The Vikings unveiled their new home in a nationally televised Sunday night showdown against the Green Bay Packers, but it got upstaged by their new quarterback.
U.S. Bank Stadium sparkled with the Minneapolis skyline peeking through the large glass windows, and cheers were nearly deafening when quarterback Sam Bradford completed his first touchdown pass with the Vikings. Bradford later threw another one as he outdueled Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers while leading the Vikings to a 17-14 victory.
“What he was able to do here in two weeks, the [amount] of our offense that he’s been able to learn, it’s just unbelievable,” said tight end Kyle Rudolph, who caught an 8-yarder for a touchdown.
One negative for the Vikings: All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson left the stadium on crutches because of a third-quarter right knee injury and will have an MRI on Monday.
Stefon Diggs had nine receptions for 182 yards, eighth best in Vikings history, and caught a 25-yard scoring pass from Bradford.
The past couple of weeks were a whirlwind for Bradford. He was expected to be the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1 before the Vikings, who on Aug. 30 lost Teddy Bridgewater to a season-ending knee injury, dealt a pair of premium picks to acquire the 28-year-old in a stunning trade.
Only 15 days and eight practices later, Bradford was under center when the Vikings hosted their first regular-season game at their state-of-the-art new home. And if that wasn’t enough pressure, he had to go throw-for-throw with Rodgers.
Bradford, who became the 13th quarterback to start for the Vikings since 2007, did just that and then some, completing some eye-popping throws in his debut and displaying instant chemistry with Diggs.
With Peterson again having trouble finding running room, the Vikings asked Bradford to throw 23 times in the first half. He completed 16 of those attempts for 175 yards and a touchdown. He finished the night 22-for-31 for 286 yards and a 121.2 passer rating.
“It’s a big credit to a guy that’s come in here in 15 days or whatever it was, and he’s learned enough of the offense to come in and perform against a team that’s pressuring and blitzing and attacking him as much as they did,” coach Mike Zimmer said.
Bradford said it helps that the offense suits him.
“I like a lot of the concepts we run,” Bradford said. “I think it’s a great mix of both drop-back, play-action, things that I really enjoy.”
Bradford averaged 9.5 yards per attempt in his Vikings debut, nearly twice as many as Rodgers, whom the Vikings held to 213 passing yards on his 36 attempts.
This was Rodgers, though, and these were the Packers, so of course they found a way to make it interesting. The Packers pulled within 17-14 early in the fourth quarter when Rodgers somehow escaped a snug pocket and scrambled 10 yards for the touchdown.
The Packers crossed into Vikings territory on their next drive, too, but defensive end Brian Robison came free off the edge and spiked the ball loose from Rodgers, who fumbled for the third time.
In the final two minutes of the game, cornerback Trae Waynes, whom Rodgers picked on all night, sealed the win by intercepting a pass intended for wideout Devante Adams.
“That interception he made was huge,” Zimmer said of the top pick from 2015.
After Rodgers tossed a 1-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jordy Nelson in the first quarter, the Vikings tied it 7-7 in the second quarter when Bradford threw an 8-yard touchdown to Rudolph. The touchdown, which was the team’s first on offense this season, came after the Vikings left kicker Blair Walsh on the sideline on fourth-and-2 inside the red zone and Bradford connected with Diggs to move the chains.
Late in the second quarter, Bradford showed the strong arm and deep-ball placement that had been sporadic the past couple of seasons when he launched a play-action pass deep down the middle of the field to Diggs, who made a diving 44-yard catch.
Walsh was good from 46 yards out to send the Vikings into halftime up 10-7. Their lead might have been bigger had they been able to recover a pair of fumbles inside enemy territory. Both times the ball somehow squirted under a Packers player.
The ball bounced Green Bay’s way again in the third quarter after another fumble. This time it was defensive end Everson Griffen who stripped Rodgers as the quarterback scrambled for a first down. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn tried to scoop up the ball, but it slipped through his grasp, allowing Packers tight end Jared Cook to fall on it.
The Vikings defense got redemption, though, later on the drive when Robison and nose tackle Linval Joseph stuffed Packers running back James Starks on fourth-and-1.
After that, the Vikings offense crossed midfield in a flash with a 46-yard catch and run by Diggs. Four plays later, Bradford got blasted in the pocket but still completed a strike up the numbers to Diggs, who tapped two feet inbounds for a 25-yard touchdown.
“He was dropping dimes. I don’t know where he got all those dimes from, but he found them,” outside linebacker Anthony Barr said. “I liked what I saw.”
And that left the Vikings savoring a victory.
“I hope we can get this every Sunday for a home game. This will be one of the better home-field advantages, I think, in the league,” outside linebacker Chad Greenway said.
“It was incredible just the way the fans responded. Maybe for the first time in my career, I didn’t hear a lot from the Packers fans during a home game.”
Matt Vensel covers the Vikings for the Star Tribune. firstname.lastname@example.org