GLENDALE, ARIZ. – Injuries at safety forced the Vikings to rearrange their secondary Thursday night against the league-leading offense of the Arizona Cardinals in a 23-20 loss at University of Phoenix Stadium.
With starting safeties Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo out, and Robert Blanton active but not starting because of a knee injury, veteran cornerback Terence Newman was moved to free safety, a position he has rarely played during his NFL career.
Undrafted rookie Anthony Harris started at strong safety in his NFL debut. He had been on the practice squad since the end of the preseason until safety Antone Exum Jr. was placed on injured reserve Tuesday, prompting the Vikings to promote Harris, who finished with eight tackles.
And with Newman vacating his usual left cornerback position, first-round draft pick Trae Waynes replaced Newman there. It was also the first start of his career.
Newman moved back to cornerback in the second quarter when Xavier Rhodes injured his right wrist when blasted by Harris as they combined for a tackle. Blanton came in at safety, but Rhodes only missed a couple of plays.
Shaun Prater, who the Vikings brought back Tuesday, was a backup at safety.
Smith, after missing the 20-10 win over the Atlanta Falcons two weeks ago with a knee injury, injured his hamstring in Sunday’s 38-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Sendejo, meanwhile, has sat out the past two games with a knee injury he suffered in Atlanta.
Blanton, who was listed as questionable heading into the game, has a knee injury, too.
Edmond Robinson started at linebacker, too, so four rookies started on defense: linebacker Eric Kendricks, Waynes, Robinson, Harris.
Injuries have hampered much of Michael Floyd’s 2015 season, but the Cardinals’ big-play threat made another big play against his hometown Vikings on Thursday night.
The St. Paul native, former Cretin-Derham Hall star and Star Tribune Player of the Year broke a 10-10 third-quarter tie with a 42-yard touchdown catch during the Cardinals’ 23-20 win.
Last season, Floyd posted a team-high nine receptions of 30-plus yards. Of his 19 career touchdown receptions, 13 have covered at least 20 yards.
The 2012 first-round pick out of Notre Dame was the Cardinals’ leading receiver in 2013 and 2014 with 1,882 yards. In that same period, he ranked second on the Cardinals with 112 receptions and 11 receiving touchdowns behind Larry Fitzgerald Jr.
But Floyd, 26, suffered a hand injury in training camp and saw limited action to begin this season. In a Week 10 win against Seattle, Floyd caught seven passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns. But he sustained a hamstring injury and missed the next game vs. Cincinnati and played sparingly against San Francisco before catching seven passes for 104 yards last week against St. Louis.
Thursday, he caught five passes for 102 yards, his fourth 100-yard performance in the past five games.
Joining Smith on the sidelines were fellow starters Linval Joseph and Anthony Barr.
Joseph has now missed two straight games with a foot injury. Sharrif Floyd started in his place at nose tackle with backup Tom Johnson again starting next to Floyd.
Barr aggravated a groin injury against the Seahawks, exiting that game in the first quarter. Rookie Edmond Robinson replaced Barr as the strongside linebacker in the base defense, and veteran linebacker Chad Greenway filled in for Barr in the nickel.
With Minnesota teams playing at Arizona for three consecutive days, governors Mark Dayton and Doug Ducey threw out the obligatory friendly wager.
Whichever governor’s team loses two or three of the games must wear a jersey from the other governor’s state. The Wild plays the Arizona Coyotes on Friday night and the Timberwolves play the Suns on Saturday night.
Twitter being fraught with peril, Arizona Gov. Ducey blew his first attempt at a tweet, writing, “@govmarkdayton – Friendly wager? Winner of 2/3 game wears a jersey from the other governor’s state.” He, or whoever tweets for him, later corrected the word “winner” to “loser.”
Minnesota Gov. Dayton tweeted: “Challenge accepted, @dougducey! Cheering on the @Vikings @Timberwolves and @mnwild this weekend!”
A CBS pregame show also featured a funny mock debate between U.S. Sens. Al Franken, D-Minn., and John McCain, R-Ariz., that was “moderated” by Bob Schieffer.
• Vikings running back Adrian Peterson became the 23rd player in NFL history to score 100 touchdowns with a first-quarter scoring run. He has 95 rushing touchdowns and five receiving. Jerry Rice (208) is the all-time NFL leader, and Cris Carter holds the Vikings record with 110, all receiving.