Remember last year when the Vikings blew out Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers to start the season? That was fun. The Vikings fell short in Sunday's season opener against Tampa Bay, and it's not a good start for a team hoping to build on last year's NFC North Championship team.
The Purple struggled to score despite moving the ball up and down the field in the first half. turnovers didn't help. Tampa took a late lead and new quarterback Baker (Not Tom Brady) Mayfield ran out the clock never giving Cousins and the Vikings a chance to go win the game, something that seemingly happened every week last season.
Now what? Here are three things to look at heading towards a quick week two turnaround at Philadelphia Thursday night.
Turnovers Might Kill This Team
The Vikings outgained Tampa 369-242. The passing yardage was 328-169 in favor of Minnesota. How in the world did Tampa win?
Turnovers. And at horrible times. The Vikings lost two fumbles and Cousins threw a red zone interception. All three turnovers came in the first half and were possible scoring drives.
This isn't a Viking team with a ton of margin for error. They aren't blowing out anybody. The defense is rebuilding, they're without longtime standout Dalvin Cook at running back, and the offensive line is not a strength (and bordered on horrific at times Sunday).
So, if the Vikings lose the turnover battle, as it is with most NFL teams, they're going to lose.
Going forward, ball security has to be a major priority for the Vikings. If they turn it over at Philly Thursday it'll be a long, long night.
Nine catches, 150 yards. Didn't get in the end zone but Jefferson showed the flashes of brilliance that are going to make him a lot of money. He was terrific as usual.
Jefferson was asked after the game if not getting a contract extension done before the season was a distraction.
“I have the same mindset as I had before,” Jefferson said. “All I can do is play football, and that’s what I continue to do. I know my team. My team doesn’t care about the contract, and I don’t, either. I just want to be here for my teammates, play for my teammates, and of course get these wins.”
Saying all the right things is all fine and good. The business side will work itself out, particularly with 1½ years remaining on his rookie deal. The pressing issue at hand for Jefferson is helping the Vikings recover quickly from this frustrating mistake-filled start to the season.
But is there something there that might be distracting him, or perhaps his teammates? WCCO Huddle co-host and former NFL linebacker Pete Najarian says no.
"It doesn't feel like to me, he's concerned about this at all. They are playing this thing out, I think they want to find out what money they have," says Najarian. "He's going to set the new level. That number is going to be a massive number."
The NFL ’s reigning receiving leader, who had by far the most yards of any player in history through his first three seasons, was more than happy to fully participate in training camp unlike some of his contract-seeking peers around the league. He also made clear his camp has been driving a hard bargain for what is likely to be the richest deal for a player at his position.
It's up to the Vikings to figure out how to fit what will be a giant salary into the salary cap. Huddle co-host Dave Schwartz says Jefferson must be frustrated with staying on his rookie pay scale with the success he's had.
"If I'm him, and I'm looking at the roster and what percentage guys are taking up on a cap, and how much production I'm worth," says Schwartz. "But I'm only 1.8% of your salary?"
Some players decide to holdout, as Kansas City is finding out with star defensive lineman Chris Jones. The Vikings believe Jefferson will continue to play hard through this as they work through negotiations, and Jefferson proved it on the field Sunday.
“He knows I support him 100%, and he was all in today and really has been,” coach Kevin O’Connell said. “We would have loved to get something done with Justin, but the decision was made and I do not for one second believe that Justin is not going to put his best foot forward like he did today.”
Now the Schedule Gets Tough
Tampa Bay was the easy game on the early season schedule. New quarterback in journeyman Baker Mayfield, rebuilding post-Tom Brady, and they waltz out of U.S. Bank Stadium with a W.
Now it's the defending Super Bowl runner-up Philadelphia who won a tough matchup in New England Sunday. Expect them to be amped up and ready to go for their home opener, which is a notoriously tough place to play and a house of horrors for the Vikings (24-7 win last year for Philly and it wasn't that close).
After that? Justin Herbert and the Chargers who lost in Miami, but scored 34 points. A struggling Carolina is next, and then you get a three game gauntlet of Mahomes and the Chiefs, the Bears who the Vikings always struggle with, and San Francisco who has plans to hoist a trophy in February.
And they won't have played division opponents Green Bay or Detroit. Both of those teams are coming off impressive opening day wins.
You can't lose at home in the NFL. You definitely can't lose at home in the NFL to teams you should beat. The Vikings just made getting back to the playoffs much harder on themselves.