NEVER IN DOUBT, AM I RIGHT?!
OK maybe there was a little doubt.
OK, a metric ton of doubt, especially after that first half.
But after one game, your Minnesota Vikings are 1-0, and that’s all that matters.
For the first 30 minutes, Vikings fans were getting flashbacks of all the worst parts of the 2015 season. Getting shoved around by an inferior team on the road in Week 1? Check. The kicker shanking easy field goals? Check. An inept offense sputtering, especially when they got near the red zone? Check and check. The season was less than 90 minutes old and the doom and gloom on #VikingsTwitter was already reaching 2013 levels.
But the second half was a different story. The defense came alive, turning the game around with three turnovers and two defensive touchdowns. The Vikings fought back and ended up winning 25-16 behind a familiar formula: dominating on defense and limiting mistakes on offense.
It was undoubtedly an ugly win. But if the Vikings keep winning like that? Let’s get ugly.
Get ugly, baby, woo hoo
And everybody say la la la
You're too sexy to me
Sexy to me
You're too sexy to me
Sexy to me
Damn, that's ugly
Time for the Week 1 stocks.
Blue Chip Stocks
Stefon Diggs: With zero running game going and a quarterback nearly twice his age, all Diggs did was rack up a career-high seven catches for 103 yards, including a couple crucial catches like this one:
No sophomore slump so far for Diggs. He’s the clear #1 receiver on this team regardless of who’s throwing to him.
Danielle Hunter and the defensive line depth: Brian Robison had a pretty good game, particularly with a two-play sequence where he followed a batted pass with a tackle for loss. But it’s going to be extremely difficult to keep Danielle Hunter on the sidelines this season. Hunter scored the first touchdown of his career on a fumble return, but I was more impressed with this sack of Marcus Mariota in the fourth quarter:
I mean, how do you even stop that? Hunter has a chance to be one of the better pass rushers in the league, and it might happen sooner than you think.
Adam Thielen: This guy wasn’t even supposed to make the team three years ago. Now he’s one of the main targets in the passing attack. Thielen had four catches for 54 yards and made a couple really big contested grabs. Thielen is one of the easiest players on the team to root for; he makes it even easier with performances like this.
Cordarrelle Patterson: Flash had a great kick return to give the team a much-needed spark to start the second half, which allowed the Vikings to score their first points of the game. (On a three-and-out, naturally.) And he actually made a couple meaningful contributions to the offense! OK, so it was only two touches for 14 yards. But hey, it’s a start! If Thielen and Patterson can keep contributing to the offense and Diggs can keep tearing it up from the slot, this probably won’t be the last time Jarius Wright is a healthy scratch. (And sadly, this might not be the last time Laquon Treadwell doesn’t get a snap. Sigh.)
Shaun Hill: Did Hill light it up today? Nope! He missed an easy touchdown to Diggs and got lucky not to be intercepted in the first half.
But did Hill play poorly today? Also nope! The extremely veteran quarterback acquitted himself quite nicely for the most part, ending up with 236 yards passing and zero turnovers.
Hill’s game management means that the Vikings can start Sam Bradford only when he’s ready and not rush into anything. If Bradford still doesn’t quite have a grasp of everything by the time the Packers come to town next week, we won’t be filled with dread if Hill starts.
Pass blocking: One reason why Hill had a solid day: he wasn’t sacked at all. The much-maligned pass blocking was impressive for the most part against a respectable Titans pass rush. Did you hear Matt Kalil’s name mentioned at all during the broadcast? No. No you did not. That’s a good sign. It was a pleasant surprise to see Hill have a clean pocket as often as he did, especially against a defense led by Dick LeBeau.
Adrian Peterson and the run blocking: This was supposed to be a game that featured all sorts of rushing yardage. Adrian Peterson! DeMarco Murray! Derrick Henry! Ground & Pound all day errr day!
Well, there was plenty of ground on Sunday, but barely any pound. We ended up with 129 rushing yards TOTAL. Between both teams. TOTAL. Peterson didn’t have a good game by any stretch of the imagination, but he didn’t have any help either. Thirteen of Peterson’s 19 carries went for two yards or less. You’re always going to see a lot of packed boxes when AP is in the backfield and Hill is under center. I get that. But Vikings often had big packages to block all those defenders in the box—they simply didn’t do so most of the time. The running game will need to be much better next Sunday night.
Blair Walsh: Putting someone that went 4-for-4 on field goals in the second half in the Junk Bonds might be harsh, but there’s no getting around the fact that Walsh missed three more kicks today. The 56-yarder at the end of the first half is excusable, but both of his attempts (Tennessee tried to “ice” him...why you try to ice someone that was already 0 degrees Kelvin is beyond my comprehension) were laughably off target. He also shanked an extra point to nullify some of the joy from Eric Kendricks’ go-ahead pick six. Making the field goals in the second half probably salvaged his job—for now. But we’re still going to flinch every time Walsh steps on the field for the foreseeable future.
Andre Smith: Smith stood out as especially poor on Sunday. Smith was beaten often on both pass and run plays and had a couple bad penalties that prevented the offense from getting anything going in the first half. The perceived upgrade over T.J. Clemmings hasn’t shown up much yet.
Buy: The Bend-Don’t-Break defense in the first half. The Vikings trailed by ten points at halftime, but to be honest it could have been much worse. The Minnesota defense made some key plays to keep the Titans out of the end zone and prevented them from putting the game out of reach before the third quarter started.
Sell: The first half defensive pass rush and run defense. The Titans were marching up and down the field between the 20’s for most of the first two quarters, giving us all PTSD flashbacks of the Week 1 San Francisco game from last year. Obviously things changed in the second half but they sure had us worried early on.
Buy: A disciplined performance. The Vikings committed zero turnovers and only three penalties, which is very impressive for Week 1. The Titans were even more impressive with penalties, committing just two penalties for ten yards, but their three turnovers (which should have been four, EVERSON) were the difference in the game. The Vikings didn’t beat themselves. That’s why they’re 1-0.
Sell: Griffen’s dumb roughing the passer penalty. It didn’t matter in the end result but Griffen owes Harrison Smith after taking away his interception. The defense had earned a second half shutout and Griff’s silly shove canceled an otherwise great effort.
Buy: Playing against Mike Mularkey. In my Q&A with Jimmy Morris of Music City Miracles this week, Morris expressed his displeasure with the Titans retaining Mularkey’s services. After watching this game, I can see why. Tennessee got way too cute on a lot of their third and short plays, killing a couple crucial drives when the game was still in the balance. His inexplicable choice to go for two at the end of the game made the ensuing onside kick an exercise in futility. (If you don’t get why his choice to go for two on the first touchdown doesn’t make sense, please go play some Madden. I don’t think I need to explain it here.) The loss isn’t totally on the head coach, but Mularkey is now 18-40 in his career for a reason.
Sell: Knees. Xavier Rhodes was a gametime scratch because he “heard something pop” in his knee. Ugh. Seriously?! ENOUGH WITH KNEES. I’M SO DONE WITH KNEES. KNEES SUCK. Hopefully this won’t be anything long term.
Buy: Finding a way to win. This obviously wasn’t a comprehensive performance by the Vikings. They didn’t bring their “A” game for 60 minutes by any stretch of the imagination. But in true Mike Zimmer fashion, they fought, they battled, they leaned on their defense, and they persevered. Cliché alert: this was a real “blue collar” win for the Vikings.
Sell: Thinking a performance like that will cut it the next two weeks. The Titans will probably be better than their 3-13 record from 2015, but they’re still very much a work in progress. The opposition is about to get much better in Weeks 2 and 3: home for Green Bay and then at Carolina. The Vikings will need to build on this performance in a lot of areas going forward.
I’m just glad we get to build on a victory. SKOL, Vikings faithful.