Vikings

Instant Reaction: Late Titans Field Goal Spoils Justin Jefferson's Breakout Game

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel (USA Today Sports)

The first two Minnesota Vikings losses were over by the end of the third quarter. This one came down to the final play and stung the most.

Despite huge offensive games by Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook, the Vikings defense came apart in the second half for a third straight week and let the Titans drive for a game-winning field goal. Stephen Gostkowski went 6-for-6 on the day, including a 55-yarder that made the Titans 3-0 with a 31-30 win. The Vikings self destructed on their final offensive drive with a botched snap and poor protection, remaining winless in front of a smattering of 250 fans.

Minnesota, now 0-3, can feel better about their overall offensive performance, but the defense still left much to be desired, and the team’s record leaves them in dire straits in terms of playoff odds.

Let’s dig into the game.

HOW’D THE OFFENSE DO?

It didn’t have the mystique of Randy Moss stepping over Packers defensive backs on a rainy Monday night at Lambeau Field, but Justin Jefferson’s breakout game was on the same plane. After two ineffective weeks for the Vikings passing game, Minnesota turned to the 22nd overall pick in place of Bisi Johnson, and the rookie delivered. Jefferson caught seven passes for 175 yards. He fought for tough yards around the first down marker and found room downfield. His high point was a 71-yard touchdown grab where he split two defenders and “Griddied” into the end zone. Jefferson’s immediate impact merits the question: Why wasn’t he more involved in Weeks 1-2?

The running game got going as well. Cook started the Vikings scoring with a 39-yard touchdown run and broke off another 39-yarder later in the game. He finished with 22 carries for 181 yards. The blending of the pass and run made for Minnesota’s best offensive day of the season, a rejuvenating bounceback after two miserable weeks. Their final drive, however, will be a sticking point as the offensive line caved against three-man pressure. The offense also failed to move the ball on the previous drive when they could’ve iced the game.

It becomes a footnote with the loss, but Kyle Rudolph also made a pretty one-handed catch in the end zone for a go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter.

HOW’D THE DEFENSE DO?

On the bright side, the pass rush might be coming together. But the banged-up secondary and rush defense still need work, and that’s where the Titans attacked to stay in the game. Tennessee completed three passes of 38 yards or more as they attacked Jeff Gladney, Holton Hill and Kris Boyd. Though Derrick Henry was largely kept in check early (except for a pair of goal line touchdown runs), he came alive late to spark a pair of key field goal drives. His presence also helped Ryan Tannehill thrive in play action. Without A.J. Brown, Tennessee had no qualms about throwing to Kalif Raymond, who finished with three grabs for 118 yards.

As mentioned, the defensive line looked more formidable. Yannick Ngakoue had another strip sack and a TFL. Ifeadi Odenigbo recorded multiple quarterback hits. And the defensive line largely kept Tannehill from getting too comfortable play to play — though he had plenty of time to throw on his deep connections.

The unit still gave up almost 450 yards, though, and allowed eight scoring drives, so the effort was far from acceptable.

X-FACTOR(S)

The Vikings linebackers did admirably in their first of many games without Anthony Barr this season. With Eric Wilson relaying the plays from the sideline, he and Eric Kendricks were disruptive in the passing game and helped against Henry in the running game. Hardy Nickerson got the most reps as the third linebacker and wasn’t a liability, and new pickup Todd Davis came up with a third-down stop in his first appearance. It wasn’t enough, however, to keep the Titans from amassing 23 first downs.

BIG PICTURE

After the team’s first 0-3 start since 2013, it’s hard to find many positives with the 2020 Vikings. But Jefferson’s emergence bodes well for the rest of the season and future seasons, while Cook and Ngakoue looked like the men to whom the Vikings made significant investments before the season. Those are the few silver linings. In the short term, things look bleak unless the Vikings defense can grow up quickly.

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Photo Credit: Brad Rempel (USA Today Sports)

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