Souhan; Bynum’s big plays epitomize Vikings’ porous-yet-clutch defense

Souhan; Bynum’s big plays epitomize Vikings’ porous-yet-clutch defense

Camryn Bynum had just grabbed the game-clinching interception in the Vikings' 27-22 serial-drama victory over the Jets on Sunday and, like defensive backs everywhere, he felt obliged to look for a flag.

His mother was holding it, and it featured yellow as an accent, not a theme.

The flag of the Philippines is predominantly royal blue, crimson red and white. Bynum draped it over his shoulders, sprinted to celebrate with fellow Vikings safety Harrison Smith, then ran into the locker room with the flag flowing behind him like a cape.

Bynum ended the Jets' first drive with a hit that caused the deflection that became an interception for Smith. Bynum's interception with 10 seconds remaining gave the Vikings another cuticle-shredding victory, and provided a reminder that any athlete's story can be as stratified as a glacier.

Bynum was a fourth-round pick in 2021 out of Cal. He played well as Smith's replacement at times as a rookie. Then the new Vikings regime used their first first-round pick to select Georgia safety Lewis Cine, either to replace Bynum immediately or Smith eventually, or both.

Cine wasn't healthy enough to overtake Bynum in training camp, and then suffered a season-ending leg injury against the Saints. So Bynum found himself playing alongside and bonding with Smith on a team that is now, improbably, 10-2 and on a defense that is, improbably, making just enough winning plays to mask its deficiencies.

Bynum's heart is as good as his hands. His mother is half-Filipino. On the Sunday that the NFL promoted "My Cause, My Cleats," Bynum wore colorful shoes encouraging donations to Filipino charities such as New Life, a community organization, and Keys to Freedom Ministries.

"We try to help with the burdens of typhoon victims, and earthquake victims," Bynum said. "There are a lot of natural disasters out there, and people don't really know about that. So being able to bring our resources over there means a lot to me."

One layer of Bynum's story is more tart than sweet. His positional group is allowing more yards passing per game than any other in the NFL.

Sunday, the Jets gained 486 total yards — including 336 in the second half. The Vikings allowed Mike White, a nondescript backup quarterback running a nondescript offense, to pass for 369 yards, while sacking him only once.

Jets receiver Garrett Wilson caught eight passes for 162 yards, and White missed him on what should have been an 84-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.

If the Vikings were at risk of missing the playoffs, the pass defense would be the predominant story line of the season. Because the Vikings have won so many close games, and their defense has held up in so many difficult fourth-quarter situations, even the Vikings aren't sure whether to shrug or cry over their statistical profile.

Does Smith even care about yards? "From a vanity standpoint, yeah," he said with a smile.

The Vikings' pass defense epitomizes the 2022 team's ability to win close games, and the franchise's championship drought. The best teams of the post-Met Stadium era have featured star receivers, explosive offenses and bend-and-sometimes-break defenses.

"I mean, we never want to give up yardage like that," Bynum said. "But as long as we're coming down with a win, we'll take it."

Over the past four games, the Vikings have allowed 311 passing yards to the Bills, 307 to the Cowboys, 364 to the Patriots' otherwise dysfunctional passing game, and 369 to the previously pedestrian Jets.

Over their past five regular-season games, the Vikings face only one team ranked in the top 15 in the league in passing yards per game: Detroit next Sunday. The Lions rank seventh.

The Vikings' pass defense might not be severely tested until the playoffs — which they will participate in because Bynum, Smith and their cohorts have made enough plays with their backs to the goalpost and team logos beneath their feet.

"Cam has grown," Smith said. "He's grown quite a bit. I'm still trying to give him pointers here and there, but he can play."