When the Minnesota Vikings have won games this year, they have often found a way to make things interesting late in the game.
Against the San Francisco 49ers, Kirk Cousins went 0-for-7 in the fourth quarter, opening the door for Jimmy Garoppolo to have the ball down by just one score late in the fourth. Of course, he threw an interception.
In Philadelphia, a fumble gave the Eagles a shot. They brought the game within six points early in the fourth, only to be slowed by the Vikings’ defense in big spots.
Arizona cut the lead to 10 points with seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and then forced a Vikings three-and-out. The Cardinals then back themselves into a fourth-and-25 and then the Vikings put them away.
The Jets pulled within 10 with 10:27 left in the game and then forced a three-and-out. Naturally, Sam Darnold threw an interception on the following drive.
On Sunday night, the New Orleans Saints put on a clock-killing display that went under the radar with the hot debates surrounding the Minnesota Vikings’ turnovers.
But even after Kirk Cousins’ pick-six, the Vikings had all sorts of time to get back in the game. Down two touchdowns with 5:53 left in the third quarter, the Vikings got the ball back and quickly hit Stefon Diggs for a 22-yard pass. The drive, however, stalled when Cousins was sacked for a seven-yard loss.
And then the Saints took the air out of the football.
New Orleans ran nine times and Drew Brees went 5-for-5 on short passes, running the clock from 2:50 left in the third to 9:39 remaining in the fourth.
“We had enough of a lead, and you are looking at the clock as well, and focused on getting first downs but sustaining the drives and understanding that you have a pretty good lead that you are trying to protect,” Brees said about the team’s late-game strategy. “It is not a conservative approach, it is just a smart approach.”
After a Cousins touchdown pass to Adam Thielen, the Saints went to work again, taking the clock from 4:26 to 1:15, giving the Vikings no shot at closing the 10-point gap.
Brees finished the game with just 120 yards, which might be considered a huge success on defense, but his lack of big numbers was a direct result of New Orelans’ ground-and-pound attack.
“It felt like today we were able to really control the ball on the ground and it felt like the passing game was really a compliment to that, getting a first down every now and then, getting completions, and creating positive plays,” Brees said. “Positive plays put us in manageable situations so we could sustain drives to stay on the field and keep their explosive offensive off the field and make plays.”
As the Vikings head into a stretch in which they will face Matthew Stafford, the Bears defense, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Russell Wilson, they will need to take a page out of the Saints’ book when they get ahead. New Orleans never cracked the door open. One advantage the Vikings have is that their run game has been more successful of late. Over the last three weeks, they have averaged 111 yards per game on the ground.