The Minnesota Vikings lost their season opener to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 20-17. The game started less than ideally. Kirk Cousins took a while to find his rhythm, fumbled the ball twice, and the Bucs recovered both.
Cousins eventually settled down as the half went on, throwing a 39-yard touchdown pass to rookie Jordan Addison to give the Vikings a 10-3 lead. But Tampa Bay tied the game with one minute left in the half.
Still, Minnesota’s offense looked poised to score and take a lead into the locker room. However, Tampa’s Christian Izien intercepted Cousins at the goal line, ripping the ball out of receiver K.J. Osborn’s hands. Cousins became the first quarterback with over 250 yards and three turnovers in a half since Vinny Testaverde.
In the second half, Tampa’s offense found their rhythm and strung together a long touchdown drive, giving them a one-score lead. While the Vikings responded and tied the game, a 57-yard Buccaneers field goal, coupled with some three-and-outs, sent Minnesota home 0-1.
Here are five numbers that explain the game:
Justin Jefferson had a difference of 126 yards between his first- and second-half production. In the first half, the 2022 Offensive Player of the Year picked up right where he left off last season, putting up 138 yards on seven catches. The CBS broadcast highlighted Kirk Cousins‘s statement, “Even when Jefferson is covered, he is open.”
After such an electric first half, many would expect the offense to continue to run through No. 18.
Instead, the offense seemed to go away from Jefferson. Todd Bowles and the Buccaneers would expectedly focus on shutting down Jefferson. Still, No. 18’s dearth of targets in the second half was shocking. On a must-have third-and-eight, Cousins threw the ball to rookie Jordan Addison instead of looking Jefferson’s way, and Addison had the pass batted down in front of him.
Jefferson was clearly frustrated by the loss. The cameras showed him dejected on the bench after the game, sitting in disbelief at what had happened.
The Vikings had two costly special teams mistakes at crucial times in the second half, allowing the Buccaneers to capitalize and win.
The first mistake came on the first drive of the second half when the defense had just gotten off the field and forced the Buccaneers to settle for a field goal in the red zone. Rookie Jay Ward lined up offsides during the kick and extended the drive, and the Buccaneers ultimately scored a touchdown.
The second mistake came when the Vikings had too many men on the field when Buccaneers kicker Chase McLaughlin was set to attempt a 57-yard field goal. To avoid a penalty, the Vikings had to burn a crucial timeout they could have used at the end of the game.
While most people would expect some sloppy play in Week 1, these sorts of self-inflicted wounds are the mistakes that cost the Vikings the game.
Justin Jefferson had 150 yards in a game for the ninth time in his career. Jefferson broke yet another record today, surpassing Randy Moss for the most games of 150 yards receiving or more by a player under the age of 25.
Jefferson has made it abundantly clear that he cares about winning, not the ungodly numbers he puts up. Still, it’s impressive how consistently he has an eye-popping stat line.
Even more impressive? Jefferson turned 24 on June 16, so he won’t turn 25 until next season. That means Jefferson will have at least 16 more games this season to add to his total.
Minnesota’s offense was anemic in the fourth quarter, putting up only six yards on their final two drives. With how well Cousins and the offense had moved the ball all game, there was an expectation that they would continue to push the ball down the field against a Buccaneers defense that had been a bit tired.
Instead, bad play-calling and Tampa’s stout defense didn’t allow the Vikings’ offense to make much headway. Minnesota’s offense started both drives with passes to tight end T.J. Hockenson that the Bucs blew up behind the line of scrimmage, putting them behind the chains early. The offense never recovered from these setbacks and allowed the Buccaneers offense to take the ball, the lead, and run out the clock.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Devin White was all over the place, leading both teams with 12 tackles. After an offseason that saw him threaten a holdout, White proved just how valuable he is to Tampa’s defense. He blew up T.J. Hockenson behind the line of scrimmage twice, putting the Vikings behind the chains and laying a hit on Kirk Cousins as he tried to scramble into the end zone.
White’s impact in this game was clear. He and fellow middle linebacker Lavonte David were always around the ball and in the thick of the action. Part of White’s success was also due to Vita Vea and Calijah Kancey occupying Minnesota’s interior offensive line without Garrett Bradbury and preventing them from getting to the second level to help block.