EAGAN, Minn. (AP) The Minnesota Vikings sputtered into the second quarter of their season after a concerning and humbling performance by their well-decorated defense in Los Angeles, raising questions about whether this team was still among the NFL's elite and in contention for the Super Bowl.
Sure, that game came against the thriving Rams, the league's only unbeaten team behind an offense that has been borderline-unstoppable.
This is the kind of challenge that coach Mike Zimmer's group has so risen to, though, so the total of 556 yards posted by the Rams in that 38-31 victory was a jarring sight nonetheless. Zimmer went so far afterward as to bluntly declare he'd never overseen pass defense that poor in his entire career.
Three games later, well, order has been restored.
The Vikings defense has forced eight turnovers and allowed just five touchdowns while limiting opponents to only four conversions on 32 third-down plays. Not coincidentally, the Vikings won all three games. That included the 37-17 decision on the road against the New York Jets on Sunday.
"It's definitely a mindset," defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said. "Definitely got back to it. We're just trying to compile wins any way possible."
The turnaround has come just in time, too, because the Vikings (4-2-1) host Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints (5-1) this weekend. His will be a far more daunting presence than the past two games against still-developing rookies Sam Darnold of the Jets and Josh Rosen of the Arizona Cardinals.
"This guy's amazing," Zimmer said, "When you talk about Hall of Fame quarterbacks, obviously he's going to be one, but he's very cerebral, accurate. He's moving well in the pocket. I was watching tape today on him like, 'How old is this guy?'"
Brees, for the record, will turn 40 in less than three months. The Vikings could be trying to defend against his aerial attack with a 21-year-old, Holton Hill.
With fellow rookie Mike Hughes out for the season with a knee injury , Hill was summoned to play on the outside at right cornerback after Xavier Rhodes sprained his ankle in the fourth quarter against the Jets. On the next play, Hill intercepted Darnold's pass to set up a touchdown drive.
"All the guys were saying, 'All right, Hollywood, now it's your time. Don't let us down. Do you what you do. It's just like practice,'" Hill said. "They gave us the defensive call, and the next thing I know, the ball is coming into my hands. Man, it was a blessing."
With Terence Newman done playing and part of the coaching staff, the Vikings can be grateful they were able to acquire Hill after aggressively pursuing him after the draft.
The product of Texas was not picked after a positive drug test at the NFL scouting combine, according to an NFL Network report.
Rhodes was not seriously injured, Zimmer said, but there's no position where depth is more valuable than cornerback, particularly when Brees and the Saints are coming to town. Zimmer credited Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Marcus Sherels for their work with Hill and the other young players at the position.
"I wouldn't say Holton has everything down pat, but you know he's got a lot of physical attributes that can translate into being a good corner, and now we're working on continuing to get better with technique, getting better with fundamentals, getting better with the knowledge of the game," Zimmer said.