Facing a stiff road test against the defending Super Bowl champions Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings got back on track with a 23-21 win over the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.
Coming off back-to-back losses in which they allowed 65 points, the Vikings took advantage of an Eagles offense that struggled to find a rhythm until the fourth quarter. Carson Wentz's final stat line—24-of-35 for 311 yards and two touchdowns—masks the amount of pressure he went up against for the second straight week.
Minnesota's passing game had no such issues attacking the Eagles defense. Kirk Cousins played a near-perfect game by going 30-of-37 for 301 yards and one touchdown. Adam Thielen continues to be an unstoppable force with five straight 100-yard games to start this season.
Thielen's Historic Start Makes Him Strong MVP Candidate
If you go searching for early-season NFL MVP candidates, the list is going to be populated mostly by quarterbacks, some running backs and stud defensive players like Khalil Mack and J.J. Watt.
Thielen's name belongs among that group after breaking a Vikings record previously held by Randy Moss:
If that doesn't convince you of Thielen's MVP credentials, here are some other statistical nuggets that show how dominant he's been:
There's also video evidence of how unstoppable Thielen has become to opposing defenses:
The Vikings didn't get off to a start anyone expected of them after going 13-3 and reaching the NFC Championship Game in 2017.
Beyond the statistical evidence, Thielen steps up in critical moments to keep drives going. Clinging to a 20-14 lead on 2nd-and-5, Cousins was facing immediate pressure from three Eagles defenders and managed to get the ball to his favorite target, who proceeded to pick up the necessary yardage for a first down.
The Vikings were able to extend their lead to 23-14 thanks to a 52-yard Dan Bailey field goal with 2:47 remaining at the end of that same drive.
There has never been a wide receiver who won the Associated Press NFL MVP award since its inception in 1957. Even in a season with stiff competition, Thielen has put himself on the short list of players deserving of the honor.
Eagles' Inability to Protect Wentz Will Ruin Repeat Hopes
In 13 games during the 2017 season, Wentz was sacked just 28 times.
Pro Football Focus' Michael Renner ranked the Eagles offensive line as the NFL's best coming into this season.
Things haven't worked out as expected for Philadelphia in the trenches. Wentz was already sacked nine times in two games since returning from his torn ACL in Week 3.
"The reality is we have high expectations because we performed well in the past," center Jason Kelce told Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Inquirer on Saturday. "We had a great season last year. In order to do that, we know the attention to detail has to be on point. And we know we all have to be on the same page. The communication has to be there. The technique has to be there. And it's really not far off."
The Vikings were able to sack Wentz three times Sunday. To the Eagles' credit, the offensive line was able to patch things together in the fourth quarter when they scored 15 of their 21 points
Wentz accounted for 99 yards over the game's final 15 minutes. Any concern about his ability to play at a high level coming off a serious knee injury should be alleviated.
But until the Eagles figure out a combination on the offensive line that gives Wentz time to make plays in and out of the pocket, their hopes of repeating as Super Bowl champions will be bleak.
Cousins' Poise Proves Vikings Remain Super Bowl Contender
The Eagles could take a lesson from Cousins and the Vikings about figuring out how to succeed behind a bad group of pass protectors.
In Pro Football Focus' preview of this game, it was noted that Minnesota's offensive line allowed the most quarterback pressures in the NFL (81).
Despite rarely having time to examine the field from the pocket, Cousins has now had four straight games with at least 296 passing yards and a completion percentage over 70. He's also thrown nine touchdowns and two interceptions during that span.
The Vikings gave Cousins a historic contract in the offseason, hoping he would be the final piece that got them over the hump in the NFC playoffs.
A 2-2-1 start isn't what the Vikings envisioned for 2018, but Cousins has given them a dimension in the passing game that makes them a dangerous threat to anyone in the NFC for a spot in the Super Bowl when January rolls around.
The Vikings will return home on Oct. 14 to host the Arizona Cardinals at 1 p.m. ET. The Eagles have a quick turnaround as they head to MetLife Stadium for a Thursday night showdown against the New York Giants at 8:20 p.m. ET.