Quarterback Kirk Cousins said the Vikings responded well after “the week threw us a curveball,” which included even more COVID-related obstacles before arriving at NRG Stadium for Sunday’s 31-23 victory over the Texans in Houston.
The Vikings had one starter return a “false positive” COVID-19 test on Sunday morning, coach Mike Zimmer said, which meant the point-of-care test had to be rerun twice. It returned negative both times.
The Vikings were the first NFL team given point-of-care tests, considered less accurate but more rapid than PCR tests, on game day after being in close contact with the Titans amid Tennessee’s outbreak.
“He had to take two more tests when we got to the stadium,” Zimmer said via videoconference, “and then we had three other guys that had inconclusive tests and so they had to go retake tests again. We actually got the inactives 10 minutes late because of that.”
It was one more roadblock to get to the field after TCO Performance Center was shut down for two days and the team missed Wednesday’s practice after learning of the Titans’ outbreak, which has grown to 20 people, including the assistant coach and practice squad player who tested positive before the Vikings’ Sept. 27 loss to Tennessee.
Vikings coaches, players and staffers also underwent twice-a-day testing throughout the week, conducted all meetings virtually and wore face shields at practice under new guidelines for teams affected by the virus. Meanwhile, the NFL is launching an investigation into whether the Titans violated protocols before and while traveling to Minnesota.
Still, no Vikings players are on the reserve/COVID-19 list, which has been empty since August, marking a success for the league. Two Week 4 games were postponed because of positive test results.
“It was nice to get a win,” Zimmer said. “Our guys overcame a lot of things during the week as far as the different things that the league had us do.”
‘Fight for them, too’
Running back Dalvin Cook extended an olive branch to the Vikings’ maligned offensive line after averaging 5.6 yards per carry on 75 attempts through four games. Zimmer called out the line for “a really nice job blocking” for the run and pass, the latter of which remains an emphasis. Cousins was sacked three times in Houston.
“The offensive line, I think to me, has been doing a good job,” Cook said. “We just have been letting some plays slip here and there. They’ve been costly plays to lose games. And we’re only getting better. They’re going to be as good as we push them. We’ve got some guys up front that are ready to fight for us. We’ve got to show that we’re ready to fight for them, too.”
Rookies get the go
Zimmer started two rookie cornerbacks — Cameron Dantzler and Jeff Gladney — and chose to sit Holton Hill for the opening of the game until the defense needed an extra cornerback. Dantzler returned from a two-game absence caused by a rib injury and, despite being briefly knocked from the game in the first quarter, returned and played most of his second NFL game. Cornerbacks Mike Hughes (neck) and Kris Boyd (hamstring) had been ruled out.
Gladney, a first-round pick out of TCU, started strong with an early third-down pass breakup while guarding Texans receiver Randall Cobb and a run stop on running back David Johnson. But Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson threw for 124 yards on the final two drives before Houston’s comeback attempt fell short.
Returners still waiting
Rookie receiver K.J. Osborn resumed duties on kickoff and punt returns after a one-game absence in which he was replaced by Ameer Abdullah and Chad Beebe, who had two fair-catches and no punt returns against the Titans. All three players were active in Houston, but coaches used Osborn on all returning opportunities.
The Vikings defense isn’t forcing many punts — 2.5 per game, including four on Sunday — so they’re not learning much about their returner options yet. Osborn fielded one punt for a 6-yard return and had a pair of 20-yard kick returns.