MINNEAPOLIS - Big individual performances by Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook weren’t enough Sunday as the Minnesota Vikings lost 31-30 to the Tennessee Titans at U.S. Bank Stadium and fell to 0-3 for the first time in franchise history under Mike Zimmer.
The last time the Vikings started 0-3 was 2013, Leslie Frazier’s final year in Minnesota. He was fired after a 5-10-1 season, and Zimmer replaced him. Jefferson had seven catches for 175 yards and his first NFL touchdown. Dalvin Cook had 22 carries for a career-high 181 yards and a touchdown, and added two catches for 18 yards.
But the Titans got six field goals from Stephen Gostkowski, including the game-winner from 55 yards out with 1:44 left in regulation. Then on the Vikings’ most important possession of the game, they went backwards 16 yards before Kirk Cousins had a Hail Mary intercepted.
After the game, Zimmer called the last offensive series “a complete disaster.”
“I want our offense, those guys are all veteran guys. I want them to take charge in those moments, when we have the opportunity to go down and win the football game. Instead it was chaos,” Zimmer said.
After a roughing the passer penalty on the first play, Cousins faced pressure and threw an incomplete pass. Cousins then couldn’t handle a snap from Garrett Bradbury, resulting in a 16-yard loss. On third-and-26, Cousins faced pressure again and the result was an incomplete pass before the game-sealing interception.
The drive erased a day where Cousins threw for 251 yards and three touchdowns, the Vikings ran for 226 yards, averaged nearly seven yards per carry and finished with 22 first downs.
“When you don’t get the win, you tend to think about all the plays you didn’t make that could’ve made the difference. We just came up a play or two short,” Cousins said.
The Vikings had a 17-9 lead at the half after Cook scored on a 39-yard touchdown run, Adam Thielen caught a 16-yard pass from a scrambling Cousins in the corner of the end zone and Dan Bailey added a 41-yard field goal.
Meanwhile, the defense was giving up yards, but the Titans were settling for Gostkowski field goals. Tennessee finished the game just 3-for-13 on third down conversions.
In his first NFL start, Jefferson had six catches for 104 yards in the first half. He became the first rookie since Randy Moss in 1998 to get over 100 receiving yards in a half. Jefferson’s 71-yard touchdown catch, the first of his career, gave the Vikings a 24-12 lead in the third quarter.
“It was amazing. That’s just the start of everything. Coach Kubiak gave me the opportunity to start today, and I made the opportunity count. It would just be better with a W,” Jefferson said.
With a 24-12 lead, Derrick Henry took over as the Titans scored 13 points in a little more than two minutes to take a 25-24 lead. The first score was set up by a 38-yard pass from Ryan Tannehill to Corey Davis. The second was set up by a 62-yard pass from Tannehill to Kalif Raymond over Jeff Gladney.
The Vikings were without four defensive starters on Sunday, and the Titans collected 444 total yards, including 119 from Henry on the ground.
Linebacker Eric Kendricks says fixing the defensive struggles comes down to limiting explosive plays.
“There’s a lot of good stuff we’re doing, like I don’t want to say we’re not doing a lot of stuff. When it comes to on Sunday when we’re out there on the field, we’ve got to take the opportunity and make plays that are going to change the outcome of a game. When that play arrives, taking advantage of the moment and not being scared,” Kendricks said.
The Vikings took the lead back in the fourth quarter on Kyle Rudolph’s one-handed, 3-yard touchdown catch in the back of the end zone with 10:17 left.
Zimmer has stressed to his team winning the last 10 minutes to win games, and Sunday, the offense was non-existent in crunch time. There were untimely penalties, pressure on Cousins and enough big plays by the Titans to get a pair of field goals in the last six minutes.
“The thing I have to figure out right now is how to get this team to understand what’s causing us to lose. Things that the good teams don’t do,” Zimmer said.
A team that started the season with talk of getting to the Super Bowl after extending Cousins, Zimmer, General Manager Rick Spielman and Cook, and letting veteran defensive players walk, is 0-3 to start the season. Anthony Bar is out injured for the rest of the season, and it doesn’t appear Danielle Hunter will return from injured reserve next week.
Next up is a road game against the 0-3 Houston Texans.
“Just get to work. This isn’t the first time anybody on our team has faced adversity. So you just go right back to work, keep your head down and embrace the grind,” Cousins said.