Things To Keep An Eye On Tonight

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 20, 2010 – 6:10 pm

As if a Vikings-Bears game on Monday Night Football in an outdoor venue with snow flying wasn’t enough, there are several players to keep an eye on tonight as they approach statistical milestones. Here’s the rundown…

– With a start, QB Brett Favre can tie the NFL record for the most starts after turning 40 years old. Favre has started 24 games since turning 40 and trails just Warren Moon and Vinny Testaverde, who both started 25 after 40.
– With 300 yards passing, Favre can tie QB Dan Marino for the most games with 300+ passing yards. Favre has 62 in his career and trails Marino’s 63.
– LB E.J. Henderson needs 2 INTs to tie Rip Hawkins (1961) for the most INTs by a linebacker in a single season.
– P Chris Kluwe can set a new team record for career games with a 50-yard punt. Kluwe has 68 games and is tied with Greg Coleman for the most in team history.
– Kluwe can break his own record for most punts inside the 20 in a single season. Kluwe has 29 on the year, and his team record is 33.
– RB Adrian Peterson needs 1 rushing TD to tie the Vikings team record for the most career rushing TDs. Peterson has 51 rushing
TDs in 58 games and trails Chuck Foreman and Bill Brown, who both fi nished their careers with 52.
– Peterson can continue to climb higher in the top 10 in NFL history for the most rushing yards in the first 4 seasons. He currently has 5,633 rushing yards, which ranks 8th and trails Barry Sanders’ 5,674 for 7th, Emmitt Smith’s 5,699 for 6th and Jamal Lewis’ 5,763 for 5th.

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Loss Hides The Shine On Special Teams’ Stars

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 17, 2010 – 9:22 am

Lost in the negativity of last week’s 21-3 loss to the NY Giants at Ford  Field in Detroit and the whirlwind of developments involved in the collapse of the Mall of America Field at the Metrodome roof was an outstanding performance by the Vikings special teams unit. Let’s take a quick look back at what happened…

Punt/Punt Coverage
One of the Vikings top performers all season has been P Chris Kluwe, and he was in great form once again last week. A sputtering Vikings offense wasn’t able to sustain drives, meaning Kluwe was called on often to boot the ball away while also trying to maintain some kind of field position advantage. Kluwe had 10 punts on the night, with a net average of 42.4. More importantly, though, is that 4 of Kluwe’s punts stopped inside the Giants 20, only 3 of the 10 were returned and just 1 of them went into the endzone for a touchback.

For the season now, Kluwe ranks 3rd in the NFL in net punting (40.9), 1st in the NFC with 29 punts inside the 20 and tied for 1st in the NFL in fair catches. We also shouldn’t forget about the coverage team, as they’ve combined with Kluwe to allow just 5.5 yards per return, which ranks 1st in the NFL.

Punt Return
Kluwe wasn’t the only busy punt on Monday night. New York’s Matt Dodge had 7 punts on the night, but Vikings punt returner Greg Camarillo made sure Dodge and the Giants punt team didn’t have the same kind of success Kluwe and his group had. Camarillo returned 5 of the 7 punts and averaged 18.0 yards per try, an outstanding number. On top of that, he had a 52-yard return in which he ran across the field twice, dodging would-be tacklers and setting the offense up with good field position. Camarillo has been excellent in terms of securing the ball this season on punt returns, but on Monday he displayed some burst and playmaking ability.

Kickoff Return
Last season Percy Harvin was a Pro Bowl kickoff return selection, but the Vikings were without him on Monday night. So the newly-acquired Lorenzo Booker stepped in and looked like a natural running behind some solid blocking from special teams coordinator Brian Murphy’s group. Booker had 4 returns for 123 yards – a 30.8-yard average – and he had a sensational return that went for a TD but was called back because of a blocking in the back penalty. Add in the extra yards lost from that penalty, plus the TD, and the kickoff returns numbers would’ve looked even better.

The Vikings didn’t do much scoring, so Ryan Longwell and Co. only had 2 kickoffs on the night. In the limited reps, though, they were solid. Kickoff teams love touchbacks, and Longwell delivered one against the Giants. On the only other kickoff, the Vikings yielded just a 19-yard return.

Again, not much to report on here, but Longwell was a perfect 1-for-1 on the night, hitting a 21-yard try in the 1st quarter to stake the Vikings to a 3-0 lead. For the season, Longwell has been steady, converting 14 of 15 FG tries with his only miss coming at blustery Soldier Field when he banged one off the uprights.

Longwell is one of the most consistent performers I’ve ever seen with the Vikings. He’s converted 85-of-89 (95.5%) FGs from inside 45 yards since joining the Vikings in 2006 and he is currently ranked 8th all-time in NFL history with a career FG percentage of 83.3%. Longwell owns the team record for the most consecutive FGs made under 40 yards with 35.

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Defense Returns To Form

Posted by cjsiewert on November 29, 2010 – 10:10 am

In Sunday’s 17-13 win over the Redskins, the Vikings defense got back to the basics and returned to its stout, run-stopping form that we’ve come accustom to over recent years.

From 2006-08, the Vikings ranked 1st against the rush and were 2nd in that category last season. On Sunday, the Vikings allowed a season-low 29 yards on the ground, turning the Redskins offense one-dimensional. Redskins QB Donovan McNabb and Co. turned to the aerial attack, which opened up playmaking opportunities for the Vikings.

With the Redskins pinned deep in their own territory after a Chris Kluwe punt – which I might add Kluwe is playing at a Pro Bowl level this season, so be sure to cast your vote – the Vikings were given perhaps the biggest playmaking opportunity of the game. Following the punt, McNabb’s pass intended for Santana Moss bounced off his chest high into the air and Vikings middle LB E.J. Henderson came down with the ball, making a diving acrobatic INT.

The INT set up a 31-yard FG by K Ryan Longwell with credit going to the defense for coming away with the turnover to put points on the board.

And when we analyze how the defense returned to form on Sunday, the most profound aspect of their dominant play was that of the front 4. McNabb was constantly pressured all day and that came by way of the Vikings defensive linemen outmuscling Washington’s offensive line.

As a group, the front 4 registered 3.0 sacks. Jared Allen improved his sack total to 7.5 on the season (6.5 in his last 4 games), Brian Robison notched his 2nd of the season and 3-year veteran Letroy Guion registered his first career sack.

Also, putting a halt to any sort of offensive momentum for the Redskins was a difference-maker in the Vikings first road victory in over a year. After the Redskins opening drive TD, here’s what the Vikings defense forced Washington to do for the remainder of the game: punt, punt, punt, sack to end the half, punt, punt, INT, FG, FG and punt.

By my count that’s 6 punts and a turnover without allowing a TD, and if the Vikings defense can continue this trend for the remaining 5 weeks, opposing offenses are going to be throwing fits in trying to score.

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Kluwe Kicking His Way To Pro Bowl?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 9, 2010 – 12:11 pm

We regularly promote Pro Bowl voting on to give fans every chance possible to cast their votes. We also occasionally suggest which Vikings players might be particularly worthy of your Pro Bowl vote. The point is not to tell you who should vote for; rather we’re simply making the case for a player who might not otherwise garner the attention appropriate for his performance.

With that being said, Vikings P Chris Kluwe is a player who gets my Pro Bowl vote and I encourage you to vote for him, too.

Punting in the NFL is not about booting it as far as possible. It’s about winning the field position battle, and the Vikings punt team is doing just that. While Kluwe ranks 12th in gross punting average (44.5), he ranks 3rd in the more important net average category (43.3). This means Kluwe is doing a great job of putting hang time on his kicks and it also means the Vikings punt coverage team is doing a nice job of containing returners. Opposing teams average just 3.5 yards per return against Kluwe and Co., which is tied for #1 in the NFL.

On top of that, Kluwe has had 18 of his 36 punts downed inside the 20 and he’s had 12 punts fair caught by opponents. These are all very good numbers and they’re worthy, in my opinion, of him garnering Pro Bowl votes.

You can cast your Pro Bowl vote by clicking here.

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A Few More Notes From Monday’s Press Conference

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 8, 2010 – 3:30 pm

We’ve touched on several topics since the Vikings recorded a thrilling 27-24 overtime win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, from the warrior-like performance by Percy Harvin to the quiet dominance of the Vikings defense.

But there’s so much more to talk about and we’ll touch on a few more topics in this blog entry with some help from head coach Brad Childress’ press conference. Childress met with reporters for several minutes early Monday afternoon and he ultimately answered 25 questions. Here are a few important notes we jotted down…

Kluwe Kicking Well
Childress took time to mention specifically that P Chris Kluwe is playing well through the first 8 games.

“The guy that’s playing unbelievably now is Chris Kluwe,” Childress said. “That guy is kicking the ball lights out. It doesn’t make any difference what the numbers show. It’s just a matter of how many they’re getting a chance to legitimately return and how many he’s sticking down there where they have fully 80 or 90 yards to go. You can’t put a premium on that, particularly in field position games like that.”

We’ve discussed Kluwe’s solid play on several occasions here on the Blog, but he continues to play well and impress. His gross punting average is 44.5, which is 12th in the NFL, but effective punting in the NFL is about hang time, net average and return yards allowed. I don’t have a way to measure hang time, but Kluwe ranks 3rd in net average at 43.3 yards and the entire punt coverage group ranks #1 in the NFL in allowing just 3.5 yards per return. On top of that, Kluwe has put 18 of his 36 kicks inside the 20, helping the Vikings gain an edge in the field position battle.

No-Huddle Offense Looked Good
I answered a question from a reader in today’s Monday Morning Mailbag about how effective the Vikings offense was in the no-huddle during the 4th quarter and whether the no-huddle might be something the Vikings try against Chicago this week. I don’t know if that’s something the Vikings will try, but Childress did tell reporters on Monday that the no-huddle is something the Vikings practice regularly and it’s also something Favre clearly looks comfortable executing.

Childress was also asked who calls the plays when the team goes no-huddle.

“It’s both,” Childress explained, saying that coaches will send a play to Favre when the ball goes out of bounds. “He has got a menu, as do we, that we practice for the two-minute, and sometimes we’ll trick his memory and there are times where he’s got to do it on his own.”

Infirmary Report
Childress was asked the status of several injured players, including Harvin and T Phil Loadholt. Harvin has been dealing with the injured ankle, of course, and Childress said Harvin will be sore but is also “no worse for the wear.” Childress said Loadholt is going to be fine; he left the game in the 4th quarter but came right back onto the field. S Jamarca Sanford tweaked a hamstring and Childress indicated that would be a day-to-day situation for this week.

Return of Rice
Perhaps the most asked question the last couple of weeks has been “When is Sidney Rice coming back?” The answer is still “I don’t know.” But it sound like Rice is getting closer and closer.

“He’s had some good practices out here,” Childress commented, “it’s just a matter of can you play wide-open and play in an NFL football game? It’s one thing to practice. It’s another thing when you’re going to get tackled to the ground.”

Rice has looked good in practice the last couple of weeks and he looked sharp while working out in pre-game workouts on Sunday. Time will tell when he can return; I’m cautiously optimistic it’ll be this week against the Bears, but the smart money might be next week at home against Green Bay. Stay tuned.

Big-Play Bernard
It was pleasing to see Bernard Berrian become such an important factor in the offense. He had 9 receptions for 89 yards on Sunday and came up with 3 clutch grabs in the 4th quarter and overtime. Childress mentioned on Monday that Berrian had a good practice week leading up to the Arizona game and that his chemistry with Favre looked particularly sharp.

“I saw Brett throwing it as well as he has thrown it all year long in that Thursday practice,” Childress said. “Very live arm, very accurate and then Bernard was kind of right there with him. Not that the other guys weren’t, but you could see him have a good week of practice. Both of those guys. It wasn’t surprising to see it carry over to Sunday.”

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A Few Friday Fun Facts

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 5, 2010 – 12:06 pm

A few fun facts on a Friday afternoon…

– QB Brett Favre is the only player in NFL history to have over 10,000 career passing attempts. Favre has thrown 10,022 times.
– WR Percy Harvin went over the 100-yard receiving mark for the first time this season and the second
time in his career when he finished with 104 receiving yards at New England last week. Harvin leads the Vikings with 393 receiving yards on the year.
– Harvin is the first Vikings player to reach 1,000 combined net yards in the first 7 games, twice in a career (2009, 2010).
– With his start at New England last week, LB E.J. Henderson became only the 8th LB in Vikings history to play in 100 games.
– QB Tarvaris Jackson’s 33-yard run at New England was the longest of his career and the 7th-longest by a Vikings QB.
– P Chris Kluwe ranks 1st in the NFC and 2nd in the NFL with a net punting average of 41.7 yards. Kluwe’s previous net high for a single season was 37.8 yards in 2009.
– RB Adrian Peterson has 2 of the top 8 rushing performances in 2010. Peterson’s 160 yards against Detroit are the 5th-most this year and his 145 against Miami are tied for the 8th-most.
– Peterson leads the league with 776 rushing yards through the first 7 games.
– Peterson’s 6 rushing TDs on the year are tied for 3rd in the NFL.

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Analyzing Vikings-Patriots Special Teams Matchups

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 27, 2010 – 9:19 am

In setting the table for Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots I mentioned that one of the best matchups will be on special teams. This area of the game is often overlooked, but it could make a huge difference in any given week.

Drilling even deeper here, the best 2 matchups happen to be when the Vikings kick off and when the Vikings punt. So, let’s take a quick look…

When the Vikings kick off: New England uses WR Brandon Tate as their primary kickoff returner and he’s been excellent so far in 2010. Tate is averaging 31.7 yards per kickoff return and he’s taken 2 returns to the house for TDs. Conversely the Vikings kickoff coverage team has been solid this season. Because he can’t boom the ball through the endzone regularly, the Vikings emphasize placement of kicks and this will be key on Sunday.

Also key on Sunday will be the 10 guys running down the field in coverage for the Vikings. Generally speaking, this area has been good this season and certainly improved from seasons past. The Vikings yield 23.7 yards per kickoff return, which is middle of the road in terms of NFL rankings, but that includes a pesky 86-yard return. Anyway, they’ll need to be at their best on Sunday to slow down Tate.

From a raw numbers standpoint, the Patriots have the edge here. But Longwell and Co. will certainly have a plan for Sunday and it’ll be a matter of executing that plan and not missing tackles.

When the Vikings punt: The edge in this department goes to the Vikings. P Chris Kluwe is having another marvelous season, as he’s ranked #2 in the NFL with a 41.8 net average and he also has 11 punts downed inside the 20. Just as important, though, is the fact that Kluwe and the punt coverage team are allowing a league-low 3.1 yards per punt return and only 11 of Kluwe’s 28 punts have been returned; opposing returns have called 9 fair catches. These stats indicate a couple of things: 1) Kluwe is doing a good job of directional kicking and hang time and 2) the coverage guys are doing a nice job of surrounding the returner and bringing him down quickly.

New England counters with a nice returner in WR Julian Edelman. Both Tate and Wes Welker have logged punt returns, but Edelman has taken the majority of them and when he does New England gets 13.4 yards per return, which would rank 4th best in the NFL if it qualified. Edelman has yet to call for a fair catch and although he doesn’t have a return TD yet, he does have a long return of 34 yards, so you know he’s got the moves to make it happen.

This is a good matchup and one to watch on Sunday; the Vikings have a slight edge here.

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Murphy Points To Continuity, Unselfishness In Solid Special Teams Effort

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 21, 2010 – 12:30 pm

Vikings special teams coordinator Brian Murphy met with reporters on Thursday, as he does each week, and there were a few interesting notes to take from what he had to say. Let’s take a look at them…

– I wrote on Monday that the Vikings put together perhaps their most complete special teams effort in Sunday’s win over the Dallas Cowboys, thanks in large part to Percy Harvin’s 95-yard kickoff return for a TD but also because of outstanding work by P Chris Kluwe, K Ryan Longwell and the kick coverage units.

Murphy was asked on Thursday about his team’s overall effort against Dallas and said that it was a solid performance. He also explained that the quality play is a function of continuity.

“It was a solid performance,” Murphy said. “It’s a reflection of stability at all the positions. Playing with the same guys will lead to success; the same guys doing the same things, working with the same people.”

– This was Murphy’s response when asked if Harvin would be utilized on punt returns: “It’ll come eventually. I don’t think it’s him (not being smooth enough yet), it’ll be the right place and the right time for him to be back returning punts.”

– Kluwe is receiving rave reviews for his punt performances not because of how far he’s kicking it but because of his accuracy and ability to hang the ball up in the air long enough to allow the coverage unit to surround the returner.

“He’s been very consistent,” Murphy said of Kluwe, “and he’s another guy that you appreciate because the bottom line is winning and he’s doing what it takes for us as a team to win. Punters are judged right, wrong or indifferent, they’re judged by their gross punt (average). But in order for the Minnesota Vikings to win, we need to net out and change the field. And he’s done that unselfishly. He’s doing the things that we need to win.”

– You’ll remember that TE Jim Kleinsasser had a good game catching the ball against Dallas. But in recent seasons Kleinsasser’s value has been as an effective in-line blocker for the offense. He’s also a core special teams player, though, and Murphy was asked to comment on what Kleinsasser means to the special teams group.

“Jim is one of those guys [who] regardless of years, he comes, he prepares, he’s a steady performer, you know what you’re going to get out of him and that’s great effort,” Murphy explained. “He’s strong at the point (of attack). He never lets you down in that role. He’s willing to do those things. And I can’t tell you how much I appreciate what he brings to the table because not only does he do it without a lot of fanfare, I think it’s a good example for the rest of the guys in the room to see a guy like that that has played that long and is still willing to do those things.”

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Vikings Special Teams Unit Continues Solid Season

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 18, 2010 – 7:27 am

It’s easy for special teams play to get lost in the shuffle when evaluating and digesting NFL games. But we won’t let that happen here, not after the Vikings put together perhaps the most complete special teams performance since Brian Murphy took over as coordinator of the unit before the 2009 season.

We’ve mentioned a few times in the Blog this season that the special teams unit is playing well, but often times that praise has been easily overlooked because the team got off to a rocky 1-3 start. So now with win #2 on the season in the books, let’s take a quick look at the impact Murphy’s group had on the outcome.

– We’ll begin with the catalyst for the Vikings 2nd-half surge against Dallas. The Vikings went into the locker room at halftime trailing 14-7. But they came out of the locker room in the 2nd half and immediately tied the game when Percy Harvin dashed 95 yards through the middle of the field for a TD. Harvin was virtually untouched on the play, so credit goes to the 10 blockers there. And he did a nice job of sticking his foot in the ground and heading straight upfield.

“Coming out of the half there’s no better way to set the tempo than taking the opening kick back,” Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said after the game. “It’s a testament to those special teams. You talk about covering people up, I don’t know that Percy broke stride on that return. He set the tempo for us special teams-wise as well as those other 10 guys and then got on the field and got a three-and-out on defense and were able to hold on.”

– As explosive as Harvin was with that return, P Chris Kluwe was every bit as consistent on the day, as he’s been all season. Kluwe had 5 punts on the day for a net average of 41.8. But more importantly, he landed 4 of those 5 punts inside the 20 and 2 of them inside the 10. Of Kluwe’s 5 punts, only 2 of them were returned and Dallas managed just 3 total yards on those 2 returns. That’s outstanding work from Kluwe.

“He’s done a great job of directional punting,” Childress said of Kluwe. “He’s really taken that bit. The other thing he’s doing is kicking with great height and hang-time and I think I’ve mentioned to you guys before the people that do a great job in terms of not having punt returns are the people that are able to hang it up in the air and let our guys go down and cover it. Again, the kicking teams were outstanding.”

– While a lot of credit is due to Kluwe for the lack of Dallas return yardage on Sunday, credit also goes to the Vikings coverage unit. LB Jasper Brinkley tallied 3 special teams tackles on Sunday while the newly-acquired Fran Walker also got in on the action. Dallas returned 5 kickoffs on the day and averaged 16.2 yards per return, a pedestrian average. The most impressive kickoff cover of the day may have been the opening kickoff, when Brinkley smashed Akwasi Owusu-Ansah at the Cowboys 19 after just a 13-yard return. The hit got a great reaction from the crowd that went from “Whoa!” to loud cheers.

– We can’t talk about the Vikings special teams play without talking about K Ryan Longwell, who was perfect on his PAT tries and also hit the game-winning FG in the 4th quarter from 38 yards out. Longwell also appeared to do a nice job on his kickoffs in terms of placing the ball where the coverage team expected him to place it.

– Finally, the best special teams play (aside from Harvin’s return) may have been the last special teams play of the day. The Vikings forced a 3-and-out after Longwell’s 38-yard FG and the offense took over on the MN 25. Four Adrian Peterson runs and a pass interference penalty allowed the Vikings to run over 2 minutes off the clock. Ultimately the Vikings had to punt the ball away with 29 seconds remaining in the game. Kluwe’s punt came down near the Dallas 4, where Dez Bryant received it and tried to make a few moves to pickup yardage. But the Vikings punt team covered the perfectly placed kick well and strung Bryant out. Eventually Bryant was surrounded by the entire coverage team and he was dropped after just a 3-yard gain to the 7. That left the Cowboys with more than 60 yards to gain in 13 seconds to get in FG range, a task too tough to accomplish as the Vikings came away with the 24-21 victory.

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Harvin, Henderson Key Vikings Hard-Fought 24-21 Victory

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 17, 2010 – 6:00 pm

Wins in the NFL are never easy and the Vikings 24-21 victory over the Dallas Cowboys at Mall of America Field on Sunday was certainly no exception. The Vikings had just 60 net yards of offense at halftime but they used a 2nd-half surge and outstanding performances from WR Percy Harvin and LB E.J. Henderson to notch their 2nd win of the season and move to 2-3.

The Cowboys were 7 of 10 on 3rd down conversions in the 1st half and they utilized a pair of Roy Williams TD receptions to take a 14-7 lead into the locker room at halftime. Dallas controlled the ball in the 1st half, claiming a 9-minute advantage in time of possession and totaling 130 more yards of net offense than the Vikings.

But the tide turned in the 2nd half. And it turned right out of the gate, as Harvin took the opening kickoff and dashed 95 yards straight through the Cowboys coverage team to tally a TD and knot the game at 14. The Vikings and Cowboys exchanged TDs after that, with the Vikings scoring on an Adrian Peterson plunge and Dallas scoring on a 31-yard strike from Tony Romo to Dez Bryant.

With the score tied at 21 early in the 4th quarter, Romo dropped back to pass on a 3rd and 2 from the Dallas 22. Romo saw his TE – Jason Witten – streaking down the middle of the field wide open. He zipped a pass Witten’s way but Henderson was there to grab his 2nd INT of the game. The Vikings offense took over on the 30 and 7 plays later Ryan Longwell came on to kick what would be the game-winning FG from 38 yards out.

Leading 24-21, the Vikings defense didn’t relent and forced a 3-and-out on Dallas’ next drive. The Vikings shaved off more than 2 minutes from the game clock on their ensuing possession before Vikings P Chris Kluwe and the special teams unit pinned Dallas at its own 7 with 13 seconds to play. The Cowboys ran 2 plays but it wasn’t enough to work into FG range and the Vikings prevailed with a 24-21 victory in front of another sold-crowd at Mall of America Field in Minneapolis.

Vikings QB Brett Favre finished the day going 14 of 18 for 119 yards and 1 TD with 0 INTs. Favre’s favorite target on the afternoon was Randy Moss, who had 5 grabs for 55 yards. Harvin had 3 reception for 21 yards and also 2 carries for 18 yards while fellow WR Greg Camarillo had 2 catches for 15 yards and his 1st TD as a Viking. Peterson rushed 24 times for 73 yards and the TD.

LB Chad Greenway led all tacklers in the game with 12 stops – 1 of which came for a loss – and CB Antoine Winfield was 2nd on the team with 10 tackles. Henderson added 9 tackles to his 2 INTs.

The win moves Minnesota to 2-3 on a day that saw all of their fellow NFC North foes lose – the Bears lost at home to Seattle, the Lions lost on the road to the NY Giants and the Packers dropped a home game to the Miami Dolphins.

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