The 95-foot-tall glass gates opened to fans at U.S. Bank Stadium for the first time in 21 months, as singer Dustin Lynch belted out country hits and tossed beers to fans on a sun-soaked afternoon. Inside, the Vikings took the field as artificial snow fell from the stadium's ceiling, the final touch of an elaborate pregame production designed to whip fans into a frenzy.
The Vikings might have dressed up this home opener, following a year of empty seats, in grand fashion no matter the opponent. But against Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks, it felt as if all the extra touches were engineered to extract whatever edge the Vikings could find over a team they hadn't beaten in 142 months.
What ultimately made the difference, in a 30-17 victory that released years of anguish for the 66,729 in attendance, was an offensive performance that Mike Zimmer regarded as the most sublime of his eight seasons as coach.
The Vikings' first win of the 2021 season had it all: a masterful performance from quarterback Kirk Cousins behind an offensive line that mostly kept him upright; a career day from running back Alexander Mattison with Dalvin Cook out because of an ankle injury; crisp red-zone routes from Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson and key contributions from Tyler Conklin and K.J. Osborn. There was mostly penalty-free football, key third-down pickups and — a week before he faces his old mentor Kevin Stefanski — some creative play design from first-year offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak.
The performance came against a Seattle defense that bore little resemblance to Pete Carroll's famed "Legion of Boom" units that inspired copycats all over the league. But if the Vikings' 453-yard showing is replicable against better groups, they might have a foundation that can get them back in the playoff race.
"Kirk played outstanding," Zimmer said. "I thought Mattison ran the ball well, the offensive line blocked great. Tight ends, receivers blocked great in the run game but also in the passing game. Very, very proud of the way that they performed."
Cousins finished 30-of-38 for 323 yards and three touchdowns, playing with the same kind of assertive pace he had used last week in Arizona and taking only 2.61 seconds to throw on average, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
Mattison, starting with Dalvin Cook out because of a sprained right ankle, posted 112 rushing yards against the Seahawks for the second consecutive year on 26 carries, and also caught six passes for 59 yards.
The Vikings converted nine of their 14 third downs; before they were trying to run the clock out and protect their lead in the final minutes, they'd punted only once all day. Cousins hit eight of his 10 third-down passes for 80 yards and a touchdown to Adam Thielen.
"I think I play with really good football players," Cousins said. "I think that helps. I also think that Klint Kubiak's doing a phenomenal job. I think [quarterbacks coach] Andrew Janocko's doing a phenomenal job, and I can't say enough about the working team around me getting me ready for Sunday. Kellen [Mond] and Sean [Mannion] are with me on a Wednesday and Thursday well after 7 o'clock at night helping me talking through plays in walk-through and watching tape, and I can't say enough about the kind of working team that helps get me ready for Sunday."
Through two quarters, the Seahawks and Vikings had combined for 537 yards of total offense. Wilson connected on 15 of his 19 passes for 218 yards; Cousins went 16-of-20 for 185 yards, throwing three touchdowns in the first half of a game for the sixth time in his career and the second week in a row.
“Kirk played outstanding. I thought Mattison ran the ball well, the offensive line blocked great. Tight ends, receivers blocked great in the run game but also in the passing game. Very, very proud of the way that they performed.”
A clever play design from Kubiak put the Vikings in position for what turned out to be the decisive touchdown before halftime.
On first-and-10 from the Seahawks 19, the Vikings lined Conklin up wide of Thielen, who created a natural pick for Conklin from the slot. The tight end had a clean release on his slant route against linebacker Cody Barton, and Cousins hit him for 16 yards, a play before he connected with Jefferson on a whip route for a 3-yard score.
"Finishing the first half with a drive and a score was a big part of the makeup of the game," Cousins said. "And then, we always talk about when we score coming into the half and get the ball coming out, the importance of double dipping and scoring again. I think we only got a field goal, but to get 10 points in those two possessions is a big deal by the next time Seattle gets the ball and churning clock as well to keep their offense off the field."
The Vikings' first three drives of the second half ended in field goals, not touchdowns, keeping the Seahawks within two scores. But those three drives consumed 20 minutes, 35 seconds, and a defense that was flummoxed by Seattle's substitutions and up-tempo offense in a 308-yard first half gave up only 81 in the second half.
"They came out with a lot of looks we hadn't really seen on film," linebacker Eric Kendricks said. "Teams are going to do that, and the league is about adjusting. We talked about how we should play it. We talked about it originally, but it didn't work like we thought. So we changed it again and everybody was on the same page. We started to neutralize it a little bit."
Wilson got the ball back down 13 with 4:31 to play, and led the Seahawks into Vikings territory for the only time in the half. But he could produce none of the magic he'd used to torment the Vikings in the past; his fourth-down deep throw feel harmlessly incomplete as the secondary engulfed Penny Hart in the end zone.
"That was my first time beating him since I've been in the league, so that was huge for me," Kendricks said. "I try not to think about that, really, just go out and play. But it definitely was nice."
The Vikings coaching staff had worked with Wilson and Cousins at the 2012 Senior Bowl, and came away enamored of the Wisconsin quarterback. The team had taken Christian Ponder the year before, though, and passed on Wilson before he went to Seattle in the third round. Entering Sunday, his seven-game undefeated streak against the Vikings was the longest by any opposing quarterback in team history (one better than Tom Brady's six-game streak).
But on a day that was all about long-awaited payoffs, the streak ended for a simple reason:
The Vikings got on the field with Wilson, and finally had the offense to one-up him.