It Has Been 987 Days
The Minnesota Vikings finished their 2022 season opener and beat the division rival Green Bay Packers 23-7. It took Kevin O’Connell’s team just one game to do something the Mike Zimmer Vikings couldn’t do in two seasons and that’s having a record of over .500. The last time the purple team had a winning record was after the final game of the 2019 season. Not during a single week in the last couple of seasons did the Vikings reach the feat.
The 2019 Vikings were 10-6 after losing consecutive games to divisional opponents, first against the Packers, a game that clinched Green Bay the division crown, followed by a meaningless Week 17 game against the Bears. In the playoffs, the Vikings stunned the Saints in New Orleans.
This time, they stayed at home and Aaron Rodgers and his Packers came to town for the annual visit. No team in the league is able to consistently take down the back-to-back MVP and future Hall of Famer.
It was the first game in the new era of Vikings, a team led by head coach Kevin O’Connell and an organization led by general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah.
In a controversial offseason, the Vikings extended the contract of franchise passer Kirk Cousins instead of trying to find his successor. The front office made a lot of moves outside of the quarterback and signed Za’Darius Smith, Harrison Phillips, and Jordan Hicks in free agency to bolster what was a disastrous defensive unit.
Going into the season with a similarly built roster and ‘only’ changing the coaching staff and the scheme was a debatable way to go, but the first result since making the moves is a positive one.
The Vikings didn’t only beat the Packers, they annihilated them. At one point, the Cousins-led team was up 20-0, and the body language of the players dressed in white and green was that of a beaten team.
Ed Donatell’s defense rattled superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers. His stat line at the end of the game is a, for his standards, pedestrian 22/34 for 195 yards, no touchdown, and one interception.
The pressure was too much as he tried to overcome his offensive line’s deficiencies. The group was without David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins. Too often, the Vikings’ pass rush got to him. At the end of the game, the box score says four sacks, but the defensive front bothered Rodgers on multiple more plays. The sacks were recorded by Danielle Hunter, D.J. Wonnum, Za’Darius Smith, and Jordan Hicks. They all had one sack each.
Pass rush is always a combination of the front applying pressure and the secondary holding up in coverage. Starting cornerbacks Cameron Dantzler and Patrick Peterson mostly did a great job. They kept everything in front of them, outside of the first play of the game. Christian Watson dropped an easy 75-yard touchdown after getting away from Peterson.
Dantzler missed some plays with a minor injury and rookie Akayleb Evans had to cover Rodgers’ passing game. He’s famous for picking on rookies, but Evans came through.
Linebacker Jordan Hicks was a big factor in the win. He finished with one sack, one forced fumble, and 14 tackles. Safety Harrison Smith intercepted a Rodgers deep bomb.
The offense was just as impressive. The final result just shows 23 points but a lot of that was milking the clock in the second half. Justin Jefferson had himself a day with a career-high 184 receiving yards and two touchdowns while doing most of his damage in the first half.
Kirk Cousins started the season with 277 yards, two scores, and no interception. Dalvin Cook added 90 yards on the ground and backup Mattison helped with 36 yards.
Jefferson was the clear focal point of the offense and therefore, the other receivers didn’t gain a lot of yards. Thielen had two nice grabs at the end of the game for first downs on an otherwise quiet day.
On special teams, Reagor had one punt return for seven yards, his career average. He looked confident and sure-handed. Kicker Greg Joseph drilled a 56-yarder, which is tied for the franchise record. Overall, Joseph was 3/3 on field goals and 2/2 on extra points.
The Vikings ran away with the season opener and are 1-0. Next Monday, the purple team will face the Philadelphia Eagles on the road. They have to take the momentum of the big divisional win into the next weeks. Offensively, O’Connell’s offense looked explosive and the defense tough. The whole team played with a lot of energy, a big change from recent years. If the team can keep that energetic playing style going, the 2022 season will be a fun one to watch.
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Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt