Notebook: 'Thank you, Sam Bradford,' Everson Griffen says after pick-6
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ST. LOUIS -- Everson Griffen went into training camp playing linebacker. The experiment went poorly enough he moved back to end after one preseason game.
But the coverage skills Griffen honed in Mankato might have paid some dividends on Sunday, when he returned an interception 29 yards for his first NFL touchdown in the second quarter of the Minnesota Vikings' 36-22 victory over St. Louis.
"I'm just happy I caught this one," Griffen said. "It was a big one to catch. I've been dreaming of doing something like that. It finally came true."
It appeared Rams quarterback Sam Bradford never saw Griffen, who dropped behind a zone blitz, read Bradford's eyes and intercepted a crossing route intended for tight end Lance Kendricks.
Griffen said he asked Bradford about the play later, though, and was told "he thought I was going to play the underneath route, and I just stayed right in the middle and he threw it right to me."
Either way, Griffen snared the ball and never slowed down -- accelerating to the far pylon and delivering a stiff-arm to get into the end zone for the first time since high school and push the Vikings' lead to 24-7 with 8 minutes, 25 seconds left in the half.
"That was a great play by Ev'," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "We were able to bluff Sam into thinking we were doing something else and we gave him a different look. It was exactly how you'd want to draw it up."
A fourth-round draft pick (No. 100 overall) out of Southern California in 2010, Griffen has played a significant roll as a rotational player since his rookie year.
"He has really become a student of the game," coach Leslie Frazier said. "He's really working at his craft."
Griffen got extended action on Sunday after starting left end Brian Robison departed with a right shoulder sprain in the first quarter and figures to start next week at Houston if Robison can't go.
Too bad Griffen can't bring his new favorite quarterback with him.
"I want to say, 'Thank you, Sam Bradford,'" Griffen said.
Griffen's interception came one Rams drive after teammate Kevin Williams came up with another key turnover.
Veteran center Scott Wells failed to get the snap into Bradford's hands and Williams fell on it before trying to pass off the ball to Greenway, who was credited with the recovery.
"I tried to slip it to him so he could get up," Williams said. "But we're just trying to have fun out there. I thought he could get up and run with it, because Bradford actually had a hand in there, too, and I kind of ripped it away and told Chad to take off."
Officials called Greenway down at the Rams 28 and the ensuing drive actually went backwards 4 yards. But Blair Walsh cashed in by hitting a 50-yard field goal.
Coupled with Adrian Peterson's 82-yard touchdown on the Vikings' previous possession and Griffen's score shortly thereafter, the Vikings scored 17 points in 3 minutes, 56 seconds.
The Vikings didn't commit a turnover on offense. They're now 8-0 when they have at least as many take-aways as give-aways.
Records for Walsh
Walsh's 38-yard field goal in the second quarter gave him 107 points for the season -- surpassing Randy Moss' 14-year-old franchise record for rookie scoring (106).
He also hit the 50-yard field goal, plus a 42-yarder as the first half expired, a 53-yarder in the third quarter and a 51-yarder in the fourth.
That made Walsh the first Viking to hit three field goals of 50-plus yards in a game and the first to kick eight such field goals in a single season, tying an NFL record previously shared by Morten Andersen (1995) and Jason Hanson (2008).
Not bad for a sixth-round draft pick (175th overall) who struggled as a senior at Georgia last fall, making only 2 of 5 field-goal attempts from 50-plus and 21 of 35 overall (60%).
"He's been everything that we hoped for when we drafted him," Frazier said. "Just very, very happy that he's a part of our team. But he doesn't play like a rookie. He does a terrific job for us."
Getting after it
Griffen's pick-six wasn't the only production from the Vikings' blitz scheme on Sunday.
Greenway and fellow linebacker Erin Henderson each had a sack on a day the Vikings surprised the Rams with how much pressure they sent.
"We knew we could get it to empty when we went five-wide and spread them out," Bradford said, "but to be honest, they hadn't shown a lot of pressures and they heated us pretty good."
Bradford finished 35-of-55 passing for 377 yards, three touchdowns, the interception and a 94.3 rating. But 229 of the passing yards came with the Vikings playing soft coverage to nurse a lead in the second half.
Robison and Christian Ballard also had sacks, and Henderson hit Bradford again to force an incompletion on fourth-and-10 late, all but sealing the decision.
"That was a part of the game plan, to mix in some pressures with our four-man rush," Frazier said. "We were able to early on especially get some effective pressures."
Christian Ponder got off to a stronger start, completing 3 of 3 passes on the opening drive, which he finished by scrambling 5 yards for a touchdown on third-and-goal.
He had to bounce off Rams end Robert Quinn before regaining his balance, taking off and diving across the goal line.
"I got slapped right in the face," Ponder said. "I just kind of reacted. I didn't get pulled down and luckily was able to make a play. Someone else ran right in front of me. I think they were covering Adrian or somebody, and I think they could have easily made the tackle but didn't and was able to score."
Three plays earlier, Ponder kept alive the drive by scrambling for 3 yards on fourth-and-1 off one of three bootlegs coordinator Bill Musgrave called in the opening sequence.
"We appreciated Coach letting us go for it on fourth down and being aggressive," Ponder said. "Obviously, when that happens, we've got to convert and take advantage of it and we did."
Veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield started despite missing the entire week of practice to rest a sore knee.
Winfield sat out the Rams' last couple of series, but Frazier said that was strictly a precaution.
"No setback," Frazier said. "It was purely me just saying, hey, let's get him out. We've got a pretty good cushion here. We wanted to make sure we had him ready for next week."
• Safety Mistral Raymond dropped out briefly with an apparent right calf cramp but returned.
• A moment of silence was held before the game for the victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting. Winfield and Frazier held hands with Rams coach Jeff Fisher and HB Daryl Richardson at midfield. Frazier and Fisher, former teammates with the Chicago Bears in the 1980s, hugged afterward.