The Vikings improved their 2015 preseason record to 2-0 and their preseason record under second-year head coach Mike Zimmer to 6-0 by defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26-16 at home on Saturday night. The game marked the Vikings first home contest since the 2014 regular season finale as well as the first home game in the team's final season outdoors before it moves into U.S. Bank Stadium about this time next year.
Here are 5 observations from Saturday night's game…
1. Bridgewater stays hot; Hill strikes twiceLast week, Teddy Bridgewater was efficient. This week, he added explosiveness to his efficiency. The second-year passer was 7 of 8 for 86 yards in three series of action, including completions of 26 yards and 24 yards to WR Jarius Wright and 18 yards to TE Kyle Rudolph; his long completion last week was 13 yards. Saturday night's performance gives Bridgewater a 2015 two-game preseason box score of 12 of 14 for 130 yards with no TDs or INTs, and all of it coming without the services of the best RB in the NFL – Adrian Peterson.
Also impressive on Saturday night was backup QB Shaun Hill, who was 8 of 9 for 104 yards with 2 TDs and 0 INTs for passer rating of 154.4. Combine Bridgewater and Hill on Saturday night, and the box score reads: 15 of 17 for 190 yards with 2 TDs and 0 INTs for a passer rating of 152.5.
2. Loadholt injury forces Vikings to regroup on the right sideThe Viking first two preseason games have yielded plenty of good news. Early in Saturday night's win over Tampa Bay, though, the Vikings received a large dose of bad news. Phil Loadholt, who has held the starting RT job since his rookie season in 2009, was forced from the game and did not return; it's expected he'll miss the entire season with an Achilles injury. If that is the case, rookie fourth-rounder TJ Clemmings, who replaced Loadholt on Saturday night, figures to get first look at the vacancy. There are alternatives, such as sliding Mike Harris from RG to RT and finding a new RG or assessing the free agent or trade markets. For now, though, it looks like Clemmings has an opportunity to earn a starting spot right out of the gates of his career.
Injuries are a tough and real part of the game. Zimmer expressed his disappointment for Loadholt's situation, particularly in light of the fact that he worked so hard to get back from an injury that cut short his 2014 season.
3. Exum keeps making plays; Blanton looked good, tooFor the second consecutive game, second-year safety Antone Exum got his hands on a turnover. Last week in Canton, he scooped up an Audie Cole-forced fumble and returned it 32 yards. On Saturday night against Tampa Bay, Exum ball hawked his way to an INT and returned it 34 yards into Buccaneers territory. Exum is challenging Robert Blanton for a starting job in the Vikings defense, and his role in those two turnovers will help him quite a bit. Blanton helped himself tonight, too. He had a key pass breakup on a 3rd down near the goal line and nearly got his hands on an interception earlier in the game.
4. Kicking game was sharpAfter each having a moment or two they'd like back in the preseason opener last week, P Jeff Locke and K Blair Walsh each played well this week. Locked had a net average of 39.4 yards on 5 punts and had 4 of those punts land inside the Tampa Bay 20; also, the Vikings punt coverage groups allowed -2 yards on two returns. Locke also was sound in his responsibilities as Walsh's holder. Walsh was a perfect 2 of 2 on FGs, hitting from 46 and 42 yards; he was also 2 for 2 on PATs. Walsh had 6 kickoffs, with 5 of them reaching the end zone, 2 going for touchbacks and 4 of them returned for 81 yards.
5. Too many fumbles and penalties, and not enough 3rd down conversionsIt won't be all rainbows and sunshine when the Vikings turn on the tape from Saturday night's game. It's always great to put a W on the board, but the key to putting a W on the board next week, too, is to find and correct mistakes from the performance. The Vikings were penalized 7 times for 60 yards, fumbled three times and lost them all, and converted just 2 of 10 3rd down attempts. Those are opportunities for improvement as the Vikings head back to Winter Park to begin preparations for next week's home preseason game against the Oakland Raiders.