Vikings collect crucial win over Jaguars
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- After seeing a mostly conservative passer on film while preparing throughout the week, the Jacksonville Jaguars expected Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford to remain cautious with his throws Sunday.
Bradford had other plans.
Needing a win to stay relevant in the NFC playoff race, an unusually aggressive Bradford had success while firing deep shots and helped the Vikings outlast the Jaguars in a critical 25-16 victory at EverBank Field.
"We knew we would have some opportunities coming into today to take some shots and push the ball down the field," Bradford said. "Early in the game, that's what we wanted to do. Fortunately, we were successful in doing that and creating some explosive plays. Anytime you can do that, it makes things easier for the offense."
In what was a battle of kickers during the first half, Bradford's game-changing plays were enough to help the Vikings (7-6) get just their second win in the past eight games.
Bradford came into the game with just two completions of more than 40 yards all season but connected on three against a Jacksonville pass defense that was ranked second in the league behind the Denver Broncos.
The first two explosive plays -- one to tight end Kyle Rudolph for 44 yards on the first play of the game and another to receiver Adam Thielen for 41 yards on the first play of Minnesota's second drive -- each set up field goals to give the Vikingsan early 6-0 lead.
Bradford later hit receiver Stefon Diggs for 45 yards and finished the game 24 of 34 for 292 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
"You come in and you look and you say this is what it is going to be," Jaguars free safety Tashaun Gipson said. "Complete opposite. The first play of the game he's throwing a 40-yard bomb down the sideline. He threw more vertical passes than check-downs and short routes. I tip my hat off to him. Good quarterback, good play. He came out and he played. He lit the secondary up today."
The Vikings needed Bradford's strong play.
Trailing 18-16 midway through the fourth quarter, Jacksonville's defense got a rare takeaway when running back Matt Asiata was stuffed at the goal line and lost a fumble.
Minnesota (7-6) forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession, and Bradford found Rudolph for a 3-yard touchdown to seal the game with 2:13 remaining in the fourth quarter.
"We're doing good as a defense so far, but we're just not doing enough," Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. "I think we have to start nitpicking and really thinking about things and looking at ourselves in the mirror. We've been playing good football, but to be great you have to really be critical of your work. I think we have to be more critical."
The Jaguars (2-11) took their only lead of the game late in the third quarter when quarterback Blake Bortles found receiver Bryan Walters over the middle for a 14-yard touchdown.
The score was set up after the Vikings were hit with several penalties on the drive, including a holding penalty on cornerback Xavier Rhodes that was compounded when Rhodes was flagged for an unsportsmanlike penalty for arguing the call.
Otherwise, the mistakes were mostly made by the Jaguars, who tied a franchise record with their eighth straight loss in a season -- the most since coach Gus Bradley's first season in 2013.
Jacksonville gave the Vikings a new set of downs by roughing the punter, allowed a 53-yard kick return by Cordarrelle Patterson and missed two field goals.
That's how it has gone most of the season.
"It's tough anytime you lose," said Bortles, who was 23 of 37 for 257 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. "I know for me personally, I can't wait to play on Sunday the following week and get another opportunity and hopefully to try to erase some of this stuff that's going on and maybe wake up from this nightmare."
Asiata, who also failed to get into the end zone from one yard out in the second quarter, punched in a 1-yard score to put the Vikings ahead 18-16 with 14:13 remaining in the fourth quarter.
He finished with 11 carries for 37 yards while Jerick McKinnon added 31 rushing yards and caught six passes for 38 yards, including two impressive catch-and-runs. Thielen had 101 receiving yards for a well-rounded attack that totaled 377 yards of offense in one of their strongest offensive performances of the season.
Minnesota kicker Kai Forbath made field goals of 43, 32, 40 and 46 yards, while Jacksonville's Jason Myers had converted from 45, 55 and 24 yards in a game that was tied at 9 at halftime.
But with his team desperate for a victory after falling one game back of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the final wild card spot in the NFC, it was Bradford who showed why the Vikings traded a pair of draft picks prior to the season to acquire him.
"Obviously, anytime you can go on the road and win in this league, it's big -- especially where we were as a team coming into this week," Bradford said. "Obviously, we need to stay in this and it was extremely important. When you come out, play the way we did and walk away with a win, it's big for us."
NOTES: The Jaguars inducted former WR Jimmy Smith into the franchise's Pride of the Jaguars during halftime of the game. Smith was a five-time Pro Bowler who finished with 862 catches for 12,287 yards and 67 touchdowns while playing 11 seasons in Jacksonville. ... Jacksonville WR Marqise Lee finished with a game-high 113 yards on five catches. ...Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer returned to the sideline after missing the team's last game after having surgery to repair a detached retina in his right eye. Zimmer had a patch over the eye and was at times wearing sunglasses. ... WR Adam Thielen had 101 receiving yards for the Vikings.