1. Yes, Sam Bradford can throw deep, and he’s pretty good at it.
Full disclosure: I started jotting down bullet points after the first two offensive drives, and the original headline for this point was, “Sam Bradford: still not letting ‘er rip.” Because up until then, he wasn’t; the Vikings offense moved the ball, but we saw Bradford dink and dunk down the field and ignore open receivers running longer routes in favor of checkdowns. This, of course, became all too common last season, and tainted the all-time completion percentage record Bradford set in 2016 in the eyes of many.
But then something changed. Sam Bradford started looking downfield, and finding open receivers, and the Vikings got two quick touchdowns to end the first half (and another in the second), almost all because of Bradford’s arm. Maybe he was feeling the game out, or maybe he just got comfortable with the Vikings new-look offensive line (more on that later), but suddenly Sam Bradford was uncorking beautiful intermediate and deep shots, one after another, and the Minnesota Vikings looked like a completely different team.
And when I say beautiful, I mean flat-out, drop-dead gorgeous. Sure, it was against the Saints defense, but Bradford was putting the ball exactly where it needed to be just about every time. This particular throw was my favorite:
gtfoh, Sam. pic.twitter.com/r3pQpkO1ME
— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) September 12, 2017
Bradford gets pressured up the middle but still gets the ball off in time, and from this video you can tell he couldn’t even see the receiver when he let the ball go. Nonetheless, a surgical strike, just as it was for most of the night. Bradford finished 27-for-32 (including a few drops) with 346 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions, in one of the finest performances of his career.
We need to see more of that out of Bradford in 2017, and if we do, this could be a very good team.
2. The offensive line is better.
We need to be careful about overreacting to one game, so I’m not about to say anything is “fixed” up front for the Vikings. But I think it’s clear at this stage the offensive line is, at the very least, improved over last season’s albatross. The hogs gave up just one sack all night and consistently gave Bradford time to go through his progressions — something we rarely saw in 2016. The run blocking is still a work in progress, but even so, it was better, and is evident from Dalvin Cook’s rushing totals.
Shiny new left tackle Riley Reiff looked to be worth the money in his debut, and rookie Pat Elflein played as well in his debut as anyone could ask. Elflein’s athleticism makes him a perfect fit in the Vikings’ new zone blocking scheme, and he plays with a nastiness that they’ve been missing in the interior for years. He is poised to be the Vikings’ starting center for a long time.
3. Dalvin Cook is as advertised.
There’s been considerable hype surrounding the Vikings’ second round draft pick, and he lived up to it in his first game. Cook broke Adrian Peterson’s record for rushing yards in a rookie debut with 127 on 22 carries, and showed considerable flash running inside and to the edges. He didn’t have a lot of highlight reel runs and looked mediocre as a receiver (including a couple drops), but found creases where he could and seemed to always be moving forward.
It seemed poetic in a way that Cook took the reigns of the Vikings featured running back role with his predecessor standing on the opposing sideline. For his part, Peterson didn’t do much, an indication of both his declining skills and Minnesota’s improved rush defense. I’m not of the crowd that will wish ill of Peterson after his departure, but this was confirmation, if anyone needed it, that the Vikings made the right call by moving on.
4. Stefon Diggs is a #1 receiver.
This is not to diminish the tremendous night of Adam Thielen, as he and Diggs are developing on the sly into one of the better wide receiver duos in the NFL. But I’ll devote this section to Diggs because of the highlights he seems to make every time the ball is thrown his way. As a top-notch runner with explosive physical skills, Diggs has the tools to run with the elite receivers in the NFL — Beckham, Brown, et al. Indeed, we’ve been comparing him favorably to Antonio Brown over here for years, and the main thing that has kept him-from full blown stardom is his proneness to injury. If Diggs can stay healthy for an entire season (in which his quarterback has reasonable time to throw), the nation will consistently see what it did Monday night.
5. The preseason means nothing.
Okay, not nothing. But all the hand-wringing over the Vikings lackluster preseason — especially on offense — seems notably moot after the convincing season-opening win over a good team and its Hall of Fame quarterback. Combine that with some of the other sharp left turns we’ve seen since the exhibition games — how did those preseason darling 49ers do in their opener? — and we again are reminded of why teams don’t take preseason results too seriously. It’s a time for tinkering and working on cohesion, not for showing a finished product.
The team is 1-0, the defense looks elite, the offensive line looks better, and the quarterback looks like a different player with time to throw. Don’t assume every game will be so easy, but enjoy the win all the same, because we couldn’t have asked for much else, could we?