At a time when many of the Minnesota Vikings starters either didn’t play or played very sparingly, the draft class of 2016 made more than its share of plays in Minnesota’s 17-16 win over the Cincinnati Bengals Friday night at Paul Brown Stadium.
From top to bottom, Minnesota’s victory was predicated on plays made by the Class of 2016.
Nobody caught more passes than the four Laquon Treadwell pulled in. The first-round draft pick’a first catch was an 18-yarder in the final seconds of the first half that got the Vikings close enough for Blair Walsh to (barely) make a 51-yard field goal that bounced off the crossbar and went in for a field goal. Treadwell’s other three receptions all came in the drive that led to Minnesota’s only second-half touchdown.
Second-round cornerback Mackensie Alexander made an imprint on the game as well. He had two tackles, two passes defensed and, on the first play of the fourth quarter, made an interception that was a highlight film play – jumping a route, and chasing down the tipped pass to make a diving catch to turn the ball over. It was the type of play that typically changes the complexion of a game.
Linebacker Kentrell Brothers saw a lot of action, but his contribution to the game came on what, at the time, was the most important play of the game. In the 22nd play of a death march of a drive being engineered by A.J. McCarron, Brothers made what would likely be voted one of (if not the most) important plays of the game.
Cincinnati had driven from its own 7-yard line to the Minnesota 3-yard line and, faced with a fourth-and-1 play from the Vikings 3, running back Cedric Peerman got a handoff and was stuffed in the hole by Brothers and taken down when Danielle Hunter glided in to help push Peerman back. Despite a series that bled out almost all of the final 10 minutes of the first quarter and the first few minutes of the second, Brothers’ play kept the game scoreless, setting up the Vikings offense for a scoring drive that ensued.
The last of the Vikings draft class, safety Jayron Kearse, had the kill-shot moment of the game. He finished second on the team in tackles with five (four solo). With a little more than a minute to play and Cincinnati facing a desperation fourth-down Hail Mary to keep the game alive, Kearse won a jump-ball interception to seal the deal.
The Vikings expect contributions from their rookie draft class, but the reality is that most of the rookies will be part-time players at best once the bullets start flying for real in the regular season.
But, in the pro debuts, a case can be made that the Class of 2016 carried the day in putting the Vikings over the top in Mike Zimmer’s old stomping grounds.
GAME NIGHT NOTES
- It was the story of two games Friday night – what happened in the first 17½ minutes and what happened after it. The Bengals out-gained the Vikings 339-274, but, at one point, Cincinnati had an edge of 133-1.
- Cincinnati ran 66 plays – 33 in their first two drives and 33 in the final 42½ minutes.
- The Bengals won the time-of-possession battle with a 31:29 to 28:31 advantage. But, considering that early in the second quarter the disparity was a whopping 16:12 to 1:16, to get it back to being as close as it was at the end was quite an achievement for the Vikings.
- The Vikings got in the red zone just once and sealed the deal. Cincinnati got in the red zone three times, but came away with just one touchdown.
- Both teams committed just five penalties, pretty impressive for a first preseason game with so many players going in and out. But two of the Vikings penalties were the direct result of rules changes or points of emphasis. Matt Kalil was called for a chop block, which was modified prior to the start of the season, and MyCole Pruitt was flagged for a horse-collar tackle, despite not having one in the classic sense, but a penalty under the new rules changes in the judgement of the officials.
- You couldn’t have asked much more from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. He completed six of seven passes for 92 yards and a touchdown, posting a perfect QB rating of 158.3.
- On his second drive after an ugly three-and-out on the first drive, Bridgewater led the Vikings on a 10-play, 96-yard drive. It’s hard to imagine that two teams have ever put together consecutive drives that included 32 plays that covered 185 yards and elapsed 19 minutes, five seconds off the clock.
- The Vikings’ touchdown drive likely wouldn’t have happened without an individual effort from Jerick McKinnon. With the Vikings calling a sweep left from the 2-yard line, McKinnon was stopped in his tracks six yards into the end zone, but changed direction and turned what looked to be a safety into a 10-yard gain and a manageable third-and-2 situation that was converted and led to the touchdown that followed.
- As a team, the Vikings completed 20 of 27 passes for 218 yards with one touchdown and one interception, finishing with a team passer rating of 94.7.
- Andy Dalton and A.J. McCarron combined to completed 15 of 21 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown.
- Undrafted rookie C.J. Ham led all rushers with 12 attempts, gaining 35 yards and scoring a 10-yard touchdown late in the third quarter that gave the Vikings a 17-7 lead.
- The Bengals ran the ball 28 times for 90 yards, just a 3.2-yard average. But that outdistanced the Vikings, who ran 25 times for just 56 yards – a paltry 2.2-yard average.
- Charles Johnson led all receivers with 49 receiving yards and it all came on a bomb for a touchdown in the second quarter. Rashaun Simonise led the Bengals with 47 yards and Tyler Boyd was second with 40 yards – both coming on a single reception.
- A total of 26 players caught passes Friday night – 14 by the Bengals and 12 by the Vikings.
- Emmanuel Lamur, the linebacker who played for Mike Zimmer in Cincinnati, led all defenders with eight tackles (six solos).
- The Vikings pride themselves on their special teams, but Zimmer was angry after the game that Cincinnati’s Alex Erickson returned a punt 80 yards for a touchdown. While there were plenty of missed tackles on the play, what made it a problem in Zimmer’s mind was punter Jeff Locke bombed a 61-yard punt – too far for his coverage team to get to before Erickson had a chance to assess the field on his return and pick up blocking. Some teams believe in unleashing their punter to drive kicks as far as he can, but the Vikings prefer punts that are very high and allow the coverage team to surround the returner before he has a chance to do any damage.
- Locke averaged 47 yards on six punts Friday.
- Walsh's first field goal attempt of 2016 was more than successful. He hit a 51-yard field goal before halftime that landed on the crossbar and bounced over to give the Vikings a 10-7 halftime lead, scoring on a drive that started with just 47 seconds left in the half.
- Antone Exum made a statement in the final two minutes of the game, coming clean on a safety blitz for a sack that would force Cincinnati to attempt a last-minute Hail Mary pass.
- A large number of Vikings didn’t play Friday, including Adrian Peterson, Sharrif Floyd, Eric Kendricks, Terence Newman, Brandon Fusco, Captain Munnerlyn, Jarius Wright, Cordarrelle Patterson, Scott Crichton, Edmond Robinson, Melvin White, Marcus Sherels, Anthony Harris, Brandon Watts and Claudell Louis.
- If there was a MVP award to hand out in the game, it should go to Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis. When an improbable 80-yard punt return for a touchdown appeared to tie the game with four minutes left, Lewis opted to go for the two-point conversion to avoid the potential for a preseason overtime game – an admirable act by a coach thinking about the safety of players on both sidelines.