Reactions to Vikings Mistake-Filled Opening Loss to Buccaneers

Sep 10, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans react during the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

After Sunday’s sloppy, mistake-filled opening loss to Tampa Bay, Vikings Coach Kevin O’Connell should rethink his plan of not playing starters in any preseason games. That’s precisely what Eagles Coach Nick Sirianni said after his team’s slow start offensively (on a day with only 251 total yards) before they held on to beat the Patriots. O’Connell and the Vikings are not as fortunate as the Eagles to consider next year’s preseason plans after winning their opener.  

Reactions to Vikings Mistake-Filled Opening Loss to Buccaneers

O’Connell’s plan worked well in last year’s opening win over the Packers but not so much in the 20-17 flop vs. a Buccaneers team that is less talented than the Vikings but made the plays at crunch time on offense and defense while the Vikings lost the turnover battle 3-0 and had many key penalties in the game. Worst of all, Bucs journeyman QB Baker Mayfield made the clutch plays late in the game, while Kirk Cousins couldn’t pull off the fourth-quarter comeback after doing it eight times last season. 

Week I is usually filled with upsets, and this year is no different. Unfortunately for the Vikings, they joined fellow 2022 playoff teams, the Chiefs, Seahawks, and Chargers, as home favorites to lose their openers, and the Bengals lost as a road favorite.

Opening Loss
Sep 10, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell and Tampa Bay Buccaneers Todd Bowles hug after the game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Thus, the roller coaster of an NFL season begins on the low end at 0-1 and looking up to the victorious Lions and Packers in the NFC North. In my NFL career, I always hated losing the opener because it puts tremendous pressure on winning in Week 2 to avoid starting the season 0-2. That is now a likely prospect for the Vikings as they head to unfriendly Philadelphia on a short week with some critical injuries to face the defending NFC champs in their home opener. 

Tampa Bay is a team the Vikings should have and needed to beat. To make up for this bad loss, they’ll need to win a game they aren’t expected to. (I highly doubt it will come in Philly, but perhaps at home against the Chiefs in Week 5?) 

Here are my other reactions to Sunday’s disappointing loss:

1. Turnovers: They were all pretty much inexcusable. Guard Ed Ingram, who had a rocky game overall, needs to be more aware so as not to swing his left arm into Cousins, which dislodged the ball and killed a good second drive in the game. That cost the Vikings a likely three points and perhaps seven points. 

On the Vikings’ next offensive series, poor pass protection and Cousins not being aware caused ex-Gopher Antoine Winfield Jr. to come in untouched on a third-down blitz. He strip-sacked Cousins and recovered the ball at the Minnesota 18-yard line. That set up a field goal for Tampa Bay’s 3-0 lead.

Sep 10, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) leaves the field after the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The third turnover of the first half was a bad decision and poor throw by Cousins as he tried to hit K.J. Osborn on 1st-and-Goal from the Bucs 13 with 23 seconds left in the half. The pass was slightly behind Osborn, who briefly had possession until Christian Izien stole it at the Bucs 2-yard line.

This was a risky throw into traffic on first down, and Cousins said after the game he should have gone to Jordan Addison on the play. This killed another good drive that included a terrific 42-yard pass play to Justin Jefferson, on which he nearly was able to cut back and score before Winfield tripped him up. The interception cost the Vikings three to seven points and momentum heading into halftime. 

The turnovers ruined a first half when the Vikings had a huge yardage edge—287-95 as Cousins threw for 273 yards in the first half (138 to Jefferson on his seven catches). And the Vikings doubled the Bucs in first half time of possession, yet the game was tied 10-10. Meanwhile, the Vikings defense did not have any takeaways the entire game.

2. Costly penalties: It’s not unusual for penalties to be a factor in Week 1 when the starters haven’t played in a preseason game. But so many were pre-snap, which speaks to poor concentration and set the Vikings back (first-series false start on Brian O’Neill, offsides on Pat Jones that helped the Bucs on their second-quarter TD drive, and worst of all, rookie Jay Ward lining up offsides on the Bucs’ third-quarter field goal which gave them a first down and led to the TD that put them up 17-10; plus Dean Lowry’s face mask penalty gave the Bucs 15 yards and a first down on their final, clock-killing drive).   

3. Kirk Cousins was inconsistent and not clutch, while Baker Mayfield came through late running and passing as the Vikings pass rush and coverage schemes fizzled. I didn’t like Danielle Hunter being rested when Mayfield had plenty of time to hit Mike Evans on the 28-yard late second-quarter TD. DC Brian Flores should give Hunter a breather when the Bucs are in their own territory.  

It was shades of the playoff loss to the Giants for Cousins. Too many bad decisions and inaccurate throws and not going to Jefferson at crunch time. 

4. Running game ineffective: the Bucs have a great nose tackle in Vita Vea and lots of talented players on their defense, including linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David (along with Winfield), and they all made a lot of plays against the run and pass. Alexander Mattison ran hard and made something out of nothing several times, including on his early fourth-quarter TD reception. But the O-line and other blockers must do a better job opening holes for Mattison and Ty Chandler, or defenses will be able to load up on the pass rush. 

Sep 10, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison (2) runs with the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

5. Where’s J.J. in the second half and throw out those pass plays to T.J. Hockenson behind the line of scrimmage that doomed the last two series? Two targets and two receptions for 12 yards in the second half for Jefferson just can’t happen. That’s on the coaches and Cousins for not getting the ball more often to the league’s best receiver. The Dolphins and Tua Tagovailoa certainly kept throwing to Tyreek Hill (11 catches, 215 yards, 2 TDs) throughout their opening win against the Chargers. And how about giving J.J. a chance to run a few more deep routes with double moves as the less elusive Evans did for the Bucs? 

O’Connell should eliminate from the playbook the tight end screens (or whatever the plays were supposed to be) to Hockenson that resulted in three and four-yard losses on first down plays during the Vikings’ last two series. He’s a great player who should be catching the ball downfield, not behind the line of scrimmage.

6. Jordan Addison was good. K.J. Osborn must be better than he played — not a good way to start your last year under contract: Addison had a nice debut (4 catches, 61 yards, 1 TD), but unless he was clearly open on the last 3rd-and-7 play, Jefferson should be the target. As for Osborn, perhaps he could’ve done a better job securing the ball on the interception, and it appeared a high throw from Cousins went through Osborn’s hands on the second-to-last drive on a third down play. But that’s certainly on Cousins, too, for not making a better throw to the open Osborn. 

7. Mixed bag for the rookies: Addison had the nice TD catch but slipped and didn’t run a good route on the final offensive pass play broken up by Bucs corner Carlton Gray. Third corner Mekhi Blackmon had a nice pass defense in the second quarter on a deep ball to Mike Evans, but he was not in tight enough coverage on the game-clinching completion to Chris Godwin (and he should’ve had safety help on that third-and-10 play but Godwin made a great catch). 

Sep 10, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jordan Addison (3) celebrates his first career touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

After an impressive preseason, it was a bad and costly mistake by Ward to line up offsides on the third-quarter field goal. And I thought rookie linebacker Ivan Pace should have been more aggressive in tackling Mayfield before he reached the first down mark on his third-down scramble and his fourth-down QB sneak on the final drive. 

8. Bradbury and Davenport must overcome the injury bug: the Vikings invested in these two players during free agency and need them on the field. Bradbury’s back problems cost him five games last season, and we’ll have to see the extent of the back injury he sustained early in the game that forced backup Austin Schlottman into action. Davenport had a down 2022 season due to injuries, and the Vikings hope he can quickly overcome his ankle injury sustained in practice last week.

9. The defense looked good for the most part in the first half, but conditioning in the first game could have been the problem with the D not being able to get off the field in the second half. I liked Flores mixing up his schemes to confuse the Bucs and Mayfield early, but the Bucs adjusted, and I did not like asking safety Josh Metellus to cover Evans deep on his TD. There should always be a corner covering a Pro Bowl receiver like Evans. 

The Bucs had a nine-minute, third-quarter TD drive, and they were able to run out the last four minutes of the game, including a 4th-and-1 QB sneak by Mayfield on a gutsy call by Bucs Coach Todd Bowles in a tie game with the ball on the Bucs 32-yard line. A stop there could’ve set up a game-winning drive for the Purple, but instead, it was the impetus for the Bucs to take the lead on that drive with Chase McLaughlin’s low 57-yard field goal (the Vikings needed a good leaper in the middle as the kick was blockable).  

10. What’s the deal with completing J.J.’s extension? He will be the league’s highest-paid receiver at over $30 million per year, and he’s worth it. 

Around the NFL Observations:

1. The Vikings had lots of company among 2022 playoff teams who laid an egg in their openers: worst of all was the Giants, who got walloped at home 40-0 by the Cowboys as they sacked Daniel Jones seven times, held the G-Men to 171 total yards and scored on a blocked field goal return and a Pick Six.

2. Joe Burrow and the Bengals were whipped 24-3 in Cleveland, with Burrow passing for a career-low 82 yards. Cincinnati is my pick to be AFC champs, so hopefully, they’ll get back on track quickly, but they host the tough Ravens this Sunday. Is Burrow’s calf still an issue after he missed most of training camp with the injury? 

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) looks on from the sideline between drives in the second quarter of the NFL Week 18 game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Baltimore Ravens at Paycor Stadium in downtown Cincinnati on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. The Bengals led 24-7 at halftime. © Sam Greene / USA TODAY NETWORK.

3. Who had the Rams — coming off a 5-12 season and in rebuilding mode — going to Seattle and outscoring the Seahawks 23-0 in the second half of a 30-13 upset. Apparently, there’s still life in Matthew Stafford (334 passing yards) and Aaron Donald, who led the D that held Seattle to 180 total yards. And Coach Sean McVay worked wonders with his team, at least so far. We’ll know more about the Rams after they host the 49ers on Sunday.  

4. The Chiefs looked bad in losing to the Lions and really missed TE Travis Kelce (knee) and DT Chris Jones (holdout). Receiver Kadarius Toney had three costly drops, including one that deflected to Lions rookie safety Brian Branch, who returned it for a TD. It’s a big win for the Lions that they couldn’t have expected. 

5. The Jordan Love era is off to a nice start as he passed for 245 yards and three TDs in a 38-20 road win over the Bears, who were supposed to be improved but didn’t look like it against the Pack. The good news for the Vikings is there are 16 regular season games left, but the wins by Detroit and Green Bay, coupled with the Vikings loss, puts the Purple in an early hole. And the Vikings face the toughest Week 2 task at Philly while the Lions host the Seahawks and the Packers travel to Atlanta (who did beat Carolina on opening day). 

I’m back with my Vikings-Eagles preview and prediction on Wednesday.

Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl