Kyle Rudolph’s most memorable reception in the Vikings’ 27-9 victory Sunday in Detroit was his 44-yard catch of Kirk Cousins’ Hail Mary pass that ended the first half and gave Minnesota a lead it would not relinquish.
But that play should not have overshadowed the fact that Rudolph had his best game of the season during a year in which the veteran tight end has been a forgotten man at times. Rudolph was anything but that on Sunday as he finished with nine receptions (on nine targets) for 122 yards and two touchdowns.
New offensive coordinator John DeFilippo had been expected to utilize Rudolph frequently this season after leaving the Philadelphia Eagles as quarterbacks coach to join Mike Zimmer’s staff. DeFilippo saw tight end Zach Ertz lead the Eagles with 74 receptions for 824 yards and eight touchdowns last year as that team won the Super Bowl, so it was assumed that Rudolph might play a similar type of role.
That didn’t happen and while Rudolph had a pair of seven catch games against the Packers, he caught fewer than five passes in eight of the 13 games with DeFilippo calling plays. That included a pair of one reception games. He had 48 receptions (on 65 targets) for 470 yards and two touchdowns when DeFilippo was fired the day after the Vikings’ loss on Dec. 10 in a Monday night game in Seattle.
Rudolph’s touchdown total was a significant dip from the eight he had last season under former offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur or the 15 combined receiving scores he had over the past two seasons. But Kevin Stefanski, who replaced DeFilippo, made sure that Rudolph wasn’t ignored Sunday.
“Today was just my time,” said Rudolph, who had three receptions for 23 yards in the Vikings’ 41-17 victory over Miami last Sunday in Stefanski’s first game calling plays. “You just prepare each and every week as best you can. We’ve got two really, really good receivers on the outside (in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen) and today, when the ball came my way, I just tried to catch it. I can’t tell you why or give you a reason that happened today, other than it’s almost Christmas. Christmas is usually good to me.
“But it’s the thing that I take a lot of pride in preparing myself each and every week that when these opportunities do come — because I don’t always know when they are going to come in the passing game, I have a lot of other roles that I have to do — that I take advantage of them.”
Zimmer said the coaching staff saw opportunities to get the ball to Rudolph based on the coverages by the Lions defense. “Honestly, Kyle hasn’t run some of those routes for a long time,” Zimmer said. ” … We thought we could hit some things on them and it turned out good. It’s good to get Kyle involved, too.”
Rudolph wasn’t the only forgotten man in the Vikings’ offense under DeFilippo. A week earlier, running back Dalvin Cook had a season-high 19 rushing attempts for 136 yards and two touchdowns against Miami.
Rudolph, in his eighth NFL season, followed his first touchdown catch with a less-flashy 4-yard scoring reception in the fourth quarter that completed a nine-play, 53-yard drive and gave the Vikings a 24-9 lead.
“I think it was a combination of the game plan and giving him opportunities,” Cousins said of Rudolph’s big day. “I also think that I’m always going to go where coverage is dictating. So I can’t tell you before the snap who’s getting the football. It just seemed like the way they played and defended that at times the safeties, or the doubling, was going on elsewhere and it gave Rudy a chance to get open and make plays.”