The Minnesota Vikings came into the 2017 season believing they could have the league’s best defense. They played like it against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
This offseason, the Bucs loaded up on offensive weapons around former No. 1 overall pick quarterback Jameis Winston. They added the league’s top deep-threat receiver DeSean Jackson in free agency and drafted speedy tight end OJ Howard in the first round.
Tampa Bay’s explosive group of weapons have little impact against the Vikings’ defense on Sunday.
From the opening drive, it was clear that the Bucs wanted to work the ball downfield. Winston’s first three throws went for 17, 18 and 12-yard completions. But the Vikings quickly adapted, closing down the drive by pressuring Winston. Defensive end Brian Robison grabbed the Bucs’ QB as he was throwing, nearly causing an interception.
And the Vikings’ defense didn’t look back after that.
Star pass rusher Everson Griffen picked up a sack on 3rd-and-2 on Tampa Bay’s third drive, forcing a punt. Then on the following drive, Trae Waynes intercepted an underthrown ball by Winston in the end zone.
Down 21-3, with one shot at getting back in the game, Winston threw three straight incompletions.
”We did a good job trying to push the pocket and get after him for the whole game,” defensive tackle Shamar Stephen said.
The Bucs’ offense came to life somewhat in the third quarter. Winston went 9-for-11 with two touchdowns in the third, but the Vikings’ defense came up with a big play in the fourth to ice the game. Winston was confused by a look from Minnesota’s defense and threw the ball directly into the hands of safety Andrew Sendejo.
As has become a weekly tradition, Xavier Rhodes shadowed top Bucs receiver Mike Evans and gave him very few opportunities to make an impact. He finished with seven catches for 67 yards on 12 targets.
“It was pretty tough,” Rhodes said. “Mike Evans is a pretty big guy, he’s pretty physical, he likes pushing off at the top of his routes. I just like playing my game and being physical right along with him.”
The same can be said for Jackson. Trae Waynes’ first two games did not live up the the Vikings’ expectations coming out of camp, but he played a role in limiting the former Philadelphia and Washington star receiver. Jackson’s one touchdown catch came late in the game and went against Tramaine Brock.
Not to be forgotten, the Vikings’ run defense was strong for the third straight week, giving up just 26 yards on nine carries.
If the Viking are going to continue to be competitive over a number of weeks without Sam Bradford, they will need defensive performances like the one they got against the Bucs. Even if Case Keenum performs competently, he can’t be relied upon to put up big numbers each week.
After three games, coming home with two wins and two strong defensive performances against Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Winston puts the Vikings on the right track toward achieving their goal of being the league’s top defense.