EAGAN, Minn. — The stars shined brightly under the lights at TCO Stadium.
The Vikings held their annual night practice on Saturday night, ramping up the intensity in front of a capacity crowd at the outdoor stadium at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.
"We've got the greatest fans in the world," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer told fans after the two-hour practice. "We had a long practice tonight and got a lot of work done, but we've still got a lot of work to do."
Of the 87 players who do not have a Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) or Non-Football Injury (NFI) designation, running back Dalvin Cook, tight end Kyle Rudolph, tackle Aviante Collins, defensive tackle Jalyn Holmes and defensive end Ade Aruna
did not practice.
Vikings players have Sunday off, but will return to work Monday with a closed morning walk-through and an open practice scheduled to start at 1:50 p.m.
Here are three observations from Saturday night's session:
1. Captain Kirk comes up clutch
Kirk Cousins led a game-winning touchdown drive against one of the best defenses in the NFL.
Down 17-13 with just over six minutes left, Cousins and the Vikings offense engineered a 14-play, 73-yard scoring drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown catch by Brandon Zylstra. That play, and the ensuing extra point, gave the offense a 20-17 advantage.
Cousins was 4-for-4 on third downs on the sequence, finding Chad Beebe twice and Stefon Diggs once to move the chains. The fourth completion was to Zylstra, who peeled back and dove to haul in the touchdown at the front pylon.
"There was a lot of traffic coming my way. I saw Kirk scrambling so I went into a scramble-mode drill and kind of worked my way back. We were on the same page," said Zylstra who began training camp on the PUP list but returned to practice Monday. "Every day I come out here, I just feel more confident coming off an injury.
"That's really what I'm working for right now … just getting to where I was in OTAs because I felt great then," Zylstra added. "I'm just getting the game to slow down again."
The final drive capped off a spirited session between the Vikings offense and defense, as the competitive juices were flowing for much of the night.
"As you can see, both teams were competing their tail off," Zylstra said. "It's nice for us to come out on top, but ultimately we both got great work."
Sean Mannion took over the second-team offense with just over 90 seconds left but couldn't put together a scoring drive.
2. Bombs away
Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski wasted no time opening up the playbook Saturday night, as his unit unleashed plenty of big plays early.
Cousins hit Adam Thielen for a spectacular 56-yard connection on the first play of team drills, and the quarterback later found Diggs for 40 yards.
Mannion later found rookie wide receiver Dillon Mitchell for a 40-yard gain, and Alexander Hollins later caught a 35-plus yard pass from Mannion.
3. In for 6?
Wide receiver Jeff Badet made perhaps the catch of the night, then took an interesting route to the end zone.
Badet made an acrobatic, juggling catch on a tipped pass from Kyle Sloter, and tumbled down to the 5-yard line, where he got up and celebrated his feat.
However, the whistle never blew. Linebacker Cam Smith and cornerback Bene Benwickere converged and knocked the ball out of Badet's hand, where it rolled into the end zone.
Badet jumped on the ball for the unlikely score, but realized he probably shouldn't have celebrated so soon.
"Man, all I can say, No. 13 must think he's still in college or something, and I gotta get up and score after I fall down to the ground," Badet said about himself. "It's just all about concentration.
"All the receivers were making plays, and I was just like, 'If I get a chance, I gotta come down and make the play.' "
4. Wilson does it again
Eric Wilson loves these annual Saturday night practices.
The Vikings linebacker picked off Cousins early in the first 10-minute situational drill, making it the second straight camp he has recorded an interception at TCO Stadium.
"The fans bring great energy. Teammates work hard to try to be on the same page," Wilson said. "I work hard, and I was definitely focused out here today."
5. Plenty of work on 3rd downs
The Vikings defense has been the league's top third-down defense over the past two seasons, and the unit showed its mettle Saturday night.
Minnesota's first-team defense allowed just one conversion on four tries in one sequence against the first-team offense. Stephen Weatherly had a tackle for loss, while defensive ends Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen would have likely had sacks against Cousins.
6. Close quarters
Zimmer made sure his team got plenty of red zone work, as well.
Griffen likely would have been credited with a sack inside the 10-yard line, and Xavier Rhodes had a nice pass deflection in the end zone.
Davion Davis and Bisi Johnson later caught touchdown passes, before quarterback Kyle Sloter showed off his wheels on a designed run for a 6-yard touchdown scamper.
7. The kicking game
Vikings kicker Dan Bailey made seven of eight kicks on the night, including a pair of extra points in team situations.
Bailey made all three field goals with Kevin McDermott as the long snapper, as he was good from 33, 39 and 45 yards.
The kicker was two for three with Austin Cutting as the long snapper. Bailey was good from 36 and 52 yards, but his 44-yard try hit the right upright.