Rick Weegman column: Loss to Titans backs Vikings into a corner
Vikings fall to 0-3 after giving up 12-point third-quarter lead at U.S. Bank Stadium
MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings have yet to indicate whether any fans will be allowed to attend games at U.S. Bank Stadium during the rest of the 2020 NFL season.
After blowing a double-digit lead and losing 31-30 to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, a defeat that dropped the Vikings to 0-3, the bigger question is whether anyone would take them up on the offer.
Whether it’s primary concerns about the secondary or Kirk Cousins’ often subpar play at quarterback, the Vikings are a disappointing team right now, especially for a franchise always striving to win the Super Bowl and not compete for the league’s top draft pick.
It’s unknown if the Minnesota Department of Health will expand its limit of 250 people who can congregate indoors due to the COVID-19 pandemic by the time the Vikings next return to U.S. Bank Stadium for an Oct. 18 game against Atlanta.
A more pertinent question may be if the same 53 players will be on the Vikings sideline at that time.
While rookie wideout Justin Jefferson’s star was born Sunday — likely making fans temporarily forget Stefon Diggs’ departure — and Dalvin Cook had a career-best 181 yards rushing, the Vikings’ community college-level play at cornerback never makes any lead safe such as the 24-12 advantage they held in the third quarter.
Starting corner Mike Hughes and rookie backup Cameron Dantzler were placed on the inactive list before the game so an already weak position was watered down more than a Minnesota bar’s liquor. Leaving the outcome in the hands of Holton Hill, Jeff Gladney and players elevated from the practice squad doesn’t bode well.
Titans QB Ryan Tannehill took advantage of the situation, passing for 321 yards and driving Tennessee into position for Stephen Gostkowski’s sixth field goal of the game, a game-winning 55-yarder with 1 minute, 44 seconds to play. He completed five passes for more than 20 yards.
The fact Tennessee had to settle for six field-goal attempts is encouraging for a defense that is allowing 34 points per game, but the lack of a pass rush without Danielle Hunter — the Vikings had only one sack — and an inability to come up with the big play has been a hindrance to any positives the offense generates.
And to be fair, there were plenty of positives on the offensive side of the ball.
The brightest of bright spots was Jefferson, who helped Joe Burrow win a Heisman Trophy and a national championship last season at Louisiana State. The 6-foot-1, 21-year-old caught seven passes for 175 yards, including hauling in a 71-yarder from Cousins in the third quarter for his first career touchdown.
If Bisi Johnson isn’t the answer to losing Diggs — and who seriously thought he would be? — it appears Jefferson will be. He turned around veteran defenders on his routes and had plenty of speed in his bright yellow sneakers to tack on plenty of yardage after the catch.
“He had a good week of practice and I think that carried over,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said afterward.
But the Vikings failed to get the ball to Jefferson on their final drive. An off-target, second-down snap from center Garrett Bradbury put Minnesota in a long-yardage situation that eventually ended with Cousins’ second interception of the game and NFL-high sixth of the season.
“I want the veteran guys to take charge when we have a chance to win the football game,” Zimmer said. “Instead it was chaos.”
Cousins said during his postgame Zoom interview that the snap was earlier than he expected and off too far to his right but added that, like with virtually everything else that went wrong, he needed to examine the game film closely before making a determination. That might be a long film room session.
Jefferson said the Vikings need to fix those issues — and soon.
“We played a great game at first but those last two drives really killed us,” he said. “We have to correct those next week and come out with a better outcome.”
Unless Jefferson lines up at cornerback, that might not be possible.