The Vikings’ afternoon started with a methodical 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive and all but ended with a 37-yard screen pass to Stefon Diggs on second-and-14 with four minutes to go. That extended a Minnesota drive that resulted in a field goal, making it 30-23 with four minutes to go.
The Lions, led by a hobbled Matthew Stafford (more on that below), got the ball back. On fourth-and-8 deep in their own territory, Stafford, under pressure, forced a throw to the sidelines that, perhaps fittingly, was intercepted by one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks, Xavier Rhodes.
The Vikings’ offense, which started strong but was sluggish for much of the second half, ran out the clock. Minnesota (9-2) gets out of Detroit (6-5) with its seventh straight win, and are three clear of the Lions in the division.
Here are six takeaways from Thursday’s Thanksgiving get-together:
Is Case Keenum a legit MVP candidate?
Case Keenum isn’t in the NFL MVP conversation but it’s hard to argue that he isn’t the Vikings’ most valuable player. And unlike Carson Wentz or Tom Brady — legit franchise quarterbacks and MVP front runners — no one saw Keenum’s breakout season coming, though that’s not entirely his fault. But in nine starts he’s been one of the NFL’s most efficient passers and against the Lions he finished 12 of 30 for 282 yards and two touchdowns.
In fact, according to Football Outsiders’ metrics, Keenum ranks third among all passers, behind only the aforementioned Brady and Drew Brees.
Seriously, think about that; we’re living in a universe where Keenum isn’t some break-in-case-of-emergency, last-resort option at quarterback — even if that’s closer to the truth of how he ended up under center for the Vikings — but instead one of the NFL’s best, playing so well that there haven’t been any serious conversations about Teddy Bridgewater getting his job back anytime soon.
This play from the Vikings’ first drive is a microcosm of the success he’s had this season:
But Keenum ain’t a one-trick pony. On the Vikings’ second drive, he (sorta) showed off his wheels when he scampered into the end zone on a quarterback keeper.
That touchdown gave the Vikings a 13-0 lead over a 94-second span. Keenum’s touchdown was set up by an unforced Lions error; Matthew Stafford botched a handoff two plays before, Minnesota recovered at Detroit’s 49-yard line, and Keenum took over from there.
It’s also worth noting that even though Keenum was originally signed by the Texans’ as an undrafted free agent in 2012, his career got off to a promising start; he started eight games in 2013 and began his career with seven touchdowns, no interceptions and 822 passing yards. But Houston was a terrible team and when it was over, Keenum completed just 54.2 percent of his throws with nine touchdowns, six interceptions and no wins. He joined the Rams in 2015 and in two seasons under Jeff Fisher he appeared in 16 games and was reduced to the perception of replacement-level backup. The point: It’s easy to forget Keenum’s success in Houston because it was obscured by playing in Fisher’s offense. And now, under offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, Keenum is not only flourishing, but exceeding everyone’s expectations.
Or, as coach Mike Zimmer described it earlier this week: “The thing I like most about Case is he’s got big balls.”
We saw this for ourselves with less than a minute to go in the first half. The Lions blitzed, and just before taking a huge hit, Keenum delivered a perfect throw to tight end Kyle Rudolph:
Vikings running game sent a timely message
The Lions’ offense scored an impressive (and desperately needed) touchdown just before the half to cut the Vikings’ lead to 20-10. But any hopes that that momentum would seep into the start of the third quarter lasted about two minutes. That’s how long it took for the Vikings to get into the end zone. Minnesota’s four-play drive included four running plays that covered 75 yards, bookended by two Latavius Murray runs — a 46-yarder and a two-yard touchdown plunge.
Detroit’s defense came into the game ranked 22nd against the run and, well, they didn’t even look that good on this drive.
Matthew Stafford is one of the NFL’s toughest players
Stafford can take a beating, as evidenced by the 275 sacks he’s endured during his nine-year career. And while he wasn’t sacked on this early fourth-quarter dropback, it was his most painful play of the afternoon. His right ankle was got caught under a Vikings’ pass rusher and Stafford writhed in pain as the ball sailed downfield, finding its way into the hands of Marvin Jones for a 43-yard touchdown that cut the Vikings’ lead to 27-23.
Not only did Jones easily beat double-coverage, the Vikings were flagged for having 12 men on the field. You can see Stafford get rolled up midway through the clip above. He hobbled off the field but the Lions’ medical staff didn’t even check him out; instead, Stafford got is ankle heavily wrapped and returned without missing a snap.
Thielen is the Vikings’ first 1,000-yard receiver since 2009
Keenum isn’t the only “Didn’t see that coming” story on the Vikings’ offense. In fact, he may not even be the biggest. That honor goes to another undrafted free agent, wideout Adam Thielen, who was so far off the radar that he wasn’t invited to the NFL combine and only caught the attention of the Vikings during a rookie tryout that eventually landed him a spot on the team’s practice squad. That was the 2013 season. He managed just 20 receptions the following two seasons but had a breakout campaign in 2016 when he finished with 69 catches for 967 yards and five touchdowns.
Thielen’s been even better through the first two-and-a-half months of 2017; in 11 games he has 70 catches for 1,005 yards and three touchdowns. How good as Thielen been?
He’s on pace for nearly 1,500 yards, which would rank second in Vikings history behind Randy Moss’ 1,600-yard 2003 season. Maybe even more impressive than that: Thielen is one of the league’s best route runners. In fact, TheMMQB.com’s Andy Benoit ranks Thielen second behind only Keenan Allen — and just ahead of Antonio Brown.
Thielen became the first Vikings’ wide receiver to eclipse 1,000 yards since Sidney Rice in 2009. It’s been quite the drought for an organization with a history of big-play pass catchers. The Pioneer Press‘ Chris Tomasson has the details:
On 28 occasions, Vikings receivers have caught passes for at least 1,000 yards. Five did it more than once: Cris Carter (eight), Randy Moss (six), Jake Reed (four), Anthony Carter (three) and Rashad (two). Between 1979-2004, the Vikings had eight players reach the mark a total of 26 times, but it was five more years before Rice got there with 1,312 yards in 2009 — and nobody else since.
Everson Griffen needs your help naming his new baby
Everson Griffen is probably having a better Thanksgiving than you. The Turkey Day festivities started with Griffen’s wife giving birth to their third child, and the good times continued when he sacked Matthew Stafford in the first half of the Vikings-Lions game. And these two things are related because we learned about the latest member of Griffen’s family thanks to his sack celebration that revealed an undershirt that read, “I just had a baby boy, what should I name him?”
That’s right, Griffen a) doesn’t know the name of his new son and b) needs your help coming up with a name. (He wasn’t with his wife for the birth but was with his teammates in Detroit preparing for the game.)
We’re stuffing the suggestion box with with Case Thielen Griffen because will never be more popular than it is now.
The Vikings have now won seven straight and join the Eagles as the only two teams with nine wins. They also remain the No. 2 seed in the NFC though the Saints (who have won eight in a row and are 8-2) are right behind them. Heading into Thursday’s game, Minnesota had a 95.4 percent chance to make the postseason, according to Football Outsiders. The Lions, meanwhile, fall to 6-5 and remain on the outside looking in for the final playoff spot. Detroit had a 50/50 shot at playing January football before today’s loss, and those odds will drop.
You can see the entire NFL playoff picture right here.
First things first: Go eat some turkey:
Looking ahead, the Vikings face the Falcons (6-4) in Atlanta next Sunday while the Lions will be in Baltimore where the Ravens (5-5), currently the sixth seed in the AFC, are making a playoff push of their own.
Source : CBSsports