MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings followed their winning formula again to precision and maintained the NFC’s only perfect record.
Adam Thielen caught a touchdown pass to cap Minnesota’s opening drive and finished with a career-high 127 yards, and the Vikings defense flustered Brock Osweiler and the Houston Texans on their way to a 31-13 victory on Sunday.
“When your offense comes out on all cylinders like that, it just juices us up even more and wants us to play harder,” defensive end Everson Griffen said. “We’ve just got to keep doing that.”
Marcus Sherels returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown and Cordarelle Patterson scored on another sharp throw by Sam Bradford, who deftly guided the offense to a fifth straight turnover-free game in his fourth start for the Vikings (5-0).
“You play from ahead and give our defense a chance to get after the passer,” Bradford said, “I think it’s pretty tough on the other team.”
Brock Osweiler was overmatched by Minnesota’s relentless pass rush and coverage, finishing 19 for 42 for 184 yards, one interception and a late touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins while taking four sacks. The Texans (3-2) were denied on 12 of 13 third downs, unable or unwilling to do much other than dump off short passes. Lamar Miller only had eight carries for 20 yards during a dud of a performance by the Texans that felt a lot like the 27-0 loss at New England two weeks ago.
“It was bad. It was bad,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “It starts and ends with me. I’ve got to do a much better job with this football team.”
With leading receiver Stefon Diggs out for the game with a groin injury, Thielen (career-high seven catches), Jarius Wright and Patterson capably stepped up for the Vikings. Whitney Mercilus had 1½ sacks as Houston took advantage of a banged-up offensive line to apply plenty of pressure on Bradford, but with touchdowns on their first two drives the Vikings were in cruise control as they eagerly unleashed their defense again on another out-of-sync quarterback.
“I knew we had a great challenge ahead of us, but I felt confident in what we could do,” Osweiler said. “So I’m very disappointed.”
LESS OF FULLER
Texans rookie Will Fuller wasn’t targeted until the first play of the second half and had only one catch, a head-scratching fourth-and-16 call in the third quarter at the Vikings 39 that netted 4 yards on a screen play. Fuller had seven catches for 81 yards and a touchdown last week in the win over Tennessee.
Like Thielen in 2013, Sherels went undrafted in 2010 and had to make the team through the rookie tryout camp. This was his fifth career punt return touchdown.
“Everybody loves Marcus,” coach Mike Zimmer said, “because he does anything you ask him to do.”
RHODES (MOSTLY) CLOSED
After stifling Odell Beckham Jr. on Monday night in the win over the New York Giants, Minnesota cornerback Xavier Rhodes hounded Hopkins. Rhodes was called for pass interference (34 yards) and holding (5 yards) to give the Texans their first two first downs during a second quarter drive that yielded a field goal, but Hopkins was held without a catch in the decisive first half. Hopkins finished with 56 yards on five receptions after the Texans went into catch-up mode.
Texans: SS Quinitin Demps (calf) and CB Johnathan Joseph (concussion) both left with injuries in the second quarter, removing two more starters from a secondary already without CB Kareem Jackson (hamstring). … In the third quarter, LG Jeff Allen left with a concussion and backup TE Ryan Griffin hurt his neck making an awkward tackle following Andrew Sendejo’s interception. Backup LB Brian Peters (quadriceps) was also hurt. He surprisingly handled kickoffs rather than Nick Novak, who made two of three field goals.
Vikings: RG Brandon Fusco (concussion) was forced out on the first drive of the game, replaced by Zac Kerin and leaving the OL without three starters. With Rhett Ellison and David Morgan already inactive with knee injuries, a third TE went down when MyCole Pruitt hurt his knee in the third quarter. … Patterson hurt his hip in the second quarter and stopped returning kickoffs but was back on offense for the TD, his first from scrimmage since Oct. 19, 2014.
Texans: Host Indianapolis next Sunday night.
Vikings: Take a well-timed bye week, before playing at Philadelphia on Oct. 23.