There are no easy games in the NFL.
And while the Vikings season opener against the Bengals appeared to be one of the most winnable dates on the schedule, Minnesota found that lesson out the hard way Sunday.
Plagued by penalties and a lack of execution all throughout the roster — and despite a furious fourth-quarter rally —the Vikings opened their 2021 slate with a thud … and 27-24 road loss in overtime to the Bengals.
Greg Joseph nailed a 53-yard field goal as time expired to send the game to overtime, but the Bengals drove for a 33-yard field goal on their third and final possession of the extra period.
Minnesota drove into Cincinnati territory on the previous series but a Dalvin Cook fumble gave the Bengals the ball at the Vikings 39-yard line. The play was reviewed by the call on the field stood.
Offensively, the Vikings rolled out their entire first-team unit that did not see the field together in the preseason. That group struggled early but seemed to pick up steam as the game went along.
Minnesota gained 403 total yards, and Adam Thielen caught a pair of touchdowns, with Cook also running for a score.
Defensively, the unit started strong. But on a hot and humid day in Cincinnati, the unit wore down and couldn't make enough timely plays down the stretch.
The Vikings have now lost back-to-back season openers after winning four straight from 2016-2019. Minnesota is also now 4-2-1 in overtime under Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer.
Minnesota remains on the road in Week 2 for a tilt against Arizona. Kickoff against the Cardinals is slated for 3:05 (CT) Sunday.
Here are four other takeaways from the Vikings season opener:
Penalties, penalties and more penalties…
Where to start?
How about here: the Vikings had more penalties in the first half than they did in any game of a disappointing 2020 season.
Minnesota was called for 12 penalties for 116 yards on Sunday. And 10 of them came in the opening two quarters, with the offense being the culprits for nine of those innfractions.
C.J. Ham was called for a false start before the very first snap of the season. Tyler Conklin followed with one of his own before Ham was called for another false start, all on the opening drive.
Minnesota's offensive line also endured a rough first half. Rashod Hill was called twice for holding, while Garrett Bradbury and Olisaemeka Udoh were also flagged for holding in the opening half. Brian O'Neill was whistled for a false start.
Udoh was called for an unnecessary roughness flag in the third quarter, and Ezra Cleveland was called for holding in the fourth quarter as every lineman drew at least one flag in the season opener.
Lots of 3rd -and-longs…
The penalties, of course, led to a difficult day for the Vikings offense, as did sacks given up (and taken) by the offensive line and Kirk Cousins.
Minnesota converted on six of 16 third downs Sunday, a conversion rate of 37.5 percent.
Perhaps that's not overly terrible considering the Vikings average yard-to-gain on third down against the Bengals was a whopping 12.06 yards.
The Vikings had five different third-down plays where they needed to gain at least 20 yards.
Defensively, Zimmer's third-down defense was strong as always.
Cincinnati converted just three of 14 total third downs.
Overcoming a lack of field position…
Minnesota's special teams had an overall solid day, with Joseph and new punter Jordan Berry leading the way in that phase.
But the Vikings managed to overcome a horrid outcome in terms of starting field position, especially in the first half.
The Vikings first seven drives started at their own 25-yard line or worse, with only one touchdown coming out of those sequences.
Minnesota scored a touchdown when it started from the Cincinnati 30-yard line – and again when the offense started at its own 25.
But the biggest drive of the game came when the offense started at its own 5-yard line with less than two minutes remaining, as that sequence led to Joseph's game-tying field goal.
Minnesota's final offensive drive finally had a good start — and its own 37-yard line — as the Vikings marched down the field before Cook's fumble.
A rough day for Breeland
Bashuad Breeland's Vikings debut wasn't all bad, as he had a fourth-down stop on a Bengals third-quarter run.
But he certainly had some miscues Sunday, including a defensive pass interference call that led to Cincinnati's first score.
He also allowed a 50-yard touchdown pass. Breeland was beat deep by rookie Ja'Marr Chase, although it's worth noting there was no safety help on the play.
Breeland appeared to get banged up on the touchdown pass, and he was replaced for a bit by Kris Boyd midway through the third quarter. The veteran free agent went in-and-out of the lineup for the rest of the game.