As far as fourth preseason games go, this one got zany.
Buffalo scored 21 points in the final four minutes to erase a 23-6 deficit and rob head coach Mike Zimmer of his third perfect preseason in six years. Bills quarterback Tyree Jackson led two touchdown drives, while Marcus Murphy returned a punt for a touchdown in Buffalo’s comeback. Ultimately, the Vikings outplayed the Bills for 55-plus minutes and didn’t blow the game until most meaningful contributors had been removed.
Beyond the result, there were a handful of other noteworthy takeaways:
- Backup quarterback Sean Mannion did not play, likely confirming his status as primary backup, while Kyle Sloter started and played for most of the game. Playing behind the second-team offensive line, Sloter held his own, finishing 16 of 24 with 163 yards and a touchdown to Ameer Abdullah, but he threw his first career interception on a poor underthrow intended for Dillon Mitchell in the second quarter. Sloter played midway into the third quarter until he was replaced by UDFA Jake Browning. Zimmer has complimented Sloter’s gameplay all preseason but criticized his practice habits and attention to detail. If the Vikings keep three quarterbacks as usual, he’ll make the team, but will remain in a third-string role.
- The team’s bottom two tight ends were Sloter’s favorite targets. Cole Hikutini and Brandon Dillon combined for nine catches, 93 yards, while Dillon had a touchdown nullified by Storm Norton’s holding call and eventually departed after taking a hit to the head in the end zone. The tight ends’ play further confirmed the depth Minnesota has at the position, while displaying their mediocrity at wide receiver. None of the three rookie receivers had particularly good outings. Laquon Treadwell suited up and made three catches for 30 yards in what may be his final game as a Viking. Zimmer said the team was trying to “showcase” him earlier in the preseason.
- Kicker Kaare Vedvik missed his third field goal in two games to drill the Vikings into an even deeper hole when it comes to choosing their specialists. Vedvik’s miss from 37 yards was his most egregious of the preseason in terms of distance. It may keep Dan Bailey employed by default, since Bailey has looked better in practice and, well, not missed three kicks in games. Despite sacrificing a fifth-round pick to acquire Vedvik, it would be surprising if the Vikings didn’t either make Vedvik the punter or cut him outright. Even his first extra point was an adventure that barely snuck through. He did make one field goal from 27 yards before being replaced by Dan Bailey, who likely solidified the kicking job by nailing 54-yard and 43-yard field goals in the second half. As a punter, Vedvik allowed a return touchdown and had a 41-yard punt downed on his two punts of the night.
- On the defensive side, position battles abounded with the final few roster spots seemingly up for grabs. Kris Boyd, getting his second game of preseason action, looked much better than Duke Thomas, who again gave up several catches. Sixth-round pick Marcus Epps was around the ball quite a bit as he looks to unseat Derron Smith with the second group of safeties, or perhaps become the fifth safety. Fifth-round linebacker Cameron Smith was stout against the run, likely wrapping up his spot on the 53-man roster at a deep position group. Other bubble players Armon Watts, Reshard Cliett and Devante Downs didn’t pop up much.
- So who wins the honorary Mr. Mankato award? Since Mike Boone was ineligible due to his status as an established player after nearly winning the award in 2018, it feels like Bisi Johnson takes it. He improved so much throughout camp, Johnson earned the healthy-scratch status for Thursday’s game at Buffalo. The rookie caught five passes for 87 yards and a touchdown in the preseason, showing some nice contested-catch and yards-after-catch ability. Altogether, it was a disappointing race as many promising offensive players fell flat while fan favorites Hercules Mata’afa and Vedvik had either quiet or poor preseasons.
Watch for Sam Ekstrom and Luke Inman’s official 53-man roster prediction Friday morning at ZoneCoverage.com.