Keenum, Diggs propel Vikings past Buccaneers
MINNEAPOLIS — With Sam Bradford’s knee not responding after practices this past week, the Minnesota Vikings didn’t wait until the final minutes to decide Case Keenum would start at quarterback against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
Keenum made the most of his second start with Minnesota and the extra time to prepare.
Keenum threw for a career-high 369 yards with three touchdowns and Stefon Diggs caught eight passes for 173 yards with two scores in the Vikings’ 34-17 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“For me, I accept my role on this team,” Keenum said. “I know I want to be ready whenever my name is called and so that’s why I prepare. Like I said last week, I prepare every week the exact same in order to play, in order to compete and to put this team in the best possible chance to win.”
Bradford missed his second straight game with a knee injury, but Keenum was much better at home against a depleted Tampa Bay defense after a road loss at Pittsburgh last week. Bradford had practiced on a limited basis early in the week but missed practice on Friday as the team declared Keenum would start.
Head coach Mike Zimmer said the game plan was prepped more for Keenum given more time.
“He’s a fighter,” said receiver Adam Thielen, who had five catches for 98 yards. “He’s a guy that you want to play for. He comes into work every day and he grinds, and we know that we can feel his energy. The way he works, the way he wants it, and that’s just a guy you want to play for and go compete for.”
Rookie running back Dalvin Cook had 169 total yards (97 yards rushing, 72 receiving) and his first career touchdown in the win for Minnesota (2-1).
The Vikings’ defense intercepted Jameis Winston three times — Minnesota’s first takeaways of the season — and held the Buccaneers to 26 yards rushing in another decisive home victory.
“We needed to get some turnovers,” Zimmer said. “We hadn’t had any and those three were obviously big. They had been moving the ball, really trying to get back in the football game. Kind of got the momentum back on our side.”
Winston was 28 of 40 for 328 yards and tossed touchdown passes to tight end Cameron Brate and DeSean Jackson for Tampa Bay (1-1).
“At the end of the day, I make the final decision on where the ball goes and I have got to protect the football at all cost,” Winston said. “No matter what they do, at the end of the day, I’ve got to protect the football.”
Fresh off their convincing season-opening win last week, the Buccaneers’ defense was in shambles without three starters and several players leaving during the game with various injuries. Meanwhile, the offense couldn’t sustain drives and was 1 of 6 on third downs.
Keenum, who completed 25 of 33 passes, connected with Thielen on a 45-yard gain on the third play of the game and willingly went deep several times on Sunday. Diggs caught passes for 47 and 59 yards, the two longest of his career. His weaving run after the catch led to a 59-yard touchdown to put Minnesota up 28-3 early in the third quarter.
Jarius Wright added a touchdown catch for the Vikings.
“I think the shot early to Adam kind of calmed me down a little bit,” Keenum said. “He made a heck of a play.”
For Keenum, it’s the third time he’s beaten Tampa Bay in his career. He twice led the Rams to victories while completing 65.1 percent of his passes for a 118.8 passer rating.
“Case Keenum has been lights out every time we’ve played him,” Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said. “He looked like the best player in the NFL again today. He hit those deeps balls, and he gave his receivers a chance and they made the plays.”
NOTES: Tampa Bay Buccaneers WRs Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson kneeled for the national anthem while the rest of the team stood with arms locked in unity. The Minnesota Vikings had a similar show with arms locked down their sideline, including owners Zygi and Mark Wilf, and general manager Rick Spielman. ... The Buccaneers were without three defensive starters: CB Brent Grimes (shoulder), LB Kwon Alexander (hamstring) and DT Chris Baker (illness). Tampa Bay saw several defenders leave the game. DT Gerald McCoy left in the third quarter with an ankle injury, but returned in the fourth. DE Noah Spence, DE Robert Ayers and CB Vernon Hargreaves III all left at times and later returned. LB Lavonte David was carted off with 3:14 left in the game after Vikings TE David Morgan fell on his left leg. Tampa Bay head coach Dirk Koetter said X-rays were negative for David. ... CB Trae Waynes, S Andrew Sendejo and S Harrison Smith all had interceptions for Minnesota. ... Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer had no updates on QB Sam Bradford’s status for next week, again calling it “day to day.”