MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - The Minnesota Vikings were looking to build off a 13-5 season in 2022, a division title, and an abrupt exit from the NFC Playoffs.
They had everything in their favor to get off to a positive start Sunday. A Week 1 home opener with a sellout crowd, starters finally playing a meaningful game, and a day dedicated to the late Bud Grant. A new-look defense led by Brian Flores flew around the field, but the Vikings' offense faltered with three first-half turnovers and a few penalties were costly in a 20-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Now, the Vikings head east on a short week to play the Philadelphia Eagles, a team that was in the Super Bowl back in February. They have nobody to blame but themselves for Sunday's 0-1 start.
"Disappointing start to our season from the standpoint of wanting to come in and play a clean game from an execution standpoint. When you lose the turnover battle 3-0 and have a few critical penalties, you’re doing a lot of things to help the opponent," Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell said after the loss. "I did feel like there was quite a few self-inflicted mistakes."
Kirk Cousins threw for 344 yards and a touchdown to Jordan Addison, but also was involved in all three first half giveaways. He fumbled twice, one on a botched snap after Garrett Bradbury left the game with a back injury. Cousins appeared to be inadvertently stripped by right guard Ed Ingram. The other was on a strip sack by former Gophers' star Antoine Winfield Jr. on a blitz.
Cousins was also intercepted on a pass intended for K.J. Osborn at the goal line near the end of the first half. They could've had a lead at the break, but instead were tied 10-10 despite out-gaining Tampa Bay 286-97. They forced the Buccaneers to punt on five of their seven first-half possessions.
"Tough to lose, we’ve got to play better. Turnovers will always make a major difference in a game so when you have three, they didn’t have any. Usually, you don’t have to look much further than that," Cousins said. "Tried to knife it in there, just a little too aggressive. Jordan was there on the under route. It’s kind of a long story on the read there, I won’t bore you with it."
"Kirk thought he had a chance to put it in there, it’s going to be tight windows down in the red zone. I didn’t mind the decision, ultimately I want him to be aggressive," O'Connell said. "We fit that ball in that window and score, everybody thinks it’s great execution, that’s what this league is."
Flores and the Vikings' defense limited the Buccaneers to 269 total yards, including 173 from Baker Mayfield. But he made plays when he had to, hitting Mike Evans and Trey Palmer for touchdowns. Palmer's touchdown was possible after rookie safety Jay Ward was flagged for a neutral zone infraction on a Buccaneers' field goal, giving them enough yardage for a fresh set of downs.
Mayfield then hit Palmer to give Tampa Bay a 17-10 lead with 6:01 left in the third quarter.
Chase McLaughlin’s 57-yard field goal with 5:10 to play was the difference on a day where the Vikings’ offensive line was inconsistent, and the offense failed to make big plays in key moments. Bradbury left the game after the second offensive series and did not return. It'd be a tall task to have him come back on a short week at Philadelphia. He missed the last five regular season games last year with a back issue.
The loss spoils a day where Justin Jefferson had nine catches for 150 yards, and Addison had four catches for 61 yards and his first career NFL touchdown. T.J. Hockenson had a team-high eight catches for 35 yards. Alexander Mattison had 11 carries for 34 yards, and tied the game with a touchdown catch from Cousins in the third quarter. But it wasn't enough.
"Surprised or shocked, I don’t really know. But it was a tough loss. Of course the opening game, we want to come out with a win to set the momentum of the season, the tempo. Definitely not what we wanted," Jefferson said. "We’ve got a short week, so there’s not much time to look back on it. This is the week to bounce back."
The Vikings out-gained the Buccaneers 369-242 on the day, but two red zone turnovers that wiped away points, and another that gave the Buccaneers a field goal were too much to overcome. Now, a trip to Philadelphia awaits Thursday night.
"This is tough times when you get this Week 2 short game. Love the fact that you get to open at home, but whether we won or lost today this was still going to be a heck of a challenge," O'Connell said. "Now that we didn’t get it done today, we just have to have that much more urgency. Everyone has to look inward and persevere together."