MINNEAPOLIS -- Minutes after the opening kickoff in a game in which the Vikings came in as 17-point favorites over the Buffalo Bills, Minnesota began its course of crashing and burning as things unraveled in the worst possible way in a 27-6 loss.
Minnesota knew the Bills would scheme off Josh Allen’s mobility in the pocket and his ability to throw when he’s scrambling. They knew the rookie wasn’t afraid to tuck the ball and run with it. But despite being aware of the tendencies of Buffalo’s first-round pick, the Vikings' stout defense allowed him to run wild, both up and over their unit.
“I’ve got to give him credit, especially with a little hurdling or whatever,” defensive tackle Tom Johnson said. “But we knew that going into the game, that he was going to try and run and try to escape a few times. A lot of self-inflicted things happened that we could’ve stopped and benefited from, but not today.”
A snap shot of the first 15 minutes of play serves as a microcosm for how bad things got for Minnesota on Sunday.
The first quarter started with Eric Wilson driving Allen to the ground for a sack on the third play of the game, only to have 15 yards added after Linval Joseph was called for lowering the head to initiate contact. Minnesota picked up another 15-yard penalty for a face mask on the drive and capped things off by allowing Allen to run in 10 yards for a touchdown. After that rude awakening, Kirk Cousins fumbled twice in or near the red zone on back-to-back drives, special teams notched two costly penalties, a 31-yard punt, Trae Waynes dropped an interception and tight end Jason Croom was left wide open for a touchdown.
“Unfortunately, you go back and look at the last three years of football that we played, we’ve done this once a year,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “We have a really young and talented team, but we can’t just roll the ball out there and expect to win. I think a lot of people were underestimating the Buffalo Bills last week.”
If special teams were under fire after a blocked punt and Daniel Carlson’s three missed field goals at Green Bay, the unit was set ablaze against the Bills. Costly penalties on special teams hurt the Vikings in the field-position game. The Vikings started eight of their 12 drives inside the 20-yard line and began five of those drives inside the 10-yard line. Matt Wile had punts of 31 and 39 yards in the first half. Mike Hughes struggled in the return game, a far cry from his first two weeks as a rookie, muffing a punt and not creating explosive gains when bringing the ball out of the end zone.
The offense was out of sync from the get-go. Without Dalvin Cook, Minnesota looked to get its run game back on track with Latavius Murray and Mike Boone, and for good reason. In the Bills' first two losses, Buffalo gave up 138 yards and two rushing touchdowns to backup running backs.
In Week 3, Buffalo held Minnesota to 14 yards rushing, and two of those runs which came from Cousins. According to Elias, the Vikings' 6 attempts tie the fewest ever by a team in a single game in NFL history.
“As far as being punched in the mouth, this is probably up there for the worst there is for me,” Murray said.
Cousins played a large part in the Vikings cementing themselves in an early hole. The Vikings quarterback accounted for three turnovers against the Bills -- two fumbles and an interception -- on a day where the Bills forced him into throwing 55 times (he completed 40 passes for 296 yards and a touchdown).
In 2017, Cousins lost nine fumbles, prompting him to place an emphasis on ball security.
“We drop back every single day and talk about having two hands on the ball and protecting the football and understanding how important that is,” Cousins said.
The offensive line looked shaky at best against San Francisco and Green Bay, but the wheels downright fell off against Buffalo. Left tackle Riley Reiff got worked off the edge by Jerry Hughes all afternoon. Guard play, which has been under the microscope since the Vikings failed to address the position with their first-round pick, has struggled with Mike Remmers and Tom Compton. With all the roster upgrades made over the offseason, preseason and in the past few weeks, the offensive line remains the team’s weakest link.
Top off the fact that the Vikings defense hasn’t been the same since the NFC divisional playoff game against the Saints. The Bills gashed Minnesota every which way, with the D giving up 128 rushing yards, allowing Allen to go 15-of-22 passing for 196 yards and a touchdown, and failing to contain an offense that had no business running the Vikings out of their own stadium.
The Vikings got shredded, exposed and downright embarrassed in Week 3. Things don’t get easier from here, either. On a short week with a ton of questions to be answered, Minnesota now has to prepare for Jared Goff and the league’s most explosive offense, Los Angeles Rams.
That, in effect, might be the best thing that comes out of this loss.
“You don’t have time to sit back and think about how poorly we played today,” Rudolph said. “The best way to bounce back from such a poor performance is to go play well. Thankfully, we don’t have to wait seven days to go play well.”