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Monday Morning Mailbag: Analyzing Another 0-2 Start & Joseph's Final Kicks

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A tough loss to take. The team was well-prepared, executed the game plan, played hard for 60 minutes and should have won the game. Question now is, can they recover from this and be ready to play against another tough opponent next week?

— Curt Fahsholz in Valdosta, Georgia

Man, what a wild experience Sunday afternoon was. It was a thrilling, maddening, wild roller-coaster ride that ultimately left Vikings fans with a sick feeling in their stomachs after a 34-33 loss.

Think of it this way: the Vikings lost a game in which they had a pick-six, zero turnovers, 177 total rushing yards and three touchdown passes from Kirk Cousins.

But the reality is that the Vikings are now 0-2 and have dropped the first two games of the season for the second straight year under Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer.

Zimmer's postgame press conference was just about over Sunday when I asked him how frustrating that start was. His answer, a snippet of which is below, lasted over a minute and also surprised me a bit:

"Well, I think today was encouraging, honestly, about the heart that we played with today, and the fight that we played with today. If we play like that, we'll win a lot of games. They may all come down to like this, like the last two have. As long as we do that, we keep fighting and keep trying to get better, and keep working together, sticking together as a football team, then I think we've got a chance."

To be clear, nobody is denying the fact the Vikings are 0-2. As Zimmer's mentor Bill Parcells often said, you are what your record says you are.

But when a lot of people seemingly wrote off Zimmer's squad after last week, they responded. They played hard, cleaned up the penalties and did nearly everything to win, except make a 37-yard field goal on the game's final play.

That attitude and effort stems from Zimmer himself, as his teams never quit on him and will always keep fighting.

That's why he has faith in them going forward. There are still 15 games left, and while an 0-2 start isn't ideal, it's not as if the Vikings have been blown out by 30 points each week. Believe me, Zimmer would have no problem calling his team out if he felt it was deserved.

View the game action photos from the Vikings-Cardinals game during Week 2.

But if his squad plays that way for the remainder of the season, the pendulum has to swing the other way at some point, right?

"We were probably two plays away from being 2-0," Zimmer said after Sunday's loss. "We'll just keep grinding, keep fighting, and we'll just keep going from there."

With all that said, Week 3 feels like a massive opportunity for the Vikings once again. They will need to play exceptionally well in order to beat the Seahawks and Russell Wilson, who is a perfect 7-0 in his career against the Vikings (including the playoffs).

And they also need to win the game. From a week-to-week view, it's understandable not to get caught up in a single loss.

But one loss has now turned into two for the Vikings. If it turns into three, Minnesota's playoff chances might be hanging by a thread before we even get to October.

I love how our O-Line rebounded from last week. I mean, how they opened those holes was just beautiful. But what impresses me more right now is how Kirk helped his O-Line today with his legs. How would you rate the chances that he actually continues to help to avoid pressure instead of standing in his collapsing pockets? He had a few games like this the last few years, but never got a consistent way of doing this.

— Alexander in Germany

What a difference a week makes for that group.

The offensive line had just two penalties for 15 yards and allowed just one sack. Chandler Jones and J.J. Watt may have gotten close, but the Vikings kept Cousins clean for the majority of the game.

And Cousins did his part, too, totaling 35 yards on a pair of runs. That yardage total is the third-most of his career, but his 29-yard scramble Sunday was his longest run in the NFL.

The quarterback explained his thought process behind the runs and credited the group Alexander inquired about:

"I think part of it is just the protection. I'm exhausting my progression before I'm running. I'm saying no to [Justin Jefferson], I'm saying no to the tight end, I'm looking for my halfback – he's used in protection – OK, now I'm gone," Cousins said. "So you've got to have time to get through your progression to do that. Same with the longer run. You know, I'm progressing through, saying no to a bunch of people and then going. The fact we had that kind of protection really enabled me to be able to run."

What also stood out Sunday was Cousins' ability to move around, even if he wasn't credited with a run. His touchdown throw to Jefferson was a perfect example of this as he rolled to his left and hit the wide receiver for a score before taking a big hit.

The quarterback has talked multiple times in the past about using his athleticism more and helping keep drives alive. Nobody is asking Cousins to be like Kyler Murray, the quarterback on the opposing sideline Sunday.

But if he can extend a few plays a game and get the production we saw in Week 2, the Vikings offense should only get better. That will be needed, especially with the slate of pass rushers coming up on the schedule.

I stayed up into the early hours of the morning to watch the Vikings-Cardinals game. Although there will be lots of negativity from the result, what was pleasing was the few plays made by K.J. Osborn. The second-play touchdown, and two catches in the ultimately unsuccessful final drive, shows how far he has come in my opinion. The last two catches really impressed me, and he surely is the undisputed WR3 now. My question is: how far can he progress given his improvement since last season?

— Andrew in Sandy, Bedfordshire, United Kingdom

Another email from across the globe, so a big thanks to Alexander and Andrew for their support from afar.

Osborn stood out again Sunday, marking the second straight game he has done so. He recorded five catches for a team-high 91 yards and his first NFL touchdown, and this comes a week after a seven-catch, 76-yard outing.

Andrew is correct, too, in that Osborn is clearly the Vikings No. 3 option at wide receiver right now. That showed on the game's final drive when Cousins hit Osborn on back-to-back plays to help get the Vikings into field goal range.

"It's growing a lot. I love it. Being able to be out there and communicate, he's trusting me, and we're hitting on these big plays," Osborn said of his chemistry with Cousins. "These fourth-down plays, third-down plays, late in the game. I think it's really building our trust."

I expect Osborn to keep thriving in his role. With all due respect to him, opposing teams will likely keep placing the focus on Jefferson and Thielen, meaning he should have plenty of chances to keep feasting.

What's next for Greg Joseph after that ending?

— Jim Jenkins

Ughhh, what a punch in the gut. (Sorry, I just re-lived the final kick in my head).

Joseph will certainly be in the spotlight after Sunday's loss, which included a costly missed extra point, and that's certainly the life of a kicker in the NFL.

"I felt good about that kick. I know he missed the extra point earlier, but it's kind of like that," Zimmer said of Joseph. "He's been kicking good, we're indoors, it's a perfect surface. I'm thinking, 'This should be an easy one here.' My thoughts on him are, 'He's just gotta continue to be more consistent.' "

It's also worth noting — not that it helps much — that he was money on his other two field goal attempts on the day, both from 52 yards out. (And his 53-yarder at the end of regulation in Cincinnati was as clutch as they come).

Zimmer was asked point blank if Joseph will be the Vikings kicker going forward:

"Yeah, I mean, I don't think you should make a decision today on things like that," Zimmer said. "You know, I don't think you make decisions on personnel right after a guy misses a kick."