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Keenum Leads Vikings to 34-17 Win over Buccaneers
September 24, 2017

Minnesota versus Tampa Bay at U. S. Bank Stadium

Vikings fans groaned and lit up message boards when it was learned that Sam Bradford would be out a second straight week and that Case Keenum, who had struggled in a loss at Pittsburgh the previous Sunday, would again be the quarterback.

On the third play of the opening possession Keenum fired long down the left sideline, and Adam Thielen used his left arm to haul it in for a 45-yard gain. “It calmed me down a bit,” said Keenum after the game. The Vikings scored on the drive, rookie Dalvin Cook running it in from the 1, and the Vikings rolled to a 34-17 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as Keenum threw for a career-high 369 yards.

A touchdown on the opening drive helps with all phases of the game, said Keenum, and coach Mike Zimmer concurred, noting the team’s proficiency at stopping the Tampa Bay running game, converting on third downs, and establishing field position.

The Buccaneers answered with a field goal on their first possession, but Keenum connected with Jarius Wright for a two-yard touchdown early in the second quarter and in the final minute of the half, lofted a pass Stefon Diggs on the right side of the end zone. Diggs, with cornerback Vernon Hargreaves on hit, leaped and caught the 17-yard pass to put the Vikings ahead 17-3.

It was Diggs’s sixth catch of the half, giving him 108 yards, and Keenum to this point was 16 for 21 for 226 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Keenum’s counterpart, the more heralded Jameis Winston, was finding speedy receiver DeSean Jackson and big Mike Evans in racking up 132 yards in the first half. But with the Buccaneers trailing 14-3 Winston underthrew Jackson at the end zone, and Trae Waynes intercepted to stop the drive and set up the Vikings to a 92-yard march for its concluding score of the half. “That first interception really hurt us,” said Winston. “We had a good drive going, but we’ve got to finish.”

Minnesota struck quickly in the third quarter and took advantage of a quick snap, a play called by offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, and Keenum hit Diggs on the right sideline at the Tampa Bay 42. Diggs shook away from Ryan Smith, cut toward the middle of the field, and ran the rest of the way for a 59-yard touchdown and a 28-3 lead.

The Buccaneers took advantage of a kickoff return by Bernard Reedy, who was knocked out of bounds by kicker Kai Forbath. Winston was sacked on the first play but came back with passes to Alan Cross, Charles Sims, Cameron Brate, and Jackson to get to the 15. On the next play, he went back to his tight-end, Brate, for a touchdown pass.

Forbath hit a 20-yard field goal for a 31-10 lead, but the Buccaneers mounted a 75-yard drive, finishing with a 25-yard pass to a leaping Jackson as the third quarter ended.

The Buccaneers got the ball back at their 35 after a short punt by Ryan Quigley. Winston completed a pair of passes to get into Minnesota territory but then threw to Jackson, who had run into traffic on a crossing pattern and couldn’t get to his spot. Safety Andrew Sendejo was the only player in the area, and Sendejo ran the interception back six yards to the Minnesota 35. The turnover set up the Vikings for another score, this one a 37-yard field goal by Forbath to put the Vikings up 34-17.

Working quickly, Tampa Bay got to the Minnesota 21 with six minutes left in the game. Winston threw to Evans at the goal line, but Sendejo hit Evans, causing the ball to pop into the air and come down in the arms of safety Harrison Smith.

Winston’s third interception ended any hope of a comeback, and the Vikings held onto the ball the rest of the way for a 34-17 win that upped the team’s record to 2-1 while the Buccaneers fell to 1-1.

“Obviously when you lose on turnovers 3-0, it’s going to be tough to win,” said Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter. “We just couldn’t stop them in the first half, and then we tried to react and play a little bit faster. And then turnovers.”

Diggs had 8 catches for 173 yards, with Thielen hauling in 5 passes for 98 yards. Cook added 72 yards receiving to go with his 97 yards on the ground. “He’s got great acceleration and quickness,” said Zimmer of Cook. “Does a good job in protection, catches the ball well. You saw some of the tough runs he made today, and I thought the offensive line was outstanding today.”

Keenum echoed the praise of the line and noted he was on his back only once the entire game.

Tampa Bay produced only 26 yards rushing, and put the pressure on Winston, who completed 28 of 40 passes for 328 yards.

Minnesota stays at home for its first in-division game, against Detroit, next Sunday.

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