MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota's 1-point margin of defeat Sunday continued to illustrate a thin margin for error that the Vikings have had in a 2020 season that's started 3-0.
The Vikings fell to the Titans 31-30 Sunday at fan-less U.S. Bank Stadium as Minnesota was unable to protect a lead in the final 10 minutes of the fourth quarter to a Tennessee squad that improved to 3-0 on the season with victories by a combined six points.
Minnesota avoided offensive doldrums in the second quarter that tilted games in Weeks 1 and 2 into severe deficits by intermission. Although the Vikings made numerous plays on offense and with their short-handed defense, miscues in both phases — and a costly penalty on a field goal attempt — undid an impressive showing by Dalvin Cook and a historic breakout performance by Justin Jefferson.
View pregame images as the Vikings get set to take on the Titans on Sunday.
Pre-game question: Could the Vikings snap out of their offensive funk?
The Vikings entered Week 3 ranked dead last in passing yards per game (171.5) and time of possession (20:10). Minnesota also ranked 30th in net yards per game (278.5) and 20th in rushing (107.0 yards per game), although the latter may have been more of a lack of opportunity than execution in the run game.
The Vikings put together three impressive possessions from the 6:01 mark of the first quarter until less than two minutes remained in the first half.
Minnesota drove 76 yards in seven plays, which was capped by a 39-yard touchdown run by Cook. It was his second-longest touchdown run and gave Minnesota a 7-6 lead with 2:43 left in the first quarter.
The Vikings followed with a 10-play, 88-yard touchdown drive on their next possession that built off momentum from a Harrison Smith interception. Adam Thielen ended that drive with a 16-yard touchdown catch one play after Jefferson reeled in a 30-yard reception.
Minnesota then built a 17-9 lead on a 41-yard field goal by Dan Bailey after driving 52 yards on seven plays.
Kirk Cousins finished the first half a crisp 10-of-14 passing for 144 yards with a score and no interceptions for a passer rating of 128.3.
Cook headed into the locker room with 76 yards on 10 carries, and Minnesota rushed 15 times for 87 yards, averaging 5.8 a pop.
Jefferson posted a first half for the record books, becoming the first Vikings rookie to have 100 receiving yards in a half since Randy Moss on Thanksgiving Day in 1998. He added a 71-yard touchdown in the third quarter, but Jefferson wasn't targeted the rest of the way.
Kyle Rudolph again showed he can one-hand a touchdown grab with the best of them and also demonstrated nifty footwork with a toe tap.
The Vikings finished with a time of possession of 28:28 and 464 net yards of offense (including 226 rushing).
Minnesota opened the second half with an interception on its first snap. It would have been a 31-yard pick-six by Johnathan Joseph if not for an illegal blindside block against Jadeveon Clowney during the return.
Although the Vikings defense quickly forced a punt thanks in part to a strip sack by Yannick Ngakoue, momentum began slipping away after the pick.
Minnesota's next possession ended with a missed field goal after a messy sequence by both teams. Rashod Hill was flagged for a false start on a 49-yard attempt by Bailey to set up a 54-yard try.
Tennessee's Joshua Kalu jumped offsides on the next snap on his way to blocking that kick. The ball moved back to the 31-yard line for a 49-yard attempt, but it pushed wide right, snapping a streak of 22 consecutive makes by Bailey in regular-season games.
The Vikings put together scoring drives that ended with the touchdowns to Jefferson and Rudolph on two of their final five possessions, but they netted just 20 yards on their other three opportunities, suffering from an illegal block by Irv Smith, Jr., that turned a second-and-9 into an un-erasable first-and-20 and a bobbled snap that led to a loss of 14.
The Vikings defense was unable to prevent the Titans from moving into Stephen Gostkowski's range for field goals of 54 and 55 yards on separate possessions inside the final 10 minutes.
Minnesota allowed 444 net yards, including pass plays of 61, 38 and 21 yards during scoring drives by Tennessee in the third quarter.
"The thing I have to figure out right now is to keep this team understanding what's causing them to lose. We come out at the start of the second half, we throw an interception. … We give up a big play on defense. The last possession, when we have a chance to go down and win the game with a field goal, it was a complete disaster. Those are the things that are causing us to lose. Until I can figure out a way … we have a 1-yard run, and we get a block in the back and it's first-and-20. Things like that, that the good teams don't do."
"It was a blitz, and the defensive end dropped, and he was in the window of the throw, and I was really just wanting to throw it away over his head and put it out of bounds, but the corner had vision and was off and outside and was able to go get it. In hindsight, I wish I'd just thrown it away further and just played for the next play."
— Cousins on the interception by Joseph
"We come into work and we're serious about it. We come in, we work hard, we watch our film, we go out to practice, we communicate, we talk about things, we talk about things on the sideline. There's a lot of good stuff we're doing. I don't want to say we're not doing a lot of stuff. But when it comes to on Sunday when we're out there on the field, we got to take the opportunity to make plays — big ones that are going to change the outcome of the game. It's a matter of people stepping up when they have the opportunity, when that play arrives, taking advantage of the moment and not being scared. We've got to keep full-tilt, attack and know we are preparing as like the Vikings in the past. We're coming to work every day, for sure."
— Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks