The debut of the new $1.1 billion U.S. Bank Stadium was positively majestic Sunday night. However, it was Sam Bradford’s debut as the Vikings’ starting quarterback that stole the show.
Bradford threw for two touchdowns and the reigning NFC North Champs harassed Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers enough to claim a thrilling 17-14 victory and remain on top of the division.
With Bradford under center, the Vikings’ red zone efficiency also took a step in the right direction.
The Vikings ran four plays in the red zone (four pass and 0 runs) on one possession and scored one touchdown. Bradford was 4-for-4 in the red zone. The Packers had eight offensive snaps in the red zone (four pass and four runs) on three possessions, scoring two touchdowns.
Red Zone Notes:
Thanks to a blocked punt and a pass interference penalty by Terrence Newman, the Packers reached the red zone first. With no score in the game and just under six minutes to play in the first quarter, the Packers knocked on the door with a 1st-and-goal from the four yard line.
The Vikings’ run defense rose to the occasion, holding Eddie Lacy in check on his first two red zone rushing attempts. However, a well designed play action pass on third down fooled Trae Waynes as Jordy Nelson escaped in the flat for an easy touchdown.
Early in the second quarter the Vikings had their first opportunity in the red zone. The team’s first offensive snap in the red zone just happened to be a 4th-and-2 from the 19 yard line. The Vikings went for it and Bradford hit Stefon Diggs on an underneath crossing route for the first down. Clay Matthews blitzed up the middle on the play and put a big hit on Bradford. He delivered a strike to Diggs while also showing toughness in the pocket.
Consecutive false start penalties by Andre Smith and Brandon Fusco backed the Vikings up to a 1st-and-20. Bradford then connected with Peterson and Diggs on a couple short throws before finding Kyle Rudolph in the corner of the end zone for the score on third down.
The Packers entered the red zone for the second time with just over five minutes to play in the third quarter. With the Viking ahead 10-7, the defense forced an incomplete pass on third down and the defensive front of Linval Joseph, Everson Griffen and Brian Robison stuffed James Starks at the line of scrimmage on the following fourth down attempt.
The Packers third and final red zone possession happened early in the fourth quarter with the Vikings clinging to a 17-14 advantage. Newman almost intercepted a pass on first down from the four yard line. Captain Munnerlyn, Anthony Barr and Robison forced Starks out of bounds for a six yard loss on the dump-off pass on the following play. On 3rd-and-goal from the 10, Rodgers danced away from a solid pass rush and scrambled up the middle for the touchdown.
The Vikings did a lot of good things on both sides of the ball in the red zone. The run defense was very good with the exception of Rodger’s avoiding a stout pass rush and slipping loose for the touchdown scramble. The Vikings’ red zone passing game also looked sharp and much improved from Week 1.
Mike Zimmer and the Vikings coaching staff, however, will look to address the three red zone penalties and 13 flags in the game. Sloppiness and penalties early in the season can be expected, but this many infractions are certainly uncharacteristic of a Zimmer coached team.