Minnesota Vikings first-round pick Trae Waynes picked up three penalties, but Mike Zimmer stuck with him to build mental toughness.
Welcome to the NFL, rookie!
Those are the type of barbs veteran players throw out at newbies when they’re new to the league and believe they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread. It has happened for years and will continue as long as the game is played.
For all the good things the Minnesota Vikings
defense displayed in their 14-3 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers
in the Hall of Fame Game Sunday night in Canton, Ohio, it was a debut that rookie Trae Waynes
would likely just as soon erase from his memory bank as soon as possible.
Unfortunately for him, head coach Mike Zimmer and his teammates likely won’t allow that to happen until he can redeem himself in the weeks, months and years to come.
The Vikings defense was oppressive most of the game, but the biggest plays the Steelers had on offense were both the result of mistakes by Waynes. With nine minutes remaining in the first half in a scoreless tie, Waynes was playing off coverage against Pittsburgh wide receiver Shakim Phillips
, an undrafted rookie with little pedigree for the NFL.
Whether he misread the route or didn’t respect Phillip’s ability to get past him, Phillips blew past Waynes in his transition from his backpedal and quarterback Landry Jones
connected with him for a 35-yard gain down to the Vikings 16-yard line – a completion that represented more than 25 percent of all the passing yards the Steelers would generate in the game.
Fortunately, the Vikings defense picked Waynes up and Pittsburgh’s drive died in the red zone, but it did result in a field goal, the only points the Vikings would allow all night.
On the very next drive, Waynes was called for a 38-yard pass interference penalty on a play in which he had position on fellow rookie Sammie Coates
, but, as the pass was coming down near the goal line, he grabbed Coates left wrist as he started to make a move to catch the ball.
You may get away with that in college, but in the NFL, it gets called 90 percent of the time or more.
“He’s just got to learn some of the technical things about the NFL,” Zimmer said. “But athletically and the type of kid he is, he’s going to be fine.”
Once again, Waynes’ teammates bailed him out by turning the ball over on downs when stopping Pittsburgh four times inside the 2-yard line to preserve the Vikings’ 7-3 lead and slamming the door on the Steelers from that point on.
For as strong a defensive effort as the Vikings put in, it will be a game Waynes might want to forget now, but one that he will look back on in the future as a point where he realized he has to step up his game to make an impact in the pros.
“What I wanted to do was not take him out. I wanted him to find out what kind of toughness he has when things like that happen and you have a couple penalties on you,” Zimmer said. “How are you going to fight back? How are you going to respond? I thought he did a nice job with those things.”
Welcome to the NFL, rookie!
Several Vikings rookies show well
GAME DAY NOTES
The first units of the Vikings did a solid job in the one series each of them saw. The defense got off the field with a three-and-out drive to start the game and the offense put together a 10-play drive on its only series. Had it been a regular season game, the Vikings likely would have kicked a field goal, but went on a fourth-and-long 1 from the 10-yard line that was snuffed out.
For what it’s worth, Mike Zimmer has never lost a preseason game as a head coach, improving his mark to 5-0 with Sunday’s win.
Teddy Bridgewater looked crisp in his debut, completing 5 of 6 passes for 44 yards and scrambling once for 6 yards before heading to the sidelines.
All of the Vikings’ quarterbacks were efficient. Aside from Bridgewater, Mike Kafka, who played in place of Shaun Hill, completed 7 of 10 passes for 66 yards and a touchdown. Taylor Heinicke also completed 7 of 10 passes, throwing for 51 yards and an interception that wasn’t his fault. He threw a perfect spiral to tight end Chase Ford, but he bobbled the ball and it fell into the arms of Pittsburgh’s Kevin Fogg.
If there was an award given to the Goat of the Game, it would surely go to Pittsburgh tight end Jesse James. Not only did he drop a sure touchdown on a fourth-down play, he bobbled another easy reception that resulted in a fumble that was recovered by Minnesota. Too add insult to injury, he was also called for two penalties.
The Vikings let just about anyone with an eligible number try to run the ball. Nine different players were credited with rushing attempts. Matt Asiata had the most yards with 30 on six carries. Joe Banyard had the most carries with seven, rushing for 22 yards and a touchdown that put away the game.
Eleven players caught at least one pass for the Vikings. Rookie tight end MyCole Pruitt was the big man of the night, catching four passes for 51 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown, in his debut.
“He had a couple nice catches. The guy is very fast,” Zimmer said. “He’s had great hands all camp. That showed up a couple times tonight, his hands, and I think he’s going to continue to get better.”
A couple of Vikings looking to crack the starting lineup of the defense teamed up to create one of the biggest plays of the game early, as linebacker Audie Cole forced a fumble and safety Antone Exum recovered it and returned it 32 yards.
“That’s kind of the thing Audie does is he knows where to be. He shows up,” Zimmer said. “He’s not real flashy with what he does, but he’s consistent and that’s a good thing.”
Norv Turner will likely give his offense an earful because they left points on the field in their first two drives. On the only drive with the starters, the team failed on a fourth-and-1 conversion from the Pittsburgh 10-yard line. On the second drive, they didn’t take advantage of the Cole/Exum turnover, as Blair Walsh pushed a field goal wide right.
With the Steelers opting to keep Ben Roethlisberger out of action and backup Bruce Gradkowski sidelined due to injury, third-string QB Landry Jones played the entire game, completing 16 of 32 passes for just 135 yards. While pedestrian numbers at best, in the second half he completed just 6 of 14 passes for 33 yards with his team trailing the entire time, which usually inflates passing numbers.
Shamar Stephen had an impressive debut, recording five tackles, including a sack. Tom Johnson was disruptive as well. He finished with just two tackles, but had a sack and blew up a handful of plays during his time on the field.
Stefon Diggs made a case to challenge Marcus Sherels for the team’s punt return spot. One of the talkers of training camp, Diggs brought a punt back 62 yards to the Steelers 1-yard line in the third quarter that led to the Banyard touchdown that proved to be the final points of the game.
The game was dominated on both ends by defense. The teams combined for just 26 first downs – 12 by Pittsburgh and 14 by Minnesota.
With that low of a first-down total, it came as no surprise that both teams stunk it up on third-down conversions. The Steelers made good on just 4 of 15 third downs (26 percent), but the Vikings were worse, converting on just 23 percent (3 of 13).
Steelers punter Brad Wing is facing a challenge in training camp for his job and seems a little ticked off about. In the two punts he had Sunday night, they went for 62 and 58 yards. Those kind of numbers keep you on the roster.
The Steelers had to be pleased with their defensive effort – they allowed one legitimate touchdown drive. What is different about Pittsburgh’s defense this year is that it is without longtime defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. Keith Butler, who spent 11 years under LeBeau as the defensive line coach, was making his coordinator debut Sunday.
In the Vikings’ goal-line stand, the Steelers picked out Jabari Price as a target, throwing his way twice on sideline passes, only to have both of them go incomplete.
In a special teams coach’s nightmare scenario, the Steelers were in a pinch the entire second half if a field goal was needed. Kicker Shaun Suisham, the only kicker on the Pittsburgh roster, suffered a leg injury in coverage of the opening kickoff of the second half and wouldn’t have been available for field goals or extra points, which likely would have forced the Steelers to go for two points on a touchdown and likely eschew field goals.
The Vikings now have a record of 145-96-3 in 244 preseason games.
The Vikings have finished below .500 in just 13 of 54 preseasons.
There were plenty of reunions Sunday night. Vikings running backs coach Kirby Wilson served as running backs coach in Pittsburgh from 2007-13 on the staff of Mike Tomlin, who was the Vikings’ defensive coordinator prior to taking the head coaching job with the Steelers. Steelers running backs coach James Saxon had the same job with the Vikings from 2011-13, which including Adrian Peterson’s MVP season.
For the second straight time, the Vikings and Steelers met on a neutral site. The last time they met was in 2013, when the Vikings beat the Steelers 34-27 at Wembley Stadium in London.
The Steelers held QBs Ben Roethlisberger and Bruce Gradkowski, RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown.
The Vikings didn’t play QB Shaun Hill, RB Adrian Peterson and FB Zach Line. LB Anthony Barr, DT B.J. Dubose, OL David Yankey, OL Joe Berger, WR Gavin Lutman, CB Josh Robinson and DE Scott Crichton did not make the trip because of injuries.