MINNEAPOLIS – Minnesota's offense started with a score but fell into sluggishness in the second quarter against Green Bay in the Vikings season opener.
Dalvin Cook capped Minnesota's opening drive with a 1-yard rushing touchdown in the first quarter, but everything seemed to go wrong from there as the Vikings were defeated 43-34.
The Vikings started their second possession of the day from their own 1 after a failed fourth-down attempt by the Packers, and on second-and-7 quarterback Kirk Cousins was sacked in the end zone by Jaire Alexander for a safety.
The next drive? Another sack of Cousins – this one by Za'Darius Smith – forced a Minnesota three-and-punt.
And on the Vikings fourth possession of the game with just 39 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Cousins was intercepted by Alexander on a pass intended for Adam Thielen.
Minnesota did execute a handful of intermediate-length plays on the day, including catches for 25 and 29 yards by Thielen and Bisi Johnson, respectively, a 21-yard run by Alexander Mattison and a 17-yard grab by first-round draft pick Justin Jefferson. Thielen also scored a 37-yard touchdown to open the fourth quarter.
But the Vikings offense overall echoed an eerily quiet, fan-less U.S. Bank Stadium.
The time-of-possession battle is consistently made a point of emphasis, and Minnesota came up painfully short there, controlling the ball for just 18:44 compared to Green Bay's 41:16.
In the first half, Cousins had just five total attempts and three completions.
"The time of possession was not very good," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said postgame. "We didn't have the ball. We didn't control the ball. That was one of the things that we're typically pretty good at; our time possession is usually pretty good."
Added Cousins: "We don't have anyone to blame but ourselves for not being on the field more. But that certainly changes the flow of it or the feel of it or how you wanted to attack them."
Cousins finished the game 19-of-25 passing for 259 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He also added 34 rushing yards on four carries.
The Vikings offense appeared to pick up in the second half, but Zimmer acknowledged that the Packers defense approached them differently after gaining a securing a substantial lead. Minnesota was forced to play catch-up for most of the day but simply couldn't gain a foothold.
View game action images as the Vikings take on the Green Bay Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium Sunday.
"When you're not moving the ball for a couple of possessions, and the defense isn't getting quick stops and things like that, and you're not making explosive plays on special teams, when that happens, you feel like you're kind of behind the eight ball," Thielen said. "That's why it's so important to start fast to keep momentum and shift momentum when things are in lulls."
One play call questioned following the game occurred midway through the third quarter. Trailing 22-10, the Vikings looked to keep moving toward the end zone and make it a one-score game.
Cousins scrambled for gains of 16 and 14 yards, respectively, to start the drive. After a 4-yard rush by Cook and a subsequent loss of 2 by the back, Cousins connected with Johnson for a short gain on third down.
The Vikings opted to go for it on fourth-and-3 from the Green Bay 39. Rather than a quick slant or a run play that may have been expected, Cousins threw near the end zone for Tajaé Sharpe, and the pass resulted in an incompletion.
"[Vikings Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak] asked if we could take a shot, and I said, 'Yeah, let's go for it,' " Zimmer said. "I think [Cousins] had Adam on the other side 1-on-1, and he went to Tajaé."
Cousins explained that he opted for Sharpe due to a Green Bay defender's positioning.
"The safety was leaning over to Adam and it was in the short field, so with the combination of it being the boundary and the safety cheating that way, I don't love throwing go-balls with the safety moving over the top," Cousins said. "That's was what I went to Tajaé. I'll have to watch the film to get a better feel for what made the most sense there."
Asked if he was surprised by the play call, Cousins responded, "No, I was ready."
"We talk about situational football all week long, and all year long," he said. "I knew that was certainly a possibility."
Thielen – who led the team in receiving with six catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns – emphasized postgame the importance of not allowing poor drives to pile up the way they did Sunday.
"You're going to have some great drives and you're going to have some that stall. That's just NFL football," Thielen said. "Now the kicker to that is you have to learn how to come back from some of those bad drives, learn from them on the sideline then go make a couple plays.
"In this league, a lot of times it comes down to just making one play, whether it be in the run game or in the pass game," he added. "Making one play to kind of get some momentum going and stay on the field so we can shift some of that momentum our way. We did not do a very good job of that."
Minnesota's ground game initially looked like it might get going but never really hit full-throttle.
Cook, who on Saturday signed a multiyear extension, led the Vikings in rushing with 12 carries for 50 yards and two touchdowns. Alexander Mattison also totaled 50 yards rushing, doing so on six attempts.
After an unprecedented offseason, truncated training camp and the elimination of preseason games due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Vikings now have one game under their belt to build on moving forward. The performance was less-than-ideal, to be sure, but the team is committed to making improvements and turning the page.
"It's obviously not the way we wanted to come out and play at our home stadium," Thielen said. "But it is Week 1, and we're excited to get back to work tomorrow and correct the mistakes and learn from the positives and negatives of this game."
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