MINNEAPOLIS – A strip sack on Minnesota's third offensive play seemed to foreshadow the remainder of the afternoon.
Down seven after Buffalo's opening drive, the Vikings started from their own 7. A three-yard rush from Latavius Murray followed by a second-down incompletion set up third-and-7 for Minnesota.
Kirk Cousins started to scramble but was overcome by former teammate Trent Murphy.
"I made a decision to run at that point, and he just popped it out, coming from pursuit," Cousins said.
The Bills took over on offense at the Vikings 15, but Minnesota's defense did hold Buffalo to a field goal in attempt to minimize the damage.
The Vikings next ran two rushing plays with Murray and Mike Boone for gains of two and zero yards, respectively, and Cousins faced another third-down situation deep in his own territory. This time, Cousins was affected in the pocket by Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes.
"I was just trying to step up around the edge, and [Hughes] got around and was able to club the ball out," Cousins said.
The fumble was recovered by Bills linebacker Matt Milano, and two plays later, Josh Allen connected with a wide-open Jason Croom for another score.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said the fumbles definitely hurt but that the 27-7 loss couldn't be blamed solely on that.
"Turnovers never help, and where they [occurred] was not good," Zimmer said postgame. "But the defense has to come out and stop them."
Adam Thielen also addressed the turnovers and emphasized shared responsibility for the errors.
"Any time you turn the ball over it's going to hurt you, and then when you do it early and it leads to points, it kills you. The tough part is, people see how one person makes a turnover, but it falls on everybody," Thielen said. "Receivers have to get open quicker, guys could have gotten on the football, too, and made the play. It's a team game."
From that point on, Minnesota simply couldn't regain its footing.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph said the offense continued to stress that the unit just needed one drive to get back on track, and it didn't happen.
"Even when it was ugly there late in the first half, we still had the ball with a chance to go down. We knew we were getting the ball right away in the second half – that could be a 14-point swing right there … and you're right back in the game," Rudolph said. "It never really felt like we were out of it; it just seemed like we could never get anything going all day long."
Permanently playing from behind the chains, the Vikings ran the ball only six times – including two carries by Cousins – and totaled just 14 yards on the ground.
Cousins attempted deep passes to Stefon Diggs and Thielen in two of Minnesota's first three offensive possessions, but both were incompletions. The quarterback was quick to take the blame for both plays, saying, "I have to hit that" on the shot to Diggs.
"Then one to Adam on third down crossing the field, I tried to throw it over the underneath defense, and I just think I maybe gave them too much credit to how much they were dropping," Cousins explained. "I should have kept the ball flatter and flattened him out on his route. I was so concerned about the underneath coverage dropping, I tried to put it up and over, and it ended up being too far where Adam couldn't get to it."
The missed connection resulted in a Vikings three-and-punt.
"That was a play you feel like was there," Cousins said. "The inaccuracy of the throw led to the drive stalling, and that is where it's frustrating."
The Vikings offense converted just two first downs over the entirety of the first half and totaled 46 net yards. In addition to the pair of strip sacks, Cousins was taken down twice more before halftime for a loss of 8 each time.
Hughes wreaked havoc on the Vikings early and often, putting plenty of pressure on the line and totaling a sack, two quarterback hits and a forced fumble.
"He had a good day," Zimmer said of Hughes. "Their defensive line is really good. I told our guys all week long. I said, 'This defensive line is going to come after you. They're not going to sit in there and read; they're going to come after you and after you.'
"Then they were bringing a fifth guy quite [a few] times," Zimmer added. "They did a good job covering, and we didn't make them pay any because of the way they were playing. We didn't make them pay. I thought we'd have a chance to get some play-action passes, and we never did that, either."
A number of Minnesota's offensive players said after the game that overlooking Buffalo's defense wasn't the problem.
Thielen said that Zimmer had reminded the team and pointed out on film how talented the Bills are defensively.
"The tough thing was everybody was talking about how poor the Buffalo defense is. Well, no, they're not," Thielen said. "They're a really good defense with how they rush the passer, and that comes back to us as receivers, too. We've got to get open quicker and make plays when there so it takes a little pressure off those guys."
After Cousins led a comeback last week at Green Bay and the Vikings scored 22 points in under five minutes, Minnesota didn't lose hope at halftime against Buffalo. The team hoped to come out and find a groove, but it didn't happen.
On the Vikings second drive of the third quarter, a pass from Cousins to Latavius Murray appeared to be caught, but the ball dislodged when Murray was hit, popped up in the air and came down in the hands of Milano.
The Vikings lone score of the day came late in the fourth quarter, when Cousins found Rudolph for a four-yard touchdown. But it was too little, too late.
"We have to do the little things. We have to execute," Rudolph said. "We can't put ourselves at first-and-20, we can't turn the ball over. We have to do what we've done well here over the years, and that's running the football, staying on schedule and making plays in the passing game."
In his second start at U.S. Bank Stadium, Cousins finished 40-of-55 passing for 296 yards, one touchdown and one interception for an 83.6 passer rating.
When asked following the game, "what happened," Cousins said he could spend a while at the podium answering that one.
"I just try to look at farming my land, look at what I can do better," Cousins said. "Obviously, you can't turn the ball over and give their offense a short field. We asked too much of our defense having to be out on the field so much. Very little time of possession for us. We needed to convert third downs and stay on the field to give them a breather and allow them to stand up when they are out there."
The tough loss moved Minnesota to 1-1-1 on the season before heading on the road for back-to-back games against the Rams and Eagles.
Rudolph acknowledged the uncharacteristic fall at home and apologized to Vikings fans for the poor outing.
"We take pride in playing at home. We have the best fans in football, and it's a tough place to play," Rudolph said. "But when you turn the ball over and spot a team 17 points, even the best fans in sports have a hard time staying in it. We didn't give them much to cheer for today.
"So it's embarrassing on our part, the performance that we put forth today, and it's a shame that it was here at home in front of our fans," Rudolph added. "They deserve better than that."