1. Biggest play? Kendricks' red-zone holding call
Eric Kendricks, the Vikings' best defensive player even with a roster that includes Danielle Hunter, had the biggest play in Sunday's 14-7 loss to the Browns at U.S. Bank Stadium. Unfortunately for the 1-3 Vikings, it went in favor of the 3-1 Browns. Called for holding receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones on fourth-and-goal at the 2, Kendricks turned what would have been a second straight red-zone stop by Mike Zimmer's defense into first-and-goal at the 1, a chest-thumping 18-play touchdown drive for Kevin Stefanski's offense and an 8-7 Browns lead.
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield said the play was designed to go to Peoples-Jones.
"We're trying to get it to him over on the other side of the field," said Mayfield, who threw incomplete to tight end David Njoku. "Just had to go through the progression after that. So that [hold] definitely prevented where the ball was going to go."
2. A 33-yard run on third-and-20? Really?
Typically, when things go sideways with a Zimmer-built team, it starts with some sort of crack in the run defense. Sunday was no exception. Stefanski was content to go into halftime with an 8-7 lead when he called a play on third-and-20 from the Browns' 26 with 35 seconds left.
"I heard the play come in and I was like, 'All right, uh, pretty much get what you can get,'" said running back Kareem Hunt. "And then I was like, 'Let's go get the whole thing.' I saw the lane open and I was like, 'All right, I got room.'"
That's putting it mildly. A gaping hole allowed Hunt to explode into the second level of the defense, make a move and get 33 yards before getting out of bounds. Five plays later, Chase McLaughlin kicked a 48-yard field goal for an 11-7 lead. Unacceptable.
3. Priefer wins special teams battle
It was a good day for Cleveland's squadron of former Vikings coaches. Count special teams coordinator Mike Priefer among them. For starters, Priefer didn't get caught with 12 men on the field for a PAT. That's what happened to Ryan Ficken, the Vikings special teams coordinator and former assistant under Priefer when he was with the Vikings. Tackle Sheldon Richardson noticed the extra man and called a timeout. Only the Vikings didn't have one and were penalized for delay of game. Stefanski then decided to go for 2 with only a yard to get, which the Browns got. Another unacceptable mistake.
Vikings punter Jordan Berry had another standout game with a 48.5 average and a 44.3 net on six punts. McLaughlin, fresh off making a 57-yard field goal against the Bears, made both of his attempts, from 48 and 53 yards.
4. Mayfield was bad and very beatable
Mayfield was bad, brutal and beatable. Yet the Browns QB is 1-0 at U.S. Bank Stadium after throwing more incompletions (17) than completions (15) and finishing with a 59.5 passer rating.
"I need to pick it up," Mayfield said. "That performance isn't going to cut it. … There was a lot of easy throws I missed. I pride myself on being extremely accurate but today, I don't know what the hell that was."
Mayfield didn't blame it on the shoulder injury he suffered in Week 1. "It's my left shoulder," he said. "I throw with my right."
The Vikings' defense also played a role, particularly on the red-zone stop in the second quarter. Everson Griffen, making his presence felt once again, had a pressure on an incompletion on third-and-4 at the 6. On fourth-and-4, Hunter pressured Mayfield initially to help Griffen get his second sack in two weeks.
5. Beating Zim at his own game
It's not often a team can boast of a better backfield than Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison. But the Browns outclassed the Vikings with Nick Chubb and Hunt. The duo combined for 191 yards and a touchdown on 38 touches. Cook and Mattison? Twenty-one touches for 64 yards and no touchdowns.
Zimmer would have been proud of the way Stefanski showcased his duo on the 18-play, 64-yard march to Cleveland's first touchdown. They touched the ball 14 times for 56 yards, four first downs and Hunt's 1-yard touchdown run. Entering the game for the first time with 9:55 left in the first half, Hunt had seven carries for 17 yards, and two catches for 17 yards and two first downs. Chubb had five carries for 23 yards.
"We took our time and we pounded the ball," Hunt said. "We knew if we just kept moving the chains, eventually we'd get into the end zone."