NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Cordarrelle Patterson shifted gears and helped sway the pendulum on Sunday with a 61-yard kickoff return to start the second half.
After waiting through touchbacks in the first 30 minutes, the returning NFL leader in kick return average in 2015, finally had an opportunity.
He fielded the offering from Ryan Succop at the five, smoothly strutted to the left through Tennessee's coverage team and glided down the field until he was eschewed out of bounds by Titans corner Jason McCourty.
The ensuing drive was four plays for 2 yards but ended with Blair Walsh blasting a 50-yard field goal for the Vikings first points of 2016.
It was a start that wound up sparking a run of 25 unanswered points by the Vikings in a 25-16 victory in the regular-season opener for both teams.
"That's something we've been talking about for a long time," Patterson said. "[Special Teams Coordinator Coach Priefer] told me, 'If you feel like you have a chance, take it out.' That gave a spark to the offense. Things weren't going so [well], but I saw the ball and was like an [excited] kid. I went to the left and just saw a big hole get open. I thought I was going to score, but a fast dude [McCourty] caught me. He was super-fast.
"I saw that fire in a lot of guys' eyes [after the return]," Patterson said. "Before the play, everyone was saying, 'Let's get a spark. We need a big play.' […] I just try to go out there and help my team out the best I can."
The Vikings defense followed the first field goal by forcing a three-and-out with Harrison Smith stuffing Derrick Henry for no gain on third-and-1.
Patterson also worked into the mix on offense, gaining 8 yards on a run during a second-and-7 play to help a drive that ended with a 33-yard field goal by Walsh to make it a 10-6 game. Patterson also helped keep a drive moving with a difficult catch along the sidelines for a gain of 6 on another second-and-7 play. That possession ended with a 45-yard field goal by Walsh for a 15-10 lead.
The Vikings offense only managed one possession longer than four minutes in the first half out of four, but kept the ball for more than four minutes on three of their six possessions in the second half, helping keep the defense fresher down the stretch.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Patterson is continuing a solid offseason.
"You line up in the right place, work hard, he catches the ball when he has the opportunity," Zimmer said. "When you have the opportunities, you make plays. The harder you work, the harder it is keep guys out. For him, the harder you work, the harder it is to surrender. That's what he's done – he's earned playing time."
The Vikings defense notched triple takeaways from the Titans in a span of 6:58 from late in the third quarter to the 9:40 mark in the fourth quarter.
Everson Griffen pressured second-year quarterback Marcus Mariota, who tried to get the ball to Harry Douglas, but former Pac-12 rival of Mariota Eric Kendricks cut in front of the ball. Kendricks showed speed after displaying instincts and returned his first career interception 77 yards for a touchdown and the Vikings first lead of the day, 12-10.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph, who had four receptions for 65 yards, said it was a welcome sight for the offense.
"At first I saw the four [on Kendricks' No. 54 jersey] and the hair and I thought it was [No. 94 Justin Trattou] again and I was like, 'No way,' " Rudolph said in reference to the defensive lineman who recorded two interceptions on 22 defensive snaps in 2015. "When I saw him take off, I knew nobody was going to catch him."
The Vikings forced a three-and-out on the next Titans possession, and then capitalized on a fumbled exchange between Murray and Mariota. Danielle Hunter alertly scooped, sprinted and scored a 24-yard touchdown on his first career fumble recovery.
Kendricks and Hunter gave the Vikings their first fumble return touchdown and interception return touchdown in the same game since Sept. 24, 1995 against Pittsburgh. Kendricks was 3, and Hunter was 11 months old.
Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo pounced on a fumble forced by Linval Joseph three plays after Hunter's fumble recovery. Hunter and Joseph each recorded sacks as well.
Smith would have made it a fourth in the fourth quarter but had a nice catch erased because of a roughing the passer penalty against Griffen.
Blair Walsh misfired on a 37-yard field goal and then was off-the-mark on a less likely 56-yarder that would equal a franchise record as the first half expired.
"Regardless of what the distance is, you want to make it. I've been pretty good from 50-plus in my career here," Walsh said. "I thought I had a realistic chance, but I didn't get it there obviously. Like I said before, it's nice to bounce back with four field goals the rest of the game and we won the game. They were important kicks, but you want to take the drama out of it, that's for sure.
Walsh connected from 50, 33, 45 and 30 yards. He was 1-for-2 on extra points from the 33-yard distance.
The 50-yarder put the Vikings on the board and added to his franchise record of 24 field goals from 50 or more yards.
"I knew that one was within my range," Walsh said. "I've been around for a while and I think I can bounce back and I've showed that, but I want to make it smooth from the beginning, and that's something I need to work on."
Zimmer said it was disappointing to miss the first field goal and the extra point but added "He's our kicker, so there's no question about that, but he needs to kick better."
Shaun Hill made his first ever start for the Vikings more than 5,200 days since he first joined Minnesota as an undrafted free agent in 2002. The quarterback spent his first four pro seasons as a backup with the Vikings and also played and started for the 49ers, Lions and Rams along the way.
He stepped in for Teddy Bridgewater, who is lost for the season with a dislocated knee that was suffered at practice, and finished 18-of-33 for 236 yards for a passer rating of 77.3. The Vikings offense didn't have a touchdown, but they also didn't have a turnover or a sack.
Hill had help throughout the unit, from pass protection to playmakers down the field. There was even an ounce of prevention when Kyle Rudolph broke up a likely interception.
"[The offensive line] did a tremendous job. No sacks, which was huge," Hill said. "That certainly helps us when we can eliminate sacks, eliminate negative plays. That was big and that was something that I think they're going to be proud of. This is a good front, and it's a good defense, and they bring multiple things and some exotic stuff. They did a good job of handling all that."
Hill completed passes to six different teammates, including seven passes to Stefon Diggs for 103 yards, four to Rudolph for 65 and four to Adam Thielen for 54 yards.
Hill was asked if he thought he did enough to start next week's game against Green Bay and said, "I did what I came here to do, which was be one-53rd part of getting a W; that was it to be honest with you. I'm just going to continue to be the same guy every single day no matter what."
View images from the Vikings Week 1 matchup in Nashville against the Titans.
Adrian Peterson drew a crowd of Titans defenders. The running back rushed 19 times for 31 yards in his first game action since the playoffs. Peterson's longest run of the day was 9 yards, and the Vikings tallied 28 carries for 65 yards.
"I knew that we would run the ball," Peterson said. "Today it was those two and three yards — those tough yards to keep the chains moving and get those guys in, then hit them over the top with a big pass. I felt like we did pretty good at times. We just have to do a better job of being more efficient in the red zone and coming out with seven."
Despite the tough sledding, Peterson passed Fred Taylor for 16th all-time on the NFL career rushing yards list. He has 11,706 career yards and trails Frank Gore by 393. Gore is the only active player ahead of Peterson and had 59 yards for the Colts on Sunday to give him 12,099.
Zimmer wasn't surprised at the amount of emphasis the Titans placed on Peterson.* *
"We're not going to play a game this year that they're not going to key in on Adrian Peterson," Zimmer said. [Jurrell] Casey's a good player up front, [Brian] Orakpo's is a good player, [Derrick] Morgan is a good player, they were physical at the point of attack and they were physical in some times. I thought there were maybe some more runs in there that we could've hit better but we didn't. But that's going to be part of the deal, but it's also going to open up other areas. Guys are going to be…there's going to be some open areas for Diggs and Rudolph and these other guys when they continue to do that. So, hopefully we can keep moving and make them pick their poison."
Sea of purple
Under the current scheduling procedures of the NFL, Minnesota only plays at Tennessee every eight years. Vikings fans capitalized on the opportunity and loudly broke out a "Let's go Vikings" chant in the fourth quarter after Minnesota seized momentum.
Hill was chatting on the sideline and said, "That's what I love about playing on the road. When you can turn a road stadium into your home field in the fourth quarter, there's nothing better.
"We had great fan support out there today; that was awesome. They were all excited when we were coming off the field and that was a lot of fun."