PHILADELPHIA — The football often is referred to as the hopes and dreams of a team.
On Thursday, those hopes and dreams slipped the grip of the Vikings on Minnesota's first punt return.
And again on Minnesota's next possession, the first carry of the night by Alexander Mattison.
And again at the end of a 30-yard completion to Justin Jefferson.
And again during a sack of Kirk Cousins on Minnesota's second play of the second half.
The end result was a 34-28 loss to the Eagles on Thursday Night Football.
Minnesota fell to 0-2 on the season, and Philadelphia improved to 2-0.
"You lose the turnover battle 4-1 … 7-1 in turnovers lost in two games, and we've lost by a combined nine points to two playoff teams from a year ago," Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said. "So clearly, I've gotta coach it better from a standpoint of something we talk about every single day – ball security is a major, major focus in our football philosophy, but clearly I need to do a better job. And our staff, we need to go back and continue to find ways to re-emphasize how important it is when you have the football in your hands playing for the Minnesota Vikings. Because like I said, we're really not giving ourselves clean opportunities to win these games, the way we've started."
Each of the four fumbles brought consequences. The first denied good starting field position, and the second gave the Eagles to continue padding their time of possession.
Instead of Brandon Powell setting up the Vikings at the Philadelphia 35-yard line, Minneosta's defense had to go right back on the field after a three-and-out. Safety Theo Jackson picked off Jalen Hurts to get the Vikings off the field, but Mattison's fumble at the end of a 2-yard gain gave the ball right back at the Minnesota 39-yard line. The defense held the Eagles to a 55-yard field goal try that fluttered wide right.
"We're probably gonna have to emphasize different ways of drilling [ball security]," O'Connell said. "Alex's and Brandon's were – that one comes up a lot, when you're going to the ground, finishing forward, and it's that punch you can't see coming where you need to maintain those five points of pressure and all the way through the finish to the ground. And that's the hardest thing."
But the biggest shift in momentum was the fumble by Jefferson, who caught a deep pass down the sideline but had the ball knocked away. Initially ruled a fumble out of bounds, review showed the flight of the ball crossed the goal line still inside the pylon.
"Clearly, nobody's more torn up about that one than Justin. But we try to emphasize only reaching the ball out on fourth down," O'Connell said. "But he's a competitor. And he's playing a heck of a football game and making plays, and he's trying to do whatever he can to win because that's ultimately what he cares about the most. But that was incredibly unfortunate at the time, and very similar to last week – late in the 2-minute, a chance to have the lead going into halftime, and then before you know it, the game got away from us."
O'Connell said he thought the Vikings might be able to retain possession until he saw a final angle that better showed the flight of the football.
Kirk Cousins pointed out that if Jefferson had been at the 5-yard line, he wouldn't have been reaching, or a little deeper placement of the football would have made it do the end zone.
It was a reminder that even on a high-flying offensive performance, the game can come down to a matter of inches on pivotal plays.
Instead of first-and-goal at the 1-yard line with 34 seconds left in the first half, the play resulted in a touchback for Philadelphia, which was able to then run four times and complete one pass for a total of 37 yards, getting the ball to the Minnesota 43-yard line with four seconds remaining in the first half.
Both were just enough for Jake Elliott to push a 61-yard field goal through the uprights for a 13-7 lead.
Minnesota had a chance to answer to start the third quarter, but Josh Sweat forced a fumble during a sack of Cousins that Fletcher Cox returned to the Minnesota 7-yard line just two plays into the third quarter. Two plays later, Jalen Hurts had his second 1-yard touchdown of the night, building a 20-7 margin.
Here are four more observations from the game.
1. LOPsided TOP (time of possession)
All those turnovers aggregate in a very bad way when it comes to time of possession.
The Eagles had the ball for 39:28, compared to 20:32 for the Vikings.
Minnesota's defense seemed a little tired as the Eagles were able to salt away the game with an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that featured a 43-yard run by D'Andre Swift.
He slipped multiple tackles on the way to the way to the Minnesota 4-yard line and punched the ball in two plays later for a 34-21 lead with 4:13 remaining.
2. Don't blame Cousins
Many in the national echo chamber tout Cousins' prime-time record hasn't been great, but it's hard to imagine Cousins could play much better.
He withstood damaging hits early and stood tough in the pocket to get the ball to playmakers.
Cousins tied a single-game career high with four touchdown passes and finished 31-of-44 passing for 364 yards and a passer rating of 125.6.
"Just his decision making and his ability to see the field, they had some unique coverages to Justin going on out there, and he was able to assess and use some of those play-pass snaps to be aggressive with his arm," O'Connell said. "He was standing in there. I thought he was tremendously tough. … 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."
Jefferson led the Vikings aerial attack with 159 yards on 11 catches (14 targets). Jordan Addison caught three passes for 72 yards, highlighted by a 62-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
T.J. Hockenson pulled in two touchdowns on his seven receptions for 66 yards, and K.J. Osborn's night included a 10-yard touchdown on which he was left wide open on a crossing route.
3. Run game discrepancy
The Vikings ran nine times for 28 yards. They of course were behind the entire second half, but for the second week in a row, Minnesota has failed to get much going on the ground.
O'Connell was asked if the lack of results in the run game was a product of the teams the Vikings have faced so far and said, "To me, we've got to do a better job. We've got to do a better job of coaching them. That's on me. We've got to go back to where we can find ways to run the football."
Across the line, it was ground and pound for the Eagles, who finished with 48 rushes for a whopping 259 yards.
Philadelphia consistently stayed ahead of the chains and successfully moved the football on multiple scoring drives by keeping the ball on the ground the majority of the time.
4. Injuries continue at left tackle
Olisaemeka Udoh started at left tackle for the Vikings in place of Christian Darrisaw, who had been listed as questionable because of an ankle injury.
Darrisaw tried to make it to the game on a short week, but he had an aggravation during warm-ups.
Udoh was carted off and ruled out with a knee injury in the fourth quarter. O'Connell said the Vikings believe they will be without Udoh for some time.
David Quessenberry replaced Udoh.
Also on the injury front, Marcus Davenport started at outside linebacker but played sparingly. He had been listed as questionable with an ankle injury.