in four tries. He also went 2 for 2 on field goals of 20 and 37 yards. The Vikings, however, did surrender a 50-yard kickoff return. And kickoff returner Jerick McKinnon continues to struggle. His only return was 20 yards to the 15-yard line.
COACHING: A — Give the coaches a lot of credit for marching everybody forward in the face of the uncertainty at quarterback. In three games since offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur had his interim tag removed, the Vikings have had two veteran quarterbacks – Sam Bradford and Case Keenum – post career-high passer ratings. Bradford had a 143.0 in the opener. Keenum had a 142.1 on Sunday. Defensively, the Vikings are healthy and playing very well in front of the home crowd. Shurmur and Zimmer were aggressive on both sides of the ball, and the result was an energized performance against a team that was coming off a big win the week before.
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