MINNEAPOLIS - It wasn’t the prettiest or easiest, but the Minnesota Vikings are 5-1 heading to their bye week after a 24-16 win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium.
The Vikings started the day with four straight 3-and-outs on offense, finished with 10 punts and had just 173 total yards midway through the fourth quarter. That's when Minnesota's play-makers went to work. Kirk Cousins was 20-of-30 passing for 175 yards, with an early touchdown to Irv Smith Jr. and a fourth quarter score to Adam Thielen. But a long touchdown run from Dalvin Cook proved to be the difference in Minnesota's fourth straight win.
"I’m really, really proud of this group to be 5-1. We talked last night any way it would take, any means necessary to get to 5-1 going into this bye. We’ve learned a lot about our football team, we also have learned we’ve got a long way to go and a lot of room to improve. I love this team," Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell said after the win.
With Skylar Thompson suffering a thumb injury in the first half, former Vikings’ quarterback Teddy Bridgewater tried to engineer a fourth quarter comeback for the Dolphins. He hit Mike Gesicki with a pair of touchdowns about nine minutes apart to keep the Dolphins within one score, but the Vikings' defense made enough stops in key situations to leave Miami with a victory.
With the Dolphins driving for the potential go-ahead score, Harrison Smith forced a Jaylen Waddle fumble that Cam Bynum recovered with 4:22 to play. It was the second big play of the game from Smith, who intercepted Bridgewater in the second quarter, collecting a tipped pass just before it hit the ground.
Cook, bottled up much of the day, broke loose for a 53-yard touchdown up the middle with 3:15 to play to give the Vikings a 24-10 lead, after Cousins hit Thielen on a two-point conversion. Earlier in the fourth quarter, Cousins hit Thielen for a 2-yard touchdown to give the Vikings a 16-3 lead with 14:13 to play.
"For Dalvin to pop that long run, that’s an attrition type of run where our guys are leaning on him. That’s the type of run, that cut, that’s a game-changing cut that only certain players in this league can make. It was a critical run for us a big moment in the game," O'Connell said.
Cook finished with 13 carries for 77 yards and a touchdown. Take out the 53-yard score, and it was tough sledding with 24 yrads on just 12 carries. Justin Jefferson and Thielen combined for 10 catches, 143 yards and one touchdown.
"It felt great. Just grinding with my brothers is always important to me. To get the win and a good trip back to Minnesota is always important," Cook said.
The Vikings allowed 458 total yards, but forced the Dolphins to punt six times, and created three turnovers off Bridgewater. The Dolphins also committed 10 penalties. Patrick Peterson and Smith each got interceptions, and the Vikings got six sacks between Jordan Hicks, Danielle Hunter, Za’Darius Smith (2) and Patrick Jones II (2). Jones got snaps with D.J. Wonnum unable to play, missing practice this week due to illness.
"Huge. He had a look in his eye this whole trip. He was just a man on a mission. You could see the look in his eye earlier this morning," O'Connell said.
Bridgewater finished 23-of-34 for 329 yards, but faced pressure much of the afternoon and turned the ball over twice. The Vikings managed just 234 total yards and ran for only 78, but only committed two penalties and didn’t have any turnovers.
Punter Ryan Wright was the unsung hero on special teams. Of his 10 punts, seven were downed inside the 20-yard line and he had a career-long 73-yard punt in the first quarter, which was also fifth-longest in franchise history. He got a game ball in the locker room celebration, as did the entire defense.
The Vikings have now won four straight games since a Monday Night Football loss at Philadelphia, and are atop the NFC North by themselves at 5-1. The Green Bay Packers fell to 3-2 after a home loss to the New York Jets.
They may not be the prettiest on the field performances, but the Vikings are finding ways to win. After rallying for three straight wins in the fourth quarter the last three weeks, the Vikings grabbed a lead in the second quarter and never gave it back, even though it got interesting at times.
"What I would say is we’ve got a tough, resilient group that doesn’t always play the most consistent, but they are willing and able to have each other’s backs in all three phases. What you felt was support, and we all believed that we were going to win that football game," O'Connell said.