It wasn’t nationally aired. It wasn’t “America’s Game of the Week”. It wasn’t even a Sunday night or Monday night game.
But the game between the St. Louis Rams and Minnesota Vikings on Sunday afternoon had crucial playoff implications on the line for both teams. Both the Rams and Vikings entered the match-up second in their respective divisions, and not only in the thick of the NFC Wild Card race, but in their divisional races as well.
And poor play calling, sloppy execution, added along with overall just being outmatched by an underrated team became the Rams downfall as they fell 21-18 in overtime to the Vikings. The loss dropped them back to .500 at 4-4.
The game was considered the “Battle of the Backs” as two of the NFL’s best running backs were playing; Adrian Peterson and Todd Gurley. Both are in the top five in rushing yards in the NFL. And both shined on Sunday.
The veteran Peterson, drafted number seven overall in 2007, rushed for 125 yards and a touchdown. Gurley meanwhile, drafted number 10 overall this season, rushed for 89 yards and a touchdown.
Within a span of five minutes in the first quarter, Minnesota had themselves a 10-0 lead, thanks to a Blair Walsh 34-yard field goal, and a Peterson six-yard touchdown run. St. Louis proceeded to score 15 unanswered points, but it was one point they didn’t score that turned out to be one of the deciding factors in the game.
After Gurley scored a one-yard touchdown, Rams coach Jeff Fisher elected to go for two points instead of the extra point. St. Louis would not convert and it proceeded to haunt them for the remainder of the afternoon.
“I felt like we were gonna need as many scoring opportunities as we possibly can,” Fisher said. “And it was indicative of how the wind was. I liked what we had up, and I let the coaches know after I observed the wind.”
Following the touchdown, Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein kicked two field goals in the second quarter (the only points scored in the quarter), with the first field goal being a 61-yard one. As both teams entered the locker rooms at halftime, the Rams held a 15-10 lead.
But in the second half, perhaps the biggest play of the game occurred; one in which not only knocked a player out of the game, but sparked a fire in a team’s eyes.
Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who had scored a touchdown with 8:44 left in the third quarter, was scrambling for a first down early in the fourth quarter. As he was sliding to the grass, Rams cornerback Lamarcus Joyner ran in, and elbowed Bridgewater in the head, sending the second-year quarterback lying down on the grass in pain.
Bridgewater had to be taken out of the game and go through the NFL concussion protocol, which brought in former Rams quarterback Shaun Hill. And while the Vikings kept their composure after the hit that had taken place earlier, their play began to become more aggressive.
Late in the game, with Minnesota still leading 18-15, Zuerlein entered the game to attempt the tying 48-yard field goal. But the kick sailed wide right with a little over one and a half minutes to play. However, he did get a second shot later, and made the field goal, this time a 53-yard one, with 12 seconds left.
In overtime, the Rams could not execute on their possession, being forced to punt it away. Poor coverage on the punting team led to Vikings’ returner Marcus Sherels breaking off a big return, allowing them to start their drive on their own 49-yard line. After giving the ball to Peterson multiple times, they were suddenly in Walsh’s field goal range, and he did not disappoint, hitting a 40-yard field goal to win it for the Vikings.
During the post-game press conference, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer shared his thoughts on Joyner’s hit on Bridgewater. And he did not mince words.
“I would say if we were out on the street, we probably would have had a fight (in response to the play),” Zimmer said.
As for Joyner’s thoughts on the hit, he made it clear he never meant for it to be the way it turned out to be.
“I know that guy,” Joyner said. “I grew up across the railroad tracks from him (in Miami). My mom knows his mom. My dad knows his mom. I would never intentionally do a dirty play like that on Teddy Bridgewater.”
With the win, Minnesota improves to 6-2 and is tied atop the NFC North with the Green Bay Packers, who lost 39-27 to the undefeated Carolina Panthers. St. Louis, meanwhile, drops to 4-4 as they try to remain in the wild card chase.
St. Louis will face the Chicago Bears next Sunday at 12:00 CST on CBS.
(AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)