Vikings vs. Texans: Minnesota's Biggest Winners and Losers from Week 16
In a shockingly dominant win, the Minnesota Vikings trounced the former top seed of the AFC, the Houston Texans, 23-6. Naturally, the win was a team effort, but a number of individual efforts stood out for better and worse.
The Vikings defense stood out in a big way, but the offense still found a way to make plays. Despite slowing down after a great first drive, Christian Ponder and the Vikings managed to consistently put points on the board, salting away the victory with a final touchdown run from Toby Gerhart.
While some members of the squad were key to the win, others should be expected to do better if the Vikings finish out their unlikely playoff run and make it to the big dance.
Winner: Christian Ponder
Christian Ponder didn't end the game with the most dazzling statistics, but he was clearly one of the most important players in snatching the victory.
Starting off the first drive three for three with 62 yards and a touchdown, he set the tone for a game where the Vikings relied on their passing game for early points much more than before.
After that, he brought the Vikings within scoring distance for their big-legged kicker, Blair Walsh, and his efficient play gave the Vikings the win they needed to stay alive.
Overall, the Minnesota passer finished 16-of-30 with 174 yards and one touchdown, ending with an 81.8 passer rating. This doesn't take his 48 yards of running into account, many of which came on key third downs that Ponder converted with his legs.
While he had some typically bad decisions, he was more often the victim of poor receiver play than not.
Loser: A.J. Jefferson
For another consecutive week, Jefferson finds himself grading out a very poor performance.
Constantly picked on in coverage when lined up against Andre Johnson or Owen Daniels, Jefferson couldn't help but give up big plays.
In fact, on the very first drive of the game, he gave up a large defensive pass interference penalty to keep a Texans drive alive.
Andre Johnson's 97-yard, seven-reception game can be attributed to Jefferson, along with at least two of Owen Daniels' receptions.
While Jefferson may have redeemed himself in some way with key tackles and a fumble recovery, he did much more to hurt the Vikings than help. It seems as if playing outside leverage on man coverage does not suit him well at all.
Winner: Everson Griffen
While he only recorded one tackle, there's no question that Everson Griffen had a great day in his first start at defensive end.
A big tackle for loss on Arian Foster, complemented with a pass deflection and two quarterback hits, allowed Griffen to make a large tangible impact on the game, not to mention his innumerable pressures.
More than that, Minnesota fans saw Griffen drop into coverage on occasion and complicate Schaub's reads. He flew to the ball and perhaps should have been rewarded with some assisted tackles as well.
Griffen's physical talents are obvious, and the depth at defensive end is proving to be a big boon for the Vikings.
Loser: Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson is still the most important cog of the Vikings offense, but even elites have bad days at the office.
With 86 yards on 25 carries, Peterson posted only 3.4 yards per carry, even with three runs of 20 or so yards. Six of his carries went for no gain, and eight went for negative yardage.
This hurts his chances of breaking Eric Dickerson's rushing record of 2105 yards in a single season, but it is by no means out of reach—he ran 210 yards against the Packers in his last outing and needs 208 yards to break the record this time.
His run of 100-yard games comes to an end, but it was inevitable. Peterson's poor outing is in part due to an abdominal pain that took him out of the game, but a style of running that produces occasional home runs to produce yardage will generally produce some disappointing games.
If he gets up to play against the Packers, he should be fine.
Winner: Harrison Smith
The young rookie safety from Notre Dame has proven to be a solid pickup for the Vikings, and this game is one big reason why.
Smith had some excellent coverage against tight ends and played the deep zones well, breaking up passes to keep the Vikings in the game and getting the defense off the field—including pushing a receiver out of bounds on a critical Texans drive late in the game.
Beyond that, his tackles were excellent and made up for some of the poor form he had shown with his tackles earlier in the year. He still hits as hard as ever, which unfortunately led to a very ticky-tacky roughing-the-passer call, but he made up for it in the fourth quarter with a huge strip-sack that allowed Everson Griffen to recover a fumble.
Smith looks to be a solid addition for years to come.
Loser: Phil Loadholt
A mountain of a man, Loadholt made somewhat of a reputation for himself for excellent run blocking but poor pass protecting back in 2011. He's been generally more balanced in his time at right tackle this season, but this game was not his best effort.
While it's not unique for linemen to be beaten by the ever-dominant J.J. Watt, the few times that Watt lined up opposite Loadholt was more embarrassing than usual.
He couldn't keep a clean pocket, regardless of who attacked his protection area, be it a defensive end or outside linebacker.
Further, as a run blocker, he couldn't create space against defenders for Adrian Peterson to run, often unable to drive forward or prevent defenders from shedding his blocks with lateral movement. Loadholt was somewhat of a liability in this game, and his penalties hurt him more.
Winner: Blair Walsh
Another perfect game for Walsh, who is proving that the fan vote for the Pro Bowl is a farce. He went 3-for-3 on field goals and converted both extra points, but more impressive was that this game marked a set of records that can be tied to Walsh's name.
The first record is the Minnesota Vikings team record for longest field goal. A 56-yard boot by Paul Edinger was the longest any Viking had kicked a field goal until Walsh's game in Houston, where he equaled this impressive feat.
The second, more impressive record, was the NFL record for 50-plus yard field goals in a season. He tied it the week previous, but with his eighth such successful try, he achieved something no one in football history had ever done before.
With an additional field goal at 41 yards, and a third one at 39, Walsh contributed 11 points for a team that won its game by 17.
Loser: Jasper Brinkley
Jasper Brinkley didn't have a terrible day, but neither was it good. Solid pressure and a quarterback hit early on seemed to set him up for a good game, but missing his assignments in zone coverage as well as hitting his markers on gaps made for a poor day overall.
Brinkley's mistakes weren't extraordinarily egregious, but one mistake did almost allow for a touchdown, were it not for Harrison Smith's sure tackling at the goal line. Being out of place on a landmark here or there is inevitable, but Brinkley found himself a few yards away from where he needed to be too often.
When asked to run downhill, Brinkley can do well, but he seems to be more of a problem than a solution on the field, and that can't continue if the Vikings want to stake their reputation on a strong defense.
Winner: Jarius Wright
For a receiver who didn't see the field for most of the season, Wright's breakout has been remarkable. Leading the Vikings' receiver corps with nine targets and five receptions, he finished the game with 53 yards in the air and an additional eight on the ground.
This offensive production has been missing from the Vikings for quite some time, and if he can repeat it next week against a weaker defense, the Vikings will be in a good spot to prove that they deserve a playoff spot.
Wright ran most of the routes that Percy Harvin had been asked to run, with bubbles, slants and comeback dominating his receptions. While the Houston defense eventually sussed out his tendencies when he moved into the backfield, Wright did much more damage to the Texans than anyone could have reasonably anticipated.
The former Razorback looks to be a good pickup, but it does raise questions of the staff of why Wright didn't see the field earlier in the year.