It appeared for much of the second half on Sunday that the Vikings’ offensive performance — ignited by the emergence of rookie receiver Justin Jefferson and buoyed by an electric showing from Dalvin Cook — would be enough to salt away their first win of the season and stave off existential questions about exactly what they’re capable of in 2020.
When Kirk Cousins hit Jefferson for a 71-yard touchdown in the middle of the third quarter, the Vikings took a 24-12 lead in a building where they’ve been accustomed to putting games away. What the Vikings cobbled together on Sunday would have been just enough, against a Titans team happy to contribute through various means of inefficiency.
But a Vikings defense that still hasn’t found its footing blew a 12-point lead in the final 22 minutes of the game, while a final Minnesota chance to win the game went haywire. The end result was a 31-30 loss that dropped the Vikings to 0-3 for the first time since 2013, before road games in Houston and Seattle.
Tennessee (3-0) drove into Vikings territory nine times but managed just two touchdowns, settling for Stephen Gostkowski field goals six times, including the 55-yard game winner with 1:44 left.
After Cousins’ touchdown to Justin Jefferson off a play fake, the Titans scored two touchdowns in 2:31 to take a 25-24 lead. Tannehill hit Corey Davis for a 38-yard catch and run to set up the first score, and found Kalif Raymond on a deep over route off play action behind Jeff Gladney for 61 yards on the second drive to set up Henry’s second TD run.
Tennessee marched to the Vikings’ 38 in the final two minutes, but mysteriously took the ball out of Henry’s hands in its final plays, calling for an Adam Humphries handoff and Tannehill out route to Corey Davis that Holton Hill nearly intercepted before a blitz forced the quarterback to throw the ball away on third down.
Gostkowski connected from 55, but the Titans didn’t get a chance to drain the clock after forcing the Vikings to use all their timeouts.
Cook, who finished with a career-high 181 yards, looked livelier than he has all season, as part of a game plan that sought to get him opportunities to press the edges of the Titans’ defense. He fumbled once — on a fluky play where he landed on C.J. Ham’s shoulder pad and lost the ball while going to the ground — but gave the Titans plenty to worry about while Cousins exploited one-on-one matchups against Joseph and Malcolm Butler.
The Vikings got a revelation in the form of Jefferson, who caught seven passes for 175 yards and showed he could do everything from run after the catch to beat cornerbacks deep and make contested catches.
After the game, Jefferson said it didn’t matter how many catches or yards he had, “we still lost.”
The Vikings’ final chance to win saw Cousins throw in the direction of Cook while under pressure on first down. Garrett Bradbury snapped the ball on second down when the quarterback had his hands down, and the Vikings lost 14 yards as Cousins retrieved the ball.
Jeffery Simmons — who beat Dru Samia for a sack earlier in the game — got around the guard and hit Cousins on third down, as the quarterback had to throw the ball short again in the direction of Cook to avoid a sack.
Clowney got around Riley Reiff and hit Cousins on fourth down as well, but the quarterback’s desperation heave almost landed in Adam Thielen’s hands before Amani Hooker picked the quarterback off.
“It was a back-and-forth game,” Cousins said. “We just came up a point or two short.”
The game was played in front of 250 spectators, made up of Vikings staff and family members, as the team tested protocols in order to allow more fans for home games later this season.