Many wondered before Sunday’s game between the Vikings and Bills what would have to go wrong for Minnesota to lose against a seemingly inferior Bills squad that had been demoralized two straight weeks.
The answer: Everything.
The Bills didn’t steal the game; they won it going away, 27-6, capitalizing on turnovers, penalties and countless miscues to virtually end the contest by halftime.
Trailing before he even touched the ball, Kirk Cousins looked uncomfortable in a frequently collapsing pocket, often left exposed by a porous left side of the offensive line. Minnesota was outgained 245-46 in the opening half, losing the time of possession by nearly 12 minutes. The second half quickly morphed into garbage time as the Vikings failed to score until the final three minutes on Kyle Rudolph’s touchdown catch.
Cousins followed up one of his best outings with one of his worst, fumbling twice in the opening quarter to gift Buffalo 10 easy points after they opened the game with a touchdown drive. It took until 9:36 left in the third quarter for the Vikings, who only had one first down in the first half, to run a play in Bills territory. Once they reached opposing territory in the second half, Stefon Diggs dropped a possible touchdown from Cousins, who proceeded to throw an interception on the next play. Cousins finished with a deceivingly good stat line of 40 for 55 with 296 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Breakdowns once again plagued the punchless Vikings defense, which permitted rookie Josh Allen to make plays out of the pocket all afternoon. In his second career start, Allen rushed for two touchdowns and threw for one more. His first touchdown pass went to an uncovered Jason Croom, and a broken play later in the first quarter led to a 55-yard connection from Allen to Chris Ivory that set up Buffalo’s third down touchdown to make it 24-0.
The defense fared better in the second half against Buffalo’s relaxed play-calling, but it didn’t forgive a dreadful first half.
Special teams has afflicted the Vikings from the start of the preseason, and it reared its head once again in punt and kickoff coverage. Minnesota’s inability to flip the field in the punting game — and a subpar kickoff return effort — led to a 30-yard discrepancy in drive start in the first half with the Vikings starting at their own 17 on average and the Bills at their own 47. Head coach Mike Zimmer was clearly displeased with the special teams last week, and he won’t be resting any easier after Sunday.
Trae Waynes left the game with an ankle injury, which may put his status for Thursday in Los Angeles in jeopardy.
The Vikings played without Everson Griffen (knee), but his replacement Stephen Weatherly recorded his first career sack. The absence of Dalvin Cook (hamstring) was largely made moot by the deficit as Minnesota rushed it just four times besides two scrambles by Cousins. Marcus Sherels (ribs) also missed the game, and fill-in punt returner Mike Hughes had a tough day that included a fumble.
New placekicker Dan Bailey, brought in to replace Daniel Carlson, did not get to attempt a single kick.
Stay tuned for more postgame coverage from U.S. Bank Stadium.