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Zulgad: Mission accomplished: Vikings enter bye week back on track

By Judd Zulgad

MINNEAPOLIS — The Vikings were 2-2-1 coming off an Oct. 7 victory in Philadelphia, setting up a four-game stretch that would take them into their bye week. Home against the Cardinals, on the road against the Jets and home against the Saints and Lions.

The feeling was the Vikings needed to win three of four in this stretch to enter their off week in the best shape possible and help erase a disappointing start. Minnesota’s 24-9 victory over Detroit on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium accomplished that feat and put the Vikings at 5-3-1. That leaves Minnesota percentage points behind Chicago (5-3) in the NFC North after the Bears routed Buffalo, 41-9, on Sunday.

“I think the short answer is yes,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said when asked if he was pleased with where the Vikings stood through nine games. “It’s more complicated than that, certainly. When you get back from the bye and you realize everything you want to accomplish is right there in front of you. You are still playing for it. You have no reason to be discouraged or disappointed.”

While the Vikings could have won all four games if they had beaten the Saints a week ago, the self-inflicted mistakes committed by Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Cousins against a quality opponent like New Orleans proved to be too much.

The Lions, much like the Cardinals and Jets, have a far more dumpster-fire quality to their approach to the season and the Vikings took advantage. This should be expected, considering Minnesota is the superior team, but remember the Vikings’ 27-6 loss early in the season to visiting Buffalo means nothing can be taken for granted.

Zimmer might find fault with his team’s performance Sunday, but he also must admit that the win came under the blue print by which he has helped built this team. The Vikings offense did enough by putting up 17 points — although the inability to put away the inferior Lions was somewhat disturbing — but Zimmer’s pride and joy, the Vikings defense, put together the type of dominant display that made it the best in the NFL last season.

Matthew Stafford spent the entire afternoon under pressure as the Vikings set a single-game record with 10 sacks in a game, including 3.5 from Danielle Hunter, 2.5 from Tom Johnson and 1.5 from Everson Griffen. Hunter also returned a fourth-quarter fumble 32 yards for a touchdown to do what the offense couldn’t and give Minnesota comfortable 24-6 lead.

The early-season concern about what had happened to Zimmer’s defense is now gone. Minnesota gave up an average of 27.5 points and 381.5 yards in its first four games but has cut those numbers to 18.8 points and 274.5 yards in its 4-1 stretch.

Beating the Lions gives the Vikings the opportunity to put together a three-game winning streak in the NFC North. Minnesota had played only one division game entering Sunday — a 29-29 tie in Week 2 at Green Bay — but will play at Chicago on Nov. 18 and then play host to Green Bay in a Sunday night game on Nov. 25.

“That is why we knew today was going to be such a big game,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “Five out of our last eight games are in the division. We play these guys twice, the Bears twice, and we have the Packers again. Everything that we want to accomplish is still out in front of us. The first way to get into the playoffs is to win your division. That is our goal moving forward.”

The loss to the Saints put the conversation of where the Vikings stack up among the top teams in the NFC on hold. But by beating the Lions the Vikings took care of an important part of business on their path to a potential playoff berth. The team’s bye could not have come at a better time and now allows everyone a week in which to exhale and get healthy.

“Quite honestly, I need a break,” Zimmer said. “My new thing is, we should have two eight-game seasons, eight in the fall and eight in the spring. Then I can enjoy my year.”

A dominant performance by his defense on Sunday — and what that might mean in the Vikings’ final seven games of the season — meant Zimmer will enter the bye knowing he still has a chance to enjoy his year, even if that enjoyment comes with some stress.

The post Zulgad: Mission accomplished: Vikings enter bye week back on track appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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