Arizona Cardinals vs. Minnesota Vikings (NFL Thursday Night Football)

NFL: Arizona Cardinals Beat Injured Minnesota Vikings, Clinch Playoff Berth

This week’s NFL Thursday Night Football saw the NFC-West-leading Arizona Cardinals defeat an injury-laden Minnesota Vikings. With the loss, the Minnesota Vikings now trail the rival Green Bay Packers by half a game until Sunday, when the cheese-heads play the Seattle Seahawks. With the win, the Arizona Cardinals have secured a spot in the NFL Playoffs.

A Thursday night game always means three fewer days for players to heal, which is exactly the opposite of what the Vikings needed. Coming into their match-up with the Cardinals, as USA Today noted, four Minnesota Vikings players were injured — and all of them were integral to Minnesota’s defense. Anthony Barr (linebacker) was sidelined with groin and hand injuries. Linval Joseph (defensive tackle) was out with a foot injury. Andrew Sendejo (safety) had suffered a knee injury, while fellow safety Harrison Smith heals both his knee and hamstring.

This was especially troubling news for Minnesota’s defense as they prepared to play the Arizona offense, who leads the NFL in passing yards and points scored.

As noted by Sports Illustrated, the Vikings are still looking for a “statement win,” as critics love to point out that Minnesota has only beaten one team this year with a record above.500. After a heartbreaking loss to Arizona, they are now 1-4 against teams with a winning record. Luckily, they have only lost one game to a sub-.500 team, so their overall record is still 8-5 — good enough to be tied for first place, if the Packers fail to beat the Seahawks on Sunday.

While many expected the Cardinals to destroy the Vikings, Minnesota managed to stay in the game until the very end. Adrian Peterson scored his 100th NFL career touchdown with just under four minutes to play in the first quarter, giving the the Vikings a 7-3 lead. But a 65-yard touchdown pass from Carson Palmer to John Brown put the Cardinals up 10-7, and that’s how the first quarter ended. With two seconds left in the half, Vikings kicker Blair Walsh scored the only points of the second quarter with a field goal that tied everything up 10-10 at halftime.

Palmer would throw another touchdown pass for the only score of the third quarter, and a 35-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter put Arizona in the lead by ten points. Minnesota would fight back, however, with a 54-yard field goal and a 7-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace to tie the game 20-20.

In the end, the Cardinals hit another field goal and then made a big defensive stop before the Vikings had a chance to save the game. Palmer took a knee to end the game 23-20.

Before Thursday night’s game, the Arizona Cardinals had won six straight and were atop the NFC West, leading second place Seattle by three games. With the win on Thursday, they extend that lead to 3.5 games until Sunday.

In the world of fantasy football, it was a good week if your fantasy team is sprinkled with Arizona offensive players. According to standard scoring in the NFL.com fantasy leagues, Carson Palmer (23.00) was the most valuable player of the game, compared to Minnesota QB Teddy Bridgewater (16.80), who came in third. Arizona receivers Michael Floyd (17.70) and John Brown (15.20) crushed Minnesota’s top receiving targets, WR Mike Wallace (10.50) and TE Kyle Rudolph (7.30). Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (15.00) was the most valuable rusher of the game, but Cardinals RB David Johnson (14.70) wasn’t far behind.

Despite the fact that Arizona kicker Chandler Cantanzaro (10.00) had one more field goal than Minnesota’s Blair Walsh (11.00), the extra distance on Walsh’s kicks gave him a slight advantage. The Cardinals defense (11.50) easily outperformed that of the Vikings (3.00).

Next week, the Minnesota Vikings host division rivals Chicago Bears, as they try to keep their post-season chances alive. The Arizona Cardinals will travel to Philadelphia to face the Eagles, who are currently tied for first place in the NFC East, the worst division in the NFL.

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