The Minnesota Vikings lost their third straight game to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, sending them to their first 0-3 start since 2013. While the record is daunting, the loss to the Titans didn’t feel like the first two games of the season. The Vikings were competitive throughout and even held a 12-point lead before falling by a score of 31-30.
Since we are in the land of 10,000 moral victories, you’ll have to excuse me for being positive after a loss. But the overall performance is something that Vikings should strive for the rest of the 2020 season.
Sunday’s game was littered with positives for the Vikings, but none were bigger than the emergence of Justin Jefferson. One week after I suggested he be unleashed against the Colts, they finally realized that playing their first-round pick over Bisi Johnson was a good idea.
The 22nd overall pick in last April’s draft made an immediate impact for the Vikings offense. Jefferson became Cousins’ alternate option to Adam Thielen, hauling in six catches for 104 yards in the first half. Those numbers were the most by a Vikings rookie since Randy Moss, but Jefferson put an exclamation point on his day with a 71-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Jefferson’s performance was one reason why everyone should be learning “The Griddy,” but the overall offensive approach was also encouraging.
Instead of relying on Kirk Cousins to take five-step drops and launch passes downfield, the Vikings relied on a shorter passing game that allowed their receivers to do the work. To set that up, the Vikings also gave the Titans a heavy dose of Dalvin Cook, who ran for a career-high 181 yards and a beautiful 39-yard touchdown.
Even the defense showed signs of improvement by not allowing the Titans to do whatever they wanted offensively. The Vikings held Tennessee to a diet of field goals until 3:53 left in the third quarter while providing some sense of resistance. The overall numbers didn’t look as encouraging, Derrick Henry still wound up with 119 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but that should have been expected with four starters out due to injury.
The Titans aren’t the Kansas City Chiefs, but it’s still development for a team that looked like it couldn’t stop a high school offense the past two weeks.
Of course, the good feelings stop once talking about how the game ended. Holding onto a 12-point lead, the Vikings reverted into their previous state. The offensive line is still in need of competent guards, the cornerbacks still need experience and their defensive line can’t gain penetration. In short, this is a team that looked like it could have benefitted with a full preseason.
It’s discouraging to see the Vikings off to an 0-3 start, but this season is no longer about wins and losses. If the Vikings can continue to show growth and compete, it will bode for good things in 2021 even if their record doesn’t reflect it — especially if they lose enough to land Trevor Lawrence.