The Mike Zimmer era has begun, and it's done so in appropriate fashion – with a solid defensive performance and a win.
The Vikings hosted the Oakland Raiders at TCF Bank Stadium in their 2014 preseason opener on Friday night, and they logged a 10-6 victory behind strong performances from the first team defense and first team offense.
Zimmer's new-look defense opened the game by forcing the Raiders offense off the field after just three plays. The Vikings offense picked up where the defense left off, driving 70 yards in 10 plays to open the scoring with a touchdown. Matt Cassel set the tone, completing five of his six passes during drive, including a pair of 3rd-down conversions to Cordarrelle Patterson and then Greg Jennings. The penultimate play of the drive was a 22-yard completion to Kyle Rudolph, which set up Matt Asiata's one-yard plunge just a play later to give the Vikings an early 7-0 advantage.
The defense came back onto the field following the early touchdown and held Oakland to another three-and-out. That set the stage for rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to make his NFL debut. Bridgewater threw a laser 21-yard completion on a bootleg right out of the gate, but that play was negated by an illegal formation penalty. Bridgewater and Co. overcame the early adversity, though, and eventually drove 42 yards in 10 plays to set up Blair Walsh for a 30-yard field goal to extend the lead to 10-0.
Solid play continued for the Vikings defense as some of the second teamers entered the action. Darren McFadden ripped off a 23-yard run on the first play of the ensuing series, but it was three-and-out after that and Oakland punted away for a third consecutive time. The Vikings returned the punt on their next drive, but a Kurt Coleman interception on the Raiders next drive gave the Vikings possession once again. It wasn't until midway through the 2nd quarter when Oakland reached midfield, and it wasn't until 1:25 remaining in the game when Oakland finally put points on the board – a 10-yard scoring run by reserve quarterback Matt McGloin.
When all was said and done, the first team defense and offense exited the game after very sound showings. Cassel was as solid as can be, especially considering he didn't have the best running back in the NFL – Adrian Peterson – at his disposal. Patterson had three catches, rookie linebacker Anthony Barr had a half-sack and the Vikings won the turnover ball 1-0. Also, several second-teamers showed some promise, with Bridgewater finishing six of 13 for 49 yards in a performance that will yield mixed reviews but also a performance that is something upon which the rookie can build. Rookie running back Jerick McKinnon flashed with 45 yards on 12 carries and rookie defensive tackle Shamar Stephen tied for the team lead in tackles.
It should not go unmentioned that the Vikings special teams units were solid overall. Walsh did miss a 53-yarder, but Adam Thielen had two solid punt returns and a great tackle on the night and linebacker Gerald Hodges blocked a field goal to preserve a shutout late in the game.
On top of it all, the sun setting over the western end of the stadium after another beautiful Minnesota summer afternoon with the Minneapolis skyline on the horizon provided a picturesque background for those in attendance to help usher in a new era of outdoor football in Minnesota.
The Vikings return to action next Saturday when they host the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2 of the preseason.