Led by its downfield passing game, the Minnesota Vikings nearly pulled off a 20-point second-half comeback against the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins posted 153 of his game-high 364 passing yards in the game's final 11 minutes. Minnesota scored touchdowns on consecutive drives, pushing within six points of the Eagles with 1:10 to play. But a failed onside kick attempt stifled a late rally in a 34-28 win by Philadelphia in its home opener.
The Vikings (0-2) lost to the Eagles (2-0) at Lincoln Financial Field despite scoring 21 second-half points and gaining 232 yards after halftime.
"Just across the board, very much similar to last week which, turning the football over, coming to this place, NFC Champions from a year ago at their place, their home opener, and you lose the turnover battle 4-1," Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said. "There was a lot to be proud of from a standpoint of the guys, you know, very rarely can you lose the turnover battle 4-1 and have a chance at an onside kick with a chance to win the game."
Vikings pass catchers Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, and T.J. Hockenson combined for 297 receiving yards. Jefferson caught a game-high 159 yards and became the NFL's fastest to 5,000 career receiving yards.
Addison had a historic night, too. The 21-year-old rookie became the 20th player since 1970 to score a touchdown in his first two games. He also joins Percy Harvin (2009) and Sammy White (1976) as the only two rookies in team history to start a season with touchdown receptions in two consecutive games.
"That was the first thing I said to him. When he came off the field on the sideline," Cousins said of Addison's touchdown. "I put my arm around him and said, 'The finish is what I love, you know, you got to six points instead of running out, you know, with a red zone offense, and it's tremendous.' You know, if you watch his tape from college, he's catching post routes for Pittsburgh, for USC. He's good at it."
The Vikings passing offense has quickly established itself as one of the best in football. Cousins has thrown 44 passes in consecutive weeks. But the team's lack of a rushing attack helped the Eagles possess the ball for nearly 20 more minutes than Minnesota.
Turnovers continue to cost the Vikings as well. In the first half, Minnesota fumbled twice on offense and once on special teams. Minnesota's six lost fumbles are the most by any team through the first two games of a season since 2003.
"Tough loss [to a] solid opponent. [We] shot ourselves in the foot with the turnovers. Similar story now the first two weeks," Cousins said. "It's difficult to win in this league when you lose the turnover battle by one, let alone by the margin we've lost it by. So we have to fix those mistakes and not let it continue."
The Vikings third turnover proved most costly. Jefferson fumbled the ball out of the Eagles end zone following a 30-yard reception with 34 seconds left in the half. By rule, Philadelphia gained possession on a touchback that spotted the ball at the Eagles 20-yard line. Six plays later, Eagles kicker Jake Elliott nailed a 61-yard field goal, tying his career-long.
The swing of Minnesota not getting seven points or at least three resulted in a four-point halftime lead for Philadelphia.
Minnesota started the second half with the ball, but Cousins was strip-sacked just two plays into the quarter by Eagles defensive end Josh Sweat. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox returned the football 8 yards to the Vikings 7-yard line.
Sweat beat left tackle Olisaemeka Udoh on the play. He started in place of Christian Darrisaw, who was active despite battling an ankle injury, but he did not play. Udoh left the game in the fourth quarter with a leg injury. David Quessenberry, a veteran added earlier this month, played the final 11 minutes. .
"I've been around. I've played a lot of ball," Quessenberry said. "That's the job. So when my number is called, I take a lot of pride in being able to step up and get the job done."
Trailing 27-7, Cousins connected with Addison on a 62-yard touchdown. On the play, Cousins faked a pass to his left and then shifted his eyes to the right, which kept Eagles safety Justin Evans flat-footed. Addison beat cornerback Avonte Maddox on a deep backside post to score.
After the teams swapped punts, the Eagles came away with zero points following a 15-play drive that took nine minutes off the clock. Defensive end Danielle Hunter sacked Hurts on consecutive plays, which pushed the Eagles out of field goal range.
Receiver K.J. Osborn caught a 10-yard pass from Cousins, capping a 10-play, 75-yard drive that pulled Minnesota within six.
"I thought he was just tremendously tough. Ran those 2-minute drives to get us back in the game and at least give us a swing at an onside kick that didn't work out," O'Connell said of Cousins. "But just really, overall, for coming here and playing the way he did under those circumstances, I do know this – Kirk Cousins played absolutely well enough for us to win the football game. I think there's a lot he can pull out of it, and I know his teammates felt it, as well."
But the Eagles rushing game eventually sealed it. Running back D'Andre Swift notched 63 of his career-high 175 rushing yards and scored the game-sealing touchdown from two yards out.
Minnesota put together another 10-play scoring drive. Hockenson scored his second touchdown of the night with 1:14 to play. The Vikings got the ball back with eight seconds to play, but Cousins' Hail Mary try fell incomplete.
"We lost the past two games by a combined 9 points," Hockenson said. "We can move the ball on anybody. We can be in any game. We just have to clean a couple of things and get moving forward. It's a tough way to start turn, but there is a lot of football ahead."