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Rhodes has longest interception return in Vikings history

MINNEAPOLIS--Xavier Rhodes had not scored since high school, never mind housing a game-breaking touchdown during a marathon defensive series. So, pardon the Vikings cornerback for mainlining oxygen on the sideline after his 100-yard dash.

Nov 20, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes (29) returns an interception 100 yards for a touchdown during the second quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 20, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes (29) returns an interception 100 yards for a touchdown during the second quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS-Xavier Rhodes had not scored since high school, never mind housing a game-breaking touchdown during a marathon defensive series. So, pardon the Vikings cornerback for mainlining oxygen on the sideline after his 100-yard dash.

"Definitely asked for that," he said. "I was dead. Legs were dead. Lungs were dead. I was just tired."

So was the Vikings' defense, presumed dead for a month, tired of backpedaling down the field and waiting for something disastrous to happen.

There still were too many penalties and rushing yards for which to repent, but the once-dominant unit was stout again when the stakes were highest Sunday against Arizona, nailing shut a season-saving 30-24 victory at U.S. Bank Stadium.

It had been six weeks since Minnesota tasted victory, its mid-October bye having short-circuited a 5-0 start. A chainsaw was needed to cut the tension at Winter Park. Injured players and scapegoats were leaving a trail of tears and vacant lockers.

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Leaning into adversity, practicing the right way and maintaining a stiff upper lip are all conversation in the zero-sum NFL. The Vikings desperately needed a home win against an NFC playoff contender to sand off the edge and keep pace with the surging Detroit Lions. Otherwise, the only thing feasted on Thanksgiving Day would be their carcass.

Minnesota yielded just seven second-half points and kept the Cardinals pinned deep with consecutive fourth-down stops in the final two minutes. Rhodes led the revival with a pair of interceptions, including his momentum-turning rip and run down the right sideline.

"When it hit my hands, the only thing I knew to do was run," he said. "That is exactly what I did was run."

Arizona was marching for a touchdown that could have cut Minnesota's lead to three late in the second quarter. Cornerback Trae Waynes already was penalized twice to extend the drive. It was third-and-goal at the 9.

The Vikings had two defenders on receiver John Brown. Slot corner Captain Munnerlyn jammed him all the way to the goal line.

"I knew I had help inside, so I could play aggressive," Rhodes said. "When he broke inside, I just stayed outside in my zone. This man right here (Munnerlyn) had a good jam to slow the man down, Captain. I just made a good play on the ball."

Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer saw something different. He threw to the outside before Brown could make his turn, and the quarterback's hands were up in a failed plea for a flag on Munnerlyn that never came.

"It looked like an obvious holding penalty," Palmer said. "(Brown) is trying to run an out route and it looked like he could not get out of the grasp of the defender. I'm sure we will turn that into the league, and I am sure they will come back and say it was holding."

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It now holds a place in the Vikings' record book as the longest interception return in team history. Quite a day for Rhodes, the Pro Bowl candidate who was tainted by dropped interceptions early in his career. He made a diving interception of Palmer in the third quarter.

"He couldn't catch a cold the first three years I was here, and he caught two picks today," joked linebacker Anthony Barr. "Somebody better get the pocketbook ready. He's about to have a payday."

Indeed. Rhodes is due $8 million on a fifth-year player option next season, but the 2013 first-round pick's performance this season should leverage the Vikings into making another long-term commitment to a defensive star.

Rhodes' pick-six electrified the stadium and opened a 10-point lead the Vikings cushioned against Arizona's pesky comeback attempts.

There would be no last-minute collapse, as there was two weeks ago against the Lions - despite another blocked extra point and the relentless drama associated with Minnesota place-kickers. Kai Forbath, you have been duly initiated.

"Everyone in here was walking on egg shells," acknowledged Barr. "It was good to be the unit to go out there and seal the game. We kind of avenged some of the things that have happened. Detroit, we kind of folded at the end there. It was good to end the game defensively."

Running back David Johnson racking up 160 all-purpose yards, including 103 on the ground, caused headaches, especially in the first half. But Minnesota's pass rush awakened as Arizona gambled it could get away with less protection for Palmer, who was sacked four times. Attacking with a two-score lead late in the game is like playing with house money.

Perhaps it was fitting that Rhodes and then safety Harrison Smith, who led the team with 10 tackles and chipped in a sack, led the defensive charge. The last time they were seen at U.S. Bank Stadium, Detroit receiver Golden Tate was bouncing off their would-be tackles and somersaulting into the end zone for an overtime win.

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Rhodes felt that loss acutely, which made donning the hero's cape on this day so satisfying.

"That was one of those games where I felt like I messed up a lot. I could have made a stop and helped us out a lot but I didn't," he said. "I held my head high. I said I couldn't let that hurt me, can't dwell on that. Just have to be at my best for the next game."

Still fun, this fickle game?

"Oh, yeah, still fun."

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