Vikings defense the extreme case of bending but not breaking
By DAVE CAMPBELL
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Camryn Bynum jumped in front of New York Jets wide receiver Corey Davis for the fourth-down interception just in front of the goal line, preserving another harrowing Minnesota Vikings victory.
The second-year safety added that highlight with 10 seconds left to the collection of well-timed stops and game-ending turnovers the Vikings (10-2) have used to effectively minimize their big-play vulnerability on defense this season.
Their perfect record in nine games decided by eight points or fewer has been made possible by a defense that has taken the bend-not-break mantra to a whole new level.
"Honestly if we can win, I don't give a damn, even though we want to bury them and close it out when we can," linebacker Eric Kendricks said. "These teams are really good. They have players that can play too. We have 10 wins. Everybody's gunning for us and knows that we're a target, so we're getting everybody's best to the very last second."
The Jets had 24 plays inside the 20-yard line, all in the second half. They netted 36 yards and scored only one touchdown in six opportunities.
The Vikings also stopped the Jets short of the sticks on 13 of 16 third downs and three of five fourth downs.
On the other hand, only Detroit - which Minnesota visits this Sunday - has allowed more total yards per game in the NFL this season. No team has permitted more passing yards per game or per play than the Vikings.
"You have to continue to look at it, just because it just puts a lot of pressure on your football team," coach Kevin O'Connell said.
Facing a stout defensive front, the Vikings quietly had one of their most productive games running the ball this season with 128 yards on 29 attempts. Dalvin Cook rushed 20 times for 86 yards, and he and Alexander Mattison each had second-quarter touchdowns.
"The belief we have in those two, they're warriors," right tackle Brian O'Neill said. "I want to give them the rock."
According to Sportradar data, the Vikings gained a season-high 84.4% of their rushing yards before initial contact by the defense on Sunday.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
No quarterback in the NFL has been pressured (123) or hit (93) more times this season than Kirk Cousins, per Sportradar. After taking several jarring blows from the Jets, the ultra-durable Cousins said he was fine physically but acknowledged the rush affected his accuracy. He went 21 for 35.
The safety tandem of Bynum and Harrison Smith combined for 15 tackles and five pass breakups in addition to the picks. Smith is third in the league with five interceptions.
WR K.J. Osborn has totaled only 14 receptions for 103 yards over the past seven games.
Cousins has completed only 58% of his passes targeting Osborn, compared to 69% for Justin Jefferson and 68% for Adam Thielen. Osborn, who had seven touchdown catches last season, has just two this year.
Cameron Dantzler Sr. is on track to come off injured reserve and has a "great chance" per O'Connell to return Sunday to the depth-tested cornerback position opposite Patrick Peterson. Akayleb Evans started against the Jets after a two-game absence because of a concussion, only to re-enter the protocol in the third quarter, and he's already been ruled out against the Lions. The rookie has had three concussions since joining the team.
"Before Akayleb plays again we want to make sure it's 100% the right timing for him because we care more about the player health and safety," O'Connell said.
Left tackle Christian Darrisaw, who has also been in the concussion protocol twice in the past four weeks, has been held out of the past two games. He practiced Friday and has been progressing.
19. Vikings opponents have made 19 consecutive field goals since a miss by Miami's Jason Sanders on Oct. 16. Greg Zuerlein went 5 for 5 for the Jets, including a 60-yarder. Of the seven field goals made from 60-plus yards in the NFL in the past two seasons, four have come against the Vikings.
The Vikings would clinch the NFC North title by winning Sunday at Detroit (5-7). Then they have two more home games, against Indianapolis (4-7-1) and the New York Giants (7-4-1).
The chance of passing Philadelphia for the NFC's No. 1 seed with the loss of the head-to-head tiebreaker keeps dwindling, making their two-game lead on San Francisco for the No. 2 spot likely the most important race for the Vikings down the stretch.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP-NFL
Updated December 5, 2022