Minnesota's defense make some big-time stops at Philadelphia, but a handful of big plays allowed were too tough to overcome.
The Vikings fell 34-28 against the Eagles on Thursday Night Football, a game in which the defense was on the field for an exhausting 39:28, which stemmed quite largely from Minnesota losing the turnover battle 4-1.
Minnesota was gouged by three plays of 40-plus yards, starting with a 54-yard pass from Jalen Hurts to DeVonta Smith in the first quarter.
Vikings safety Josh Metellus had just exited the game with a shoulder injury, and the Eagles immediately targeted reserve Theo Jackson. The safety just couldn't quite get ahead of Smith, who hauled in the long ball that had been thrown on third-and-4.
The Vikings did make a stout defensive stand considering the damage, forcing the Eagles to settle for a field goal.
Jackson later responded with a splash play of his own, intercepting Hurts to give the Vikings offense another shot. Unfortunately, a lost fumble by Alexander Mattison on the first play of the drive essentially negated Jackson's takeaway.
The third quarter spiraled early for Minnesota, when a strip sack of Kirk Cousins set up Philadelphia for an easy 1-yard score out of the gate. The Vikings offense went three-and-out on the next drive, and defense was up again.
The Eagles ran the ball twice for 1- and 5-yard gains, respectively, before Hurts launched it deep to Smith for a 63-yard touchdown and Philly's biggest lead of the night.
Minnesota clawed its way back to within six, trailing 27-21 midway through the fourth quarter.
But Philadelphia continued to chisel away with its running game, giving the ball again and again to D'Andre Swift against a worn-down Vikings defense.
Swift slipped a couple of tackles on a 43-yard dash.
The Eagles running back scored a touchdown two plays later and put the game almost entirely out of reach for the Vikings, who did have a shot at an onside kick and one last Hail Mary before the clock hit 0:00.
Swift averaged 6.3 yards per carry on the evening, finishing with 28 attempts for 175 yards and the touchdown. The Eagles as a team racked up 259 rushing yards.
"Week-in and week-out, if you don't stop the run, you're not gonna be successful," Jordan Hicks said.
Metellus, who did return to the game, opined that a defensive scheme employed to prohibit Hurts from taking shots downfield could have sacrificed more plays on the ground.
"[They were] getting downhill and attacking what we had up. We were playing more of a 3-3-5 kind of look, so just getting downhill and vertical with the double teams on our three guys down in front, it was able to get them yards," he said. "They just stuck to it. Up until that last drive, there were no explosive runs. … it wasn't anything crazy. They had that one pop at the end."
O'Connell was asked about the Vikings having a smaller personnel grouping in the game for much of what was a 16-play, 75-yard drive by the Eagles on which Philadelphia passed twice for a total of 12 yards.
He noted the hope to limit the impact and potential explosive plays downfield.
"[We wanted to] try to make them drive the football and then change some groupings up and use some different elements to try to just keep them off-balance if we could," O'Connell said. "That drive was clearly one where they were able to execute over and over again. Not having Marcus [Davenport] able to go for a good chunk there, and then ultimately those guys wearing down, we just left them on the field way too much."
O'Connell praised the defense's efforts, especially earlier in the evening, and acknowledged the lopsided time of possession that inevitably gasses a unit.
"They gave Philly some different looks, played a different structure defense to try to help in any way we could against the zone read and all the plays off of it. They were just short fields and having to overcome. And eventually they were just put in too many tough spots," he said. "A couple times the ball got thrown over our head – that can happen when you're trying to defend so many aspects of the run game and the pressure looks and all those things."
"But the big explosives down the field hurt us because we were doing some good things early on," O'Connell continued. "We wanted to make them have to drive it – wanted them to run it first, second, third and see if we could possibly turn the football over. But with the turnover margin being what it was, they were just on the field too much."
Added Metellus: "They were trying to wear us down, and obviously it was working. Their adjustments worked."
Smith led the Eagles in receiving with four catches for 131 yards on the evening. Tight end Dallas Goedert and receiver A.J. Brown combined to add another 10 catches for 51 yards.
Hurts finished the game 18-of-23 passing for 193 yards, one touchdown and one interception with a passer rating of 98.0. The Vikings were able to rattle the QB, sacking him four times. Danielle Hunter accounted for three of the takedowns, his fourth career game with as many sacks.
Hicks said bringing the heat early on enabled the Vikings to drop eight into coverage later in the game.
"I think we had two sacks on drop eight, right? Maybe even more. I think it was good, you know, but it all started with the threat of pressure. Without the threat of pressure, Jalen can just sit back there and pick you apart," said Hicks, who recorded 11 tackles. "So it started with those first couple drives, sending six every time and presenting those looks, and then being able to have the change-up balls to throw at them.
"We did a lot of good things. [But] this is our second week saying that," Hicks later added. "We did some really good things, but there's some obvious stuff we've gotta clean up. … We'll watch the tape and see and continue to work.
"They were trying to wear us down, and obviously it was working," Hicks said. "Their adjustments worked. We've gotta do a better job adjusting. I feel like as a defense we're right there. We've just gotta find a way to put it together."
Metellus echoed Hicks' thoughts as the team gets ready to return home and host the Chargers for Week 3.
"I think we're right there. It's crazy to say, being 0-2. I still think we're a really good football team," he said. "I think tonight definitely showed us that. For us to play like we did, up and down through all three phases and still be able to contend … I think that says something about us and the way we fight and the way we compete. But that won't get it done. 'Almost' doesn't get it done in this league."