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Penalties Cause Vikings Offense to go Off-Kilter Against Bengals

It didn't take long for the Vikings to point out the biggest reason they opened the season with a loss.

Minnesota is now 0-1 after a 27-24 overtime road loss to Cincinnati in the season opener, but all anyone could talk about was the number of penalties that had the Vikings playing against themselves for most of the day.

"That's obviously going to be an emphasis," said wide receiver Adam Thielen. "It's always an emphasis, but definitely an emphasis this [next] week is, 'Hey, if we play clean football, we can move the ball all day.'

"But when you start drives first-and-20, second-and-20, I think we averaged third-and-20 in the first half or something like that … you can't win football games doing that," Thielen added. "It starts with the whole offense, right? There were receivers, every position group had mistakes. Got to clean it up, obviously – quickly."

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer added: "Way too many penalties. Shot ourselves in the foot, especially the first half, way too many times."

The final numbers weren't pretty, with 12 penalties for 116 total yards.

The Vikings were whistled for a flag before the first snap of the season, as fullback C.J. Ham was called for a false start.

Tight end Tyler Conklin had his own false start on the opening drive, Ham was flagged for another false start and right guard Olisaeemka Udoh was called for holding in his starting debut.

By that point, the Vikings opening possession of the season ended with six plays for 39 yards … and four penalties for 25 yards.

The infractions continued on the next drive — with a false start by wide receiver K.J. Osborn and a hold on Garrett Bradbury — although Osborn redeemed himself with a 25-yard splash play to set up an eventual Thielen touchdown.

A hold on Rashod Hill led to a punt as the Bengals clawed their way to a 14-7 lead. But the ensuing 2-minute drive was a calamity of errors from the offensive line.

Minnesota was called for four penalties in the span of six plays, although two were declined. Brian O'Neill had his own false start before Hill and Bradbury were called for holding, with the latter's being declined.

The first-half tally was 10 penalties, nine of them on the offense and seven on the offensive line. The 10 penalties were more than the Vikings had in any game in a disappointing 2020 season.

The offense had just two penalties in the second half, including a 15-yard personal foul on Udoh that turned a second-and-11 into a second-and-26. Ezra Cleveland was also called for holding, making it a clean sweep for Vikings starting offensive linemen called for at least one penalty.

The group was assessed 70 of Minnesota's 116 penalty yards.

Zimmer was perplexed by all of the jumping of the gun.

"I have no idea about the false starts," Zimmer said. "We haven't had hardly any of those in camp."

But he did say a lack of preseason time for the entire starting unit — that group wasn't together in full during exhibition games — might have played a factor.

"If you look at today's game, it is," Zimmer said.

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins said the onus was on the players to play cleaner football.

"We've all played together for a while, so there are no excuses," Cousins said. "We just have to be better."

View game action photos of the Vikings before the season opener against the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.

Sure, there were some positive takeaways in Sunday's loss, as Thielen caught a pair of scores, Osborn made some clutch catches and Cousins helped send the game to overtime.

But there will be a bitter taste in the Vikings mouths on the plane ride home, one that will linger until next weekend's kickoff in Arizona.

Until then, the Vikings must work to ensure this embarrassing performance doesn't happen again.

"We know what kind of team we have. We know what kind of guys we have. We know what kind of playmakers we have," Thielen said. "It's just playing clean football. Every team is going to say the same thing when they lose games. You have to play clean football, because that's what loses games."

Cousins added: "I think when you have a chance to win a game in this league, because they are so hard-fought and you put so much into them, that anytime you can get that close and you don't get it done, it hurts. And it always will."