1. Give Cook the ball on first-and-goal
Gary Kubiak's decision to call a quarterback draw on third-and-2 from the Tampa Bay 20-yard line was a perfect choice that gave the Vikings first-and-goal at the 8 while trailing 23-14 with 10:33 left in Sunday's 26-14 loss. But the Vikings' offensive coordinator erred when he didn't follow with a Dalvin Cook run. Kirk Cousins' incompletion allowed Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to predict the next play. He sent Antoine Winfield Jr. on a safety blitz for a sack and a 12-yard loss. Another predictable sack was followed by Dan Bailey missing a 46-yard field goal attempt. "A lot of things factor in," Cook said when asked about not getting the ball. "I want the ball as many times as I want. I can sit here and say I wanted the ball, but Coach Koob has been dialing some plays up, and he's been great for us all year."
2. Bowles didn't have to blitz much
Much of the pregame hype centered around the pressure Cousins would face from the blitz-happy Buccaneers. Cousins certainly faced pressure. The six sacks were the most since he took six in the divisional playoff loss at San Francisco nine months ago. But five of the sacks came on four-man rushes. The Vikings couldn't handle the Bucs' interior power or the crisscrossing games with edge rushers. Tackles Ndamukong Suh and Pat O'Connor each had a sack. Shaq Barrett had two and Jason Pierre-Paul essentially ended the game with a strip sack that he recovered. Three of the sacks — including Winfield's blitz — came in the red zone. And the first sack, by Barrett, pushed the Vikings out of field goal range on their opening drive. "I break the huddle on third down and I say … 'can't take a sack,' " Cousins said. "Then I took a sack."
3. Brady can still throw the ball deep
Those who say Tom Brady can't throw the deep ball and is a misfit in Bruce Arians' offense were smiling early in the second quarter when the Vikings dominated first downs (13-1), yards (144-24) and time of possession (17:07-3:23). Brady was 1-for-4 for 9 yards and two badly overthrown deepish balls. But then he stopped looking like an old man. The perfectly thrown 48-yard touchdown pass to Scotty Miller traveled 54 yards in the air. "[The Vikings] ended up rushing only three and the line did a great job," Brady said. "They protected great today. They gave me a lot of time on that play." The Hail Mary pass that drew defensive pass interference traveled 59 yards. Then he opened the second half with a deep ball to Mike Evans that traveled 32 yards and set up the touchdown that made it a 23-6 game.
4. Plan to spell Cook overshadowed
One of many things ruined by Bailey's four missed kicks was how the Vikings managed to dominate the No. 1-ranked run defense early while not overloading Cook. With Alexander Mattison sidelined, five players carried the ball, including five carries for a career-high 41 yards by Cousins. The Bucs hadn't allowed an individual to rush for more than 58 yards. Cook surpassed that on the Vikings' third possession. He finished with 102 yards, 22 carries and 24 touches. The 14-play touchdown drive to take a 6-0 lead featured touches by Cook (eight), Ameer Abdullah (two) and Mike Boone (one). In one three-play stretch, Cook carried 2 yards for a first down, Boone carried 5 yards and Abdullah came in on a pass play. Abdullah, who had four carries all season, had three more for 11 yards and a 6-yard reception.
5. 'The real deal' Conklin steps up
The first Vikings game without Kyle Rudolph since 2014 included tight ends finishing with nine catches for 103 yards and a touchdown. A lot of that had to do with the Buccaneers' decision to focus their attention on wide receivers Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson. Some of it had to do with No. 3 tight end Tyler Conklin showing he belongs. "He's the real deal," Cousins said. "He's a complete player. He can pass protect, he can run; in man coverage, he can win. He's smart, so we can put a lot on his plate mentally." Conklin came into the game with six catches for first downs in 43 games. He had four first downs on five catches Sunday. On the 15-play touchdown drive in the third quarter, he had receptions of 14 yards on third-and-6 and 7 yards on fourth-and-6 after his false start on third down.