Even though the Vikings completely dominated the Atlanta Falcons 28-12 in their season opener, coach Mike Zimmer didn’t seem overconfident when discussing how this victory will translate next week when they head to Lambeau Field in Green Bay for a huge NFC North game.
The Packers’ 10-3 victory at Chicago on Thursday, combined with the Vikings’ easy victory, sets up a game that will have huge implications if either team is going to compete for a playoff spot or a division title.
“We have work to do. We have to get better,” Zimmer said. “We have some ability to be a good football team but we have to be better. We have to eliminate the penalties. First run out of the block, I think we got a penalty. We have to eliminate those things. I am not happy with those.”
Judging by the stat book, you’d be surprised how thoroughly the Vikings dominated this game. They trailed in total yardage 345-269 and first downs 27-18, had 11 penalties for 100 yards and Kirk Cousins threw only 10 passes, completing eight for 98 yards and a score.
It was easily the fewest pass attempts of Cousins’ career in a game he started and completed. His fewest attempts last year came when the Vikings defeated the Dolphins 41-17 in Week 3 and Cousins completed 14 of 21 passes for 215 yards, two scores and one interception.
“Throwing ten times is really unique,” Cousins said. “Probably haven’t had a game with that few attempts since probably Pop Warner.”
“He was good,” Zimmer added. “Eighty percent completions, 140 quarterback rating, good. Got us into the right plays.”
Who would have thought the Vikings could come out and have Adam Thielen catch only three passes and Stefon Diggs only two, and still have such an easy time defeating a perennial playoff team such as the Falcons?
Zimmer said this was as solid a win as you could hope for, even if the stats didn’t look that way.
“It’s hard to catch a lot of balls when you’re only throwing it 10 times, but we didn’t need to, that was the beauty of [Sunday],” Zimmer said. “We didn’t need to. If we had had to throw it, they would have caught a lot more balls.”
Harris’ hot start
Few Vikings seasons have gotten off to a better start than the first seven minutes of this contest, which featured a sack from linebacker Anthony Barr, a blocked punt by linebacker Eric Wilson, a 23-yard touchdown pass from Cousins to Thielen, an interception by safety Anthony Harris and a Dalvin Cook 19-yard TD run.
“It was a great start, and the rest of it wasn’t bad, either,” Zimmer said.
I have never missed a Vikings home opener, but this one was unique.
The real hero of the victory was Harris, whose two interceptions and a fumble recovery led to 21 Vikings points. The only other Viking in team history to record three turnovers in the season opener was safety Joey Browner against the 49ers in 1985.
Harris had made 17 starts over his previous four seasons for the Vikings, with three interceptions and three fumble recoveries in 51 games. He said all those years of hard work are starting to pay off.
“I think since I’ve been here awhile now, I have gotten familiar with the scheme, so it allowed me to be more comfortable,” he said. “I’ve gotten time in some meaningful games and made some plays. Coming in this year, everything was just settled in and [I’m] just focusing on my technique and executing.”
O-line looks improved
The rebuilt Vikings offensive line looked mostly solid, Zimmer said, before getting a chance to assess the game tape. They rushed for 172 yards, a number they surpassed only twice in 2018.
“I thought we ran the ball effectively,” he said. “Obviously at the end of the game, they knew we were running and we knew we were going to continue to run the ball. I think we could have throw it sometimes there, but it was to the point where we didn’t need to. We just decided we’re just going to run the football.”
Garrett Bradbury played his first NFL game at center and Pat Elflein started his first pro game at left guard. Zimmer was cautiously optimistic about their play and mostly liked what he saw from the line and Cook.
Cook appeared to be the dominant force he was in his 2017 rookie season, rushing 21 times for 111 yards and two touchdowns. On top of that, rookie Alexander Mattison looked like he’s going to be an excellent option behind Cook, rushing for 49 yards on only nine carries.
That’s good news for the Vikings. The passing game didn’t have to do too much Sunday, but that part of the offense really wasn’t a big offseason concern.
Assistant head coach Gary Kubiak and offensive line coach Rick Dennison were brought in to revamp the line and run game with offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, and that worked well in Week 1.
“It worked great,” Zimmer said. “Gary is really good in the press box. He’s really good at seeing plays that [Kubiak and Dennison] think [will be] effective,” Zimmer said. “Those guys communicate really well. You know Kevin listens to suggestions, so I think it is working out great.”
But Sunday in Green Bay will present a much different challenge.
“I have not looked at them,” Zimmer said about the Packers. “We’ll get to work on them [Monday] and see if we can’t go to Lambeau and get a win.”
Gophers’ miracle win
If Antoine Winfield Jr. ever makes a bigger play for the Gophers than his interception in the second overtime to give the Gophers a 38-35 victory over Fresno State late Saturday, it will be a miracle.
“All I did was lay it all out on the field for my boys,” the redshirt sophomore safety said in the postgame interview on the CBS Sports Network. “That’s all I did.”
The Gophers were inconsistent in this game, and they’re going to have to improve their pass defense before they face Purdue in their Big Ten opener later this month. Fresno State quarterback Jorge Reyna threw for 288 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions against the Gophers, but Purdue quarterback Elijah Sindelar completed 34 of 52 passes for 509 yards and five TDs in a 42-24 victory over Vanderbilt.
Still, this victory was a big one because the Gophers will be heavily favored to defeat Georgia Southern, who defeated Maine 26-18 on Saturday but lost to No. 6 LSU 55-3 in their season opener.
A victory at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday and the Gophers would be 3-0 heading into the conference schedule, where a spot in the Big Ten title game remains the goal for this season.