The end zones at U.S. Bank Stadium were painted in vintage Vikings font Sunday, the sidelines festooned with logos from a half-century ago. The cheerleaders were dressed in replicas of uniforms from the team's first three seasons, while dancing to radio staples from Earth, Wind & Fire and James Brown. The Vikings' intrepid production team unearthed videos of old Hamm's beer commercials and an ad Bud Grant once did for a local Ford dealership.

Offensive coordinator Wes Phillips walked to the coaches' booth wearing an itchy wool sweater that could have passed for one Jerry Burns wore while overseeing Grant's offense. While Minnesota Orchestra principal trumpet Manny Laureano played the national anthem, 20 of Grant's former players stood in the end zone, helmets under one arm, just like they had done years ago.

The Vikings' regular-season opener was their first since Grant, the Hall of Famer who coached them to all four of their Super Bowl appearances, died at age 95 in March. They turned Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into an event that celebrated their revered former coach and his era at the center of Minnesota sports.

While the production honored Grant, the current iteration of the Vikings turned in the kind of undisciplined performance that might have galled him.

The Vikings lost 20-17 in a game where they turned the ball over three times, including a Kirk Cousins interception at the goal line and a fumble where guard Ed Ingram knocked the ball out of his quarterback's hands. They provided their opponent, which had just 242 yards of offense, a fresh set of downs near the goal line when rookie Jay Ward lined up in the neutral zone on a third-quarter field goal. They burned a timeout when they were lined up incorrectly for a fourth-quarter Tampa Bay field goal and gave the Buccaneers 15 yards on a Dean Lowry face mask penalty to begin the drive that ran out the clock.

It was the Vikings' eighth home opener at U.S. Bank Stadium; the only other one they lost was in 2020, when Aaron Rodgers operated with stunning serenity in an empty stadium. On Sunday, Kevin O'Connell, the head coach who'd formed a fast friendship with Grant in the final year of his life, was left to recount the errors that put the Vikings under .500 for the first time in his career.

"When you lose the turnover battle three to nothing and have a few critical penalties on some third downs or fourth downs, you're doing a lot of things to help the opponent," O'Connell said. "All credit to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; they came in and played a good, hard-fought game. But I did feel like there was quite a few self-inflicted mistakes that hopefully we can get ironed out."

The most critical mistakes came from an offense that ranked eighth in the league a year ago and unveiled its full complement of talent early in the game. Justin Jefferson had seven catches for 135 yards by halftime. When two Buccaneers defenders clamped down on his out route in the second quarter, Cousins threaded a perfect third-and-11 throw up the seam for first-round pick Jordan Addison, who beat safety Ryan Neal for a 39-yard touchdown.

The Vikings led 10-3 in the second quarter, and had outgained the Buccaneers 287-95 by halftime. The fact the game was tied at 10 through two quarters, though, was because of their three turnovers.

“I thought we just didn't execute from a physicality and overall plan the way we had hoped, and that's on me.”
Kevin O'Connell

Their first one was the most bizarre of the three: as Cousins turned to hand the ball to Alexander Mattison at the Tampa Bay 26, Ingram began moving to his left. His left arm swung back and stripped the ball from Cousins' hands before he could give it to Mattison, and the Buccaneers recovered.

On the Vikings' next possession, safety Antoine Winfield Jr., a former Gophers star, blitzed through an open gap on the right side of the line, sacking Cousins and recovering the fumble he forced. It led to a Tampa Bay field goal for the first points of the game.

The Vikings answered with 10 straight points before Mike Evans beat safety Josh Metellus on a double move, peeling back inside when Metellus was expecting a corner route, and catching a 28-yard pass from Baker Mayfield to tie the game at 10 with 1:09 remaining in the second quarter.

Still, the Vikings had time to drive down the field, and appeared set to regain the lead before halftime when Cousins hit Jefferson for 42 yards.

That's when the quarterback's interception led to perhaps the most critical turn of the game.

After hitching once when T.J. Hockenson was covered, Cousins fired into a tight window for K.J. Osborn, trying to fit the ball between Christian Izien and Neal. He put the ball slightly behind Osborn while attempting not to lead him into a hit from Neal, but Izien snatched the ball just before Osborn could secure it at the goal line.

The quarterback fumed as he went to the sideline, and CBS' broadcast showed him angrily discussing the play with quarterbacks coach Chris O'Hara. Afterward, O'Connell said he "didn't mind the decision" to throw to Osborn, adding he wanted the quarterback to be aggressive. "We'll take a look, whether the location could have been better," O'Connell said.

In retrospect, Cousins said, he should have continued his progression to Addison rather than throwing to Osborn.

"I tried to knife it in there," he said. "Was a little too aggressive, and Jordan is there on the under route."

The Vikings offense then hardly had the ball in the second half, which Tampa Bay began with a nearly nine-minute drive that ended in a touchdown after Ward's penalty on a field-goal attempt. The Vikings tied the score at 17 early in the fourth quarter on a swing pass from Cousins to Mattison, but Chase McLaughlin's 57-yard field goal with just over five minutes left provided the winning points.

Cousins completed 33 of his 44 passes for 344 yards and two scores, while facing pressure from a swarming Buccaneers defense and managing injuries on the offensive line. Austin Schlottmann stepped in for Garrett Bradbury after the center left with a back injury, while tackle Christian Darrisaw twice left and returned because of an ankle injury.

Tampa Bay was able to pressure Cousins from the long second and third downs O'Connell had hoped to avoid with a more efficient run game. But with 347-pound nose tackle Vita Vea in the middle of the line, the Buccaneers controlled the Vikings' offensive line and limited Minnesota to 41 rushing yards on 17 attempts.

"Our expectation was to compete in the run game," O'Connell said. "They've historically been a very, very good heavy front to run against, and they were exactly that. There were no surprises there. I thought we just didn't execute from a physicality and overall plan the way we had hoped, and that's on me."

The Vikings could draw some encouragement from the fact their corners mostly held up against Evans and Chris Godwin, while new defensive coordinator Brian Flores' pressure packages got to Mayfield. Their inefficiencies on Sunday, though, kept them from starting 1-0 before a tough road trip to Philadelphia on Thursday, and turned their homage to Grant into the kind of game that might have put them on the receiving end of the old coach's famous glare.

"Now that we didn't get it done today, we just have to have that much more urgency, that much more detail," O'Connell said. "Everybody's got to look inward, and we got to persevere together."