In a game riddled with penalties, injuries and overall sloppy play, the Jacksonville Jaguars used a lengthy punt return late in the fourth quarter to set up a go-ahead touchdown that won them the game, 14-10.
You know it’s bad when the losing head coach is pleased with the result.
“To be honest with you, I’m glad that we didn’t win that game today,” said Mike Zimmer, “because we didn’t deserve to win. We didn’t play well enough.”
Let’s touch on some of the more notable elements from this one: Good, Bad and Ugly style.
Defensive line dominance
The Vikings sacked Jacksonville quarterbacks six times and compiled 12 QB hits. Antwione Williams also had a sack that was wiped away due to a questionable roughing the passer call (we’ll get to that).
Danielle Hunter owned the early series of the game with several pressures and a sack as the Jaguars were threatening to score. Jaleel Johnson played a good chunk of the game, blew up numerous run plays and amassed seven tackles. And with Tashawn Bower missing Saturday’s game with an injury, inside rusher Ifeadi Odenigbo moved back to the edge – his original position — and produced a pair of sacks and tied Johnson with a team-high seven tackles.
“That was the message today, saying to anyone upstairs, whoever’s watching, I can play ball,” said Odenigbo.
Minnesota will be hard-pressed to find room on the roster for all their deserving defensive lineman, considering there are 10 who could make a great case to be on the 53-man roster.
Boone-Thomas competition heats up
Round 1 of the competition for the third running back spot went to Roc Thomas, who caught two touchdown passes in Denver last Saturday. Round 2 went to Mike Boone, who totaled 91 yards and one touchdown on 13 carries, using a combination of speed, vision and power.
“I give all the credit to the offensive line again,” said Boone. “Those guys opened holes.”
Boone had runs of 19, nine, 11 and 26 yards among his first seven carries, and the rookie had a three-play sequence in the third quarter that led to Minnesota’s lone score.
First, a nine-yard run allowed him to demonstrate some physicality as he stiff-armed a defender to the ground. Next, he pranced off the left end into the second level for 26 yards before getting dragged down at the 1-yard line. He was then rewarded for his efforts by getting the call on first and goal, powering himself across the goal line with a second effort to give Minnesota a 10-7 lead.
“He ran the ball really well, held onto the ball,” said Zimmer. “I thought he ran good.”
First-team offense scuffles
Last weekend’s eight-play touchdown drive led by Kirk Cousins had folks feeling positive about the offense’s progress, but they’ll have plenty to work on leading up to next Friday’s game versus Seattle.
Cousins finished 3 of 8 for 12 yards and a sack. He only threw for one first down, and his three points produced came on the back of a pair of personal foul calls against Jacksonville.
Latavius Murray fumbled twice, the first of which Minnesota recovered. The second time Jacksonville recovered, one play after Harrison Smith’s interception had given the Vikings the ball at their opponents’ 23-yard line.
“When you’re playing a good defense you can’t shoot yourself in the foot,” said tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Minnesota’s offense had been lackluster in practice this week against Jacksonville’s strong defense. Not surprisingly, the joint practices were a precursor of what was to come.
The Vikings first-team offense went 0 for 3 on third downs, and the team as a whole finished 0 for 12.
Jacksonville’s running backs got 10 passes for 112 yards, most of them on screen passes that the Vikings have ordinarily defended well.
The Jaguars gained 40 yards on screens to set up their second-quarter touchdown, which took pressure off Bortles who’d made a pair of egregious throws over the middle on the previous two drives.
“We’ll play the screens better, believe me,” said Zimmer.
Taking away screen plays, the Vikings allowed fewer than 100 yards passing to Bortles in the first half, but his easiest throws turned into his most productive.
Forbath on the ropes?
After Daniel Carlson went 6 of 6 on kicks in Denver, Kai Forbath needed a perfect day to match him. He only got two attempts and missed one – a 41-yard field goal off the right upright.
Carlson handled the Vikings lone extra point and connected.
Though Forbath has recently been matching Carlson kick for kick in practice, the rookie has seemed unfazed under the pressure.
Injury bug keeps biting
Hours after the game ended, tire tracks were still left across the field where the injury cart drove multiple Vikings to the locker room, ostensibly with season-ending injuries.
Zimmer said that multiple players will be placed on injured reserve, only mentioning reserve offensive lineman Cedrick Lang by name, but several others may join him. FB Johnny Stanton’s ankle was put in a cast after getting rolled on near the sideline. DE Ade Aruna left in pain after suffering a knee injury. C Josh Andrews had a boot on his right foot in the locker room after suffering his own ankle injury.
Mackensie Alexander suffered the most ambiguous injury, leaving in the first quarter with a bad ankle and not returning to the sideline.
With 13 players already inactive coming into the game, the Vikings were dwindling by game’s end on both the offensive and defensive lines. Zimmer said he couldn’t remember the full list of injuries because the list was so long, but he refused to use them as an excuse to be more cautious in the next two preseason games.
“We’re not going to play a game scared,” said Zimmer. “Guys get hurt. They get hurt, that’s just life.”
When there wasn’t an injured player down on the field, it seemed like there was a flag. Twenty of them for 200 yards, to be exact. Jacksonville took 13 for 140 yards; the Vikings: seven for 60.
Two penalties, in particular, are likely to get replayed plenty of times as fans debate the stricter enforcement of tackling with the helmet and roughing the passer. Jacksonville’s A.J. Bouye got pinned for lowering his helmet as he got run over by the Vikings’ C.J. Ham in the first quarter. Later on, Antwione Williams was flagged for a seemingly innocent sack of Bortles that didn’t involve his helmet.
The flag was thrown as enforcement of the “Aaron Rodgers Rule” in which defenders can’t land with their full weight on the quarterback.
“We look at some of the stuff on tape, the explanations of which ones are fouls and which ones aren’t, and some of them you look at, ‘How is that a foul?’” said Brian Robison.
“At the end of the day, it’s a very confusing rule. I understand the posture that they’re trying to keep us out of and things like that, but at the same time I’ve seen a lot of hits that to me are clean hits.”
The Vikings have three practices to clean things up before their next game against the Seahawks, the all-important third preseason game. Zimmer said they’ll be working on screen defense and perhaps lengthening some sessions to improve cardio, considering that some players have been forced to play extended snaps.
Expect several roster moves, as well, since the Vikings will likely be placing multiple players on injured reserve.