John Shipley: Vikings have a talent for living, but it didn’t come out of nowhere

The Vikings made about a dozen conspicuously big plays in Sunday’s 34-26 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. Maybe the biggest was a blur, a muffed punt with just under 11 minutes remaining.

It wound up in the hands of Vikings linebacker Troy Dye, setting up the game-sealing touchdown at U.S. Bank Stadium.

“I don’t know anything,” said cornerback Kris Boyd, the first Vikings player to hit Cardinals receiver Greg Dortch after he dropped a 39-yard punt from Ryan Wright at Arizona’s 25-yard line.

“I haven’t even watched film yet,” Boyd said. “You know more than I do.”

All that was clear was that the Vikings had made another big play when they needed one. The Cardinals had just kicked a field goal to pull within 28-26 after recovering a Kirk Cousins fumble in Vikings territory, then forced a three-and-out on Minnesota’s ensuing possession.

It wasn’t an unfamiliar position for the Vikings, who improved to 6-1 on Sunday by rallying from a second-half deficit for the fifth time this season. After rallying to beat Chicago 29-22 in Week 5, it was suggested to running back Dalvin Cook that the Vikings were living on the edge.

“We’re not living on the edge,” he said, “we’re making plays when we have to.”

That certainly was the case again on Sunday after Minnesota watched a 14-3 second-quarter lead turn into a 17-14 third-quarter deficit. The Vikings forced three second-half turnovers and turned them into 13 points and finished the Cardinals with consecutive sacks as the clock wound down.

Because the Vikings have beaten only one team with a winning record — a Miami team that started its third-string quarterback — there is a general sense that Minnesota has benefited from scheduling and is likely to run into real trouble when it plays at Buffalo on Nov. 13. That may well be true, but the fact remains that you play the team in front of you and the Vikings have won six of their seven games — and five in a row.

They left the field with a 3½-game lead on Green Bay in the NFC North that wasn’t handed to them, and with each win comes more confidence for a team that is playing new systems for the first time after eight years under former coach Mike Zimmer and his staff.

They’re also not naïve enough to believe they’ve got it made.

“We haven’t played our best. but I think it’s on the way, as long as we continue to grow and not be satisfied with where we’re at,” Dye said. “It’s a long season; we still have 10 games to go and you never know what’s going to happen in this league.”

Certainly, Dortch didn’t expect Boyd to close on him as fast as he did on that fourth-quarter punt. Dortch appeared to recover his own fumble, despite being immediately leveled by Boyd, but had the ball displaced by Kene Nwangwu. The Vikings halfback knew the ball was loose but didn’t know where.

His diving hit turned Dortch over on his backside and dislodged the ball.

“I was just punching wherever his hands and center area were,” Nwangwu said. “I saw that it went out and there was a scrum, a scramble for it, and I was like, ‘Alright, I’m going to punch the returner and make sure he doesn’t get it,’ you know?”

The ball was loose just long enough for Dye to grab it on the fly. The third man in, he saw and remembered the play best. Linebackers coach Greg Manusky, Dye said, “Always talks about being in the bottom of the pile with the ball: You grab it and get out as fast as you can so there’s no ifs, ands or buts about (the call). So, I grabbed it as hard as I could and tried to just arm crawl out of there.”

Four plays later, Kirk Cousins found K.J. Osborn in the right-hand corner of the end zone for a touchdown and a 34-26 lead, and while Greg Joseph’s point-after attempt hit an upright to keep it a one-possession game, the Cardinals were up against it with 8:36 remaining.

These 2022 Vikings certainly have a talent for living, but it didn’t come out of nowhere. Luck, Branch Rickey once wisely said, is the residue of design.

The defense closed Sunday’s win with consecutive sacks by Za’Darius Smith, his third of the game, and Harrison Phillips, who tackled a stumbling Kyler Murray as the clock ran out.

Those two accounted for all four Vikings sacks, but Danielle Hunter and D.J Wonnum could have shared in the last one; they applied the initial contact that had Murray stumbling toward Phillips.

“Nah,” Hunter said. “That doesn’t matter. What matters is we won.”

It’s hard to argue with that.

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