The last we saw the Minnesota Vikings, they left the field after losing 31-24 to an underdog New York Giants team in the playoffs. The 11-0 one-score magic they had last season disappeared that night. Still, it felt like the Vikings would get away with one again on Sunday. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced third-and-10 from Minnesota’s 39-yard line at the two-minute warning, leading 20-17.
Minnesota would get the stop. Tampa would kick the field goal. The Vikings would march down the field, score a touchdown, and win by one. Right?
“Disappointing start to our season from the standpoint of wanting to come in and play a clean game,” Kevin O’Connell concluded.
When you lose the turnover battle three to nothing and have a few critical penalties on some third downs or fourth downs either to allow conversions or make those opportunities either shorter or potentially convert, you’re doing a lot of things to help the opponent. And all credit to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they came in and played a good, hard-fought game. But I did feel like there were quite a few self-inflicted mistakes that hopefully we can get ironed out and move forward.
We know that much of last year was improbable … or a mirage. It depends on how generous you want to be. The 11-0 record in one-score games befuddled pundits and made it challenging to fully evaluate O’Connell’s first season as head coach. Last year ended with the Giants, a three-point underdog, beating the Vikings in Round 1. This season begins with the four-point underdog Bucs beating Minnesota 20-17.
The Vikings have picked up where they left off.
That’s not inherently bad, but it’s not great. No team wants to start 0-1 and then travel to face the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday. Not when they have to face the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 3 and the Kansas City Chiefs two weeks later. Few 0-2 teams make the playoffs, let alone 0-3. But every new regime has a three-year plan. They have to. Even the most patient owners won’t wait much longer than that for results.
Fortunately, the Vikings still have resolve, even after a tough loss to start the year.
“There’s an unwavering belief in this locker room,” said T.J. Hockenson. “Even when there’s five minutes left, and we were down by a field goal, we thought we had that one for sure, thought we’d make a play or the defense would make a play. But sometimes the ball doesn’t fall your way.”
They’ll need that attitude to get back on track. The sportsbooks will heavily favor Philadelphia next week. They will also likely favor the Chargers and Chiefs, assuming Justin Herbert and Patrick Mahomes are healthy. But the Vikings also need to honestly evaluate their performance and adjust accordingly. That can be hard in a season where they won every one-score game in the regular season. It’s a little easier to be self-critical after a loss – especially when you feel you beat yourself.
“A lot of credit to that team on the other side, but we beat ourselves,” Alexander Mattison said. “It’s hard to win a game that close when the turnover margin is three to zero.”
The Vikings made things hard on themselves:
- On the first drive, Brian O’Neill false-started on third-and-two. Minnesota punted on the next play.
- On Minnesota’s second drive, they went 60 yards on nine plays. But Cousins fumbled on third-and-two from Tampa’s 26-yard line.
- On the third play of Minnesota’s third drive, former Gopher Antoine Winfield Jr. strip-sacked Cousins and recovered the ball at the Vikings’ 18-yard line.
- The Vikings had first-and-goal from the six-yard line, leading 10-3 with 6:37 to go in the half. But they didn’t advance the ball, and Tampa held them to a field goal.
- Tampa tied it 10-10 with 1:09 left in the game. But the Vikings drove it 62 yards on six plays. However, Cousins forced a pass to K.J. Osborn in a tight window, and Tampa’s Christian Izien picked it in the end zone.
- On the first drive of the second half, the Vikings had Tampa stalled at fourth-and-two on Minnesota’s 13-yard line. However, rookie Jay Ward lined up offside, and the Bucs scored a touchdown three plays later to make it 17-10.
“We moved the football on our second drive, went down into the field goal range area, and had a third-and-short,” said Cousins. “Next thing you know, it’s Tampa’s ball. Then the two-minute, we go down the field and then turn it over and throw an interception and had the sack/fumble. So, I think there’s plays to be made out there. I think we’re making plays, but when you turn the ball over, you kind of take away those chances to capitalize on them.”
Cousins was 33/44 for 344 yards, but he also had two fumbles and a pick. Justin Jefferson finished with 150 yards, and rookie Jordan Addison had 61 yards and a touchdown. There were times when the offense was humming and others when the defense came up with a big stop. The Vikings should have won this game. Godwin made a spectacular catch to seal the game, and Tampa’s defense was stout in crucial moments. But ultimately, Minnesota beat itself.
In one sense, it’s okay for the Vikings to pick up where they left off. They can’t replicate last year’s magic, even after practicing situational football and creating a culture of accountability. Much of last year’s results were improbable. One game doesn’t make or break a season, but 0-2 might. Good teams learn tough lessons after losses. They also can flush them and move on. Minnesota will have to — their flight to Philadelphia leaves in 72 hours.