When the Vikings re-signed defensive end Everson Griffen in August, head coach Mike Zimmer made it clear that he wouldn’t be a starter. On Sunday, he started.
In Minnesota’s 19-17 victory over Detroit at U.S. Bank Stadium, Griffen got the nod at right defensive end over D.J. Wonnum for the first series. For the day, he sacked Lions quarterback Jared Goff twice, forcing a fumble on one that the Vikings recovered.
Zimmer said Griffen got his first start of the season as a reward for his recent play, and he ended up playing a season-high 45 snaps (out of 63) while Wonnum was in for 37. Zimmer said it was hard to evaluate Griffen’s performance Sunday because he wasn’t focusing on him.
Griffen, who made four Pro Bowls during his initial 2010-19 stint with the Vikings, doesn’t play as much as once did, and Vikings co-defensive coordinator Andre Patterson said last week that won’t change. When he returned to the team in August after spending last season with Dallas and Detroit, Zimmer said Griffen would be a “situational” pass rusher.
There have been no complaints so far about Griffen in that role. During the just concluded three-game homestand, he four sacks, getting his first of the season Sept. 26 against Seattle and his second Oct. 3 against Cleveland.
“Honestly, I’m just glad we got the win, to be quite frank,” said Griffen, credited with four tackles against the Lions. “When we win, it takes care of everything — the mistakes, everything. Winning, it trumps it all.”
The Vikings blew a 16-6 lead in the final three minutes and found themselves trailing 17-16. They won on Greg Joseph’s 54-yard field goal on the final play.
Griffen had six sacks last season, getting 2½ in seven games with the Cowboys and 3½ in seven games with the Lions. In four games this season (he sat out in Week 2 at Arizona with a concussion), Griffen is closing in on last year’s total.
For Griffen, it feels a bit like old times. He has been reunited with defensive end Danielle Hunter, who made two Pro Bowls from 2015-19, a period when Griffen was named to all four of his Pro Bowls.
“Just to be out there with D-Hunt and the boys, it feels good,” Griffen said. “Just to get back in stride, to catch our rhythm.”
You couldn’t miss Griffen’s two sacks, which came on consecutive plays late in the first quarter. With the score tied 3-3 and the Lions facing first-and-10 at the Minnesota 23, Griffen sacked Goff for a loss of eight yards. On the next play, he sacked Goff for a seven-yard loss and forced a fumble that Hunter recovered.
On the plays, Griffen used his notable spin move. Linebacker Eric Kendricks said he does it with “instincts,” and Griffen agreed.
“Yeah, I just do it,” he said. “I really don’t work it that much in practice because it’s natural, but I just try to use different moves to beat guys. But that comes out of nowhere and I just do it off my instincts.”