MINNEAPOLIS – The Vikings needed a stop, and Lewis Cine delivered.
After a 55-yard run by Titans running back Julius Chestnut, Tennessee faced a first-and-goal at the Minnesota 4-yard line. Chestnut gained another 3 yards on the following snap.
On second-and-goal from the 1, Cine sacked quarterback Malik Willis for a loss of 3. Willis' next pass was incomplete, and Tennessee settled for a 22-yard field goal.
Cine's stop and the team's goal-line stand wasn't enough to completely corral the Titans, who defeated the Vikings 24-16 in the teams' second preseason game. But it was certainly a positive takeaway from a defensive outing that had its share of ups and downs.
"I'm excited that we had the stop that we did then. … We got out of there, which was really important for our defense," Cine said postgame. "It was good that we stopped them. They're a hard-nosed team that keeps running the ball. They're a great team to play.
"It felt good," he said. "But I've gotta be more consistent on those plays, keep 'em ongoing."
Cine's stop provided a bounce-back moment after he'd missed a tackle of Tyjae Spears, who scored a 33-yard touchdown late in the first quarter. Despite being frustrated about the error, he understands the importance of having a short memory – and is grateful for preseason reps to iron out any wrinkles.
"Even if you got a bad play, you've gotta shake it off. If I was down on myself, like, '[Darn], I just let up a big play for a touchdown,' I wouldn't be able to bounce back," he said. "I've gotta have short-term memory and push it away, move on."
Cine played all four quarters for Minnesota, finishing the night with a team-leading seven tackles and the sack.
Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell acknowledged the missed tackle but also praised Cine's progress and mentioned how fast the safety is playing. Which is especially impressive after suffering a significant leg fracture in Week 4 last season.
"The missed tackle on that one run, he's coming downhill, he's trying to fill his responsibility, and those are gonna happen. Especially when he's really just getting back going again," said O'Connell, who noted the team hadn't been able to simulate tackling in joint practice sessions with the Titans. "So to see him make the play on Malik, on the red zone scramble, that's a tough guy to bring down. There were a couple other times where he just pulled the trigger and came downhill and made a play."
Cine wasn't the only Viking to make a splash play Saturday night. Sheldon Day also sacked Willis, and Troy Dye picked off the quarterback on a pass over the middle.
The Vikings linebacker snagged the interception and returned it 2 yards, stopping the Titans drive and prompting plenty of excitement from his teammates on the field and sidelines alike.
"It's awesome to see that from those guys," Andrew Booth, Jr., said.
Dye finished the Saturday night contest with two tackles and the takeaway. T.J. Smith also flashed at times, leading all defensive linemen with four total tackles and got his hands up on the pass that Dye picked. Jay Ward and Troy Reeder recorded five tackles apiece.
Booth, Dye and Joejuan Williams each recorded a pass defensed. Williams broke up a throw by Willis in the end zone on third-and-goal, once again forcing Tennessee to kick a 22-yard field goal.
"It's always good to hold them to three points once they get into the red [zone]," Williams said. "But the biggest thing is, at the end of the day, we've got to get back to the drawing board, look at the film, go over the mistakes and clean it up. I feel like we can be overall better as a unit.
"We've just gotta continue to clean up everything and get ready for the regular season. We've still got another week left, Arizona comes to town, and continue to keep working, keep stacking."
The Titans racked up 352 net yards of offense against the Vikings, including 281 rushing yards.
Willis scrambled 11 times for 91 yards. As a team, Tennessee had chunk runs of 55, 33, 26 and 23 yards.
Asked afterward if those major gains were an issue of run fits or poor tackling, O'Connell said it was "probably a little of both."
"But listen – we're playing our normal calls, and some of these looks, these runs aren't getting off, maybe we're talking them out of these things, but we're trying to give these guys enough of an opportunity, enough of a plan, to compete – but also our mindset is on Sept. 10," O'Connell said. "And much, much beyond, a short week after that – and then right on into what's out in front of us. We're asking our guys to play differently than they do every single day, and I think that's OK in the evaluation process, really, on offense and defense."
O'Connell and the Vikings would prefer wins in these preseason contests, no doubt. But the reps and game film are invaluable – particularly for players like Cine and Williams, who are returning from injuries.
"Those reps are very important. I didn't really get the chance to get full game reps last year, so the fact that I'm getting them now is good," Cine said. "I've just gotta let my talent show."
Williams said he's thankful for the chance to play in Minnesota's exhibition games.
"I'm really happy to be out there. Every play, I try my best to take advantage of it," he said. "And I make sure to tell that to young kids; every time I step on the field, I'm like, 'Hey, put a smile on your face. Have fun.' That's kind of the biggest thing for me, especially after not playing. I'm very happy to be back."
O'Connell knows Cine will be his own biggest critic after Minnesota's defensive outing. But he feels positive about where the unit – and the Vikings second-year safety – is heading.
It's part of the reason O'Connell named Cine one of the evening's captains for the coin toss, along with Blake Brandel and Ty Chandler.
"I think Lew's in a great spot. It was fun to make him a captain tonight. The team, when I announced that, was real excited about that," O'Connell said. "Lew's doing a great job right now, just building upon what he does each and every day. I'm sure there will be some things to correct, but he'll be right back in there with [Vikings defensive backs coach Daronte Jones], and Harry (Harrison Smith), Cam [Bynum] and [Josh] Metellus. I mean, what a group that you can really look at right now.
"And then Theo [Jackson] and Jay Ward, I mean, that's a full room of NFL football payers, and we feel very strongly about that room," O'Connell added.