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3 Observations: Vikings Offense Scores Twice in Clutch; Defense Secures Pick

EAGAN, Minn. — They needed 45 yards, and 60 seconds remained on the clock.

The Vikings and Titans alternated opportunities in an end-of-game scenario near the end of their second and final day of joint practices.

Defenses were tasked with trying to protect a 27-21 lead by preventing a touchdown.

Kirk Cousins led the Vikings first-team offense down the field in just four plays for a score against the Titans first-team defense.

Cousins started the drive with a quick throw over the middle to K.J. Osborn for a gain of 17 and followed with a 10-yard completion to the outside, allowing Osborn to reach the sideline and stop the clock. Cousins followed by connecting with Justin Jefferson, moving the ball to the Tennessee 2-yard line.

Cousins then found Osborn for a quick strike in the end zone, completing the drill almost as fast as Wednesday’s had ended with an interception on the second snap. On Thursday, both teams' offenses had the wind at their backs instead of going into the wind on the previous day.

Ryan Tannehill led the Titans first-team offense against Minnesota's defense. After two quick completions, officials flagged the Vikings for pass interference (it looked like a sack could have been recorded before the ball was thrown), moving the ball to the Minnesota 24 with 22 seconds remaining. Two more completions moved the ball closer until four seconds remained.

After a timeout by Minnesota, Tannehill extended the play and completed a touchdown pass just across the goal line.

Nick Mullens led Minnesota's second-team offense on a drive that began with an impressive diving catch by Brandon Powell for a gain of 16. A screen to Lucky Jackson gained 0 and ticked away seconds before Tennessee was credited with a sack on second down.

Mullens got a little bit back with a short pass to Josh Oliver, setting up a fourth-and-6 at the Tennessee 25. He targeted Lucky Jackson on fourth down, and the receiver was struck in a way that resulted in a penalty.

Two plays later, Mullens found Trishton Jackson in the back right corner of the end zone. Jackson made an impressive diving catch while keeping his feet in bounds. He got up and launched into a Griddy as teammates, including Justin Jefferson, came to celebrate with him.

Jackson explained that he recognized zone coverage early.

"So I knew I could dictate my release with the scheme they had, and I used my outside leverage and just attacked them, took them vertical," Jackson said. "I knew it was going to be a touchdown before the play, honestly. … I knew it was zone and just got to my spot on the field."

Malik Willis led the second-team Titans offense in its opportunity against the second-team Vikings defense.

Willis opened with a completion down the field, but Titans Head Coach Mike Vrabel agreed with the Vikings sideline that a sack would have occurred before the throw by the second-year QB.

Willis followed with consecutive completions to tight end Josh Whyle, a 6-foot-7 rookie out of Cincinnati, moving the ball to the 24-yard line with 25 seconds remaining. After a pass to Tre'Shaun Harrison, the Titans were trying to hurry to spike the football but false started, resulting in a 10-second runoff.

With three seconds remaining, Lewis Cine blitzed and appeared to have a sack lined up. Willis threw to the end zone, and Andrew Booth, Jr., picked it off. He lofted the football toward the Titans sideline, which had been chirping before the play.

Vrabel and Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell calmed their teams after the exchange and finished a few more plays.

Not participating: Jordan Addison, Kene Nwangwu, Brian Asamoah II, C.J. Coldon, Jr., Garett Maag, Jalen Nailor and Jonathan Bullard did not participate. T.J. Hockenson was limited as he continues working through an equilibrium issue caused by an inner ear infection.

Returned to practice: Jaquelin Roy returned to practice.

Here are three observations from Thursday's session presented by Minnesota Eye Consultants, the Proud LASIK Partner of the Minnesota Vikings:

1. Heavy dose of red zone

Beyond the end-of-game drills that reached the red zone, the teams spent a good bit of their time inside the opponent's 20-yard line.

Teams emphasize that area each week because of how important it can be, and the units spent time there in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills Thursday.

After a slow start, Cousins connected with Jefferson over the middle by threading the ball through a needle, for one of the most impressive passes of the day.

Mullens also started a bit slowly, but he did connect with Powell for a TD near the end of that period.

For the Vikings defense, rookie Ivan Pace, Jr., broke up two passes thrown by Tannehill, and Akayleb Evans denied a pass intended for DeAndre Hopkins.

Both teams also ran through plays just outside the red zone, spotting the football at the opponent's 25.

Prior to the 1-on-1s, Cousins joined other receiving targets in running a route on air (without defenders). He caught the pass in the end zone and did a quick Griddy.

View photos of players during 2023 Vikings Training Camp joint practice with the Tennessee Titans on Aug. 17 at the TCO Performance Center.

2. Punt returners backtrack

We noted the punting display by Ryan Wright in yesterday's observations. He frequently boomed the ball down the field with a bit of help from the wind.

On Thursday, fellow second-year punter Ryan Stonehouse hammered the footballs down the field.

Lining up inside his own 10, Stonehouse routinely got the ball down to the Vikings 20 or 10.

Minnesota had Powell, Jalen Reagor, Thayer Thomas and N'Keal Harry in place to field the balls, and they just kept backing up.

3. Blackmon banged up

Vikings rookie cornerback Mekhi Blackmon had to leave the field after a 1-on-1 passing drill.

He was evaluated between the two practice fields by members of Minnesota's Health & Performance staff and did not return to practice.

Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores said Blackmon, who played 24 defensive snaps and two on special teams last week at Seattle, "got dinged up."

Blackmon lined up against Hopkins on the first 1-on-1 Wednesday, with the veteran receiver making an impressive grab, but the cornerback bounced back for an involved session the rest of the way.