The Vikings defense was tested early with the Titans’ running back duo of rookie Derrick Henry and DeMarco Murray, surrendering two first downs, but stiffened on time to keep Tennessee out of scoring position.
However, when the Vikings went three-and-out on their first drive, the field position advantage went to the Titans, who took advantage of a short pass play that Henry turned into a 29-yard gain with several missed tackles. That put the Titans in field goal position and Ryan Succop gave them the first points of the game with a 28-yard field goal.
The Vikings’ second drive was more efficient to start, with Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph leading the team into the red zone, but two negative runs by Adrian Peterson and a holding call against Andre Smith forced a field goal attempt, one that Blair Walsh shot wide left from 37 yards out.
After trading punts, the Titans got on a roll again. Tajae Sharpe and Harry Douglas got first downs on receptions of 12 and 16 yards, putting Tennessee in scoring position. Sharpe picked up another first down with an 8-yard reception on third-and-8 and Murray caught a 14-yard pass over Everson Griffen on third-and-10. Two plays later, Murray hurdled into the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown and the Titans had a 10-0 lead with 41 seconds to play.
Shaun Hill gave the Vikings a chance with a 13-yard pass to Diggs and a 21-yarder to Kyle Rudolph. But from 56 yards out, Blair Walsh yanked another kick left that wasn’t even close and the Vikings trailed 10-0 at the half.
Adrian Peterson had only 20 yards on nine carries for the Vikings, with Hill going 11-for-19 for 124 yards. Rudolph had 47 yards on three catches and Diggs had 46 on four receptions in the first half.
Cordarrelle Patterson gave the Vikings a spark to start the second half with a 61-yard kickoff return, and this time Walsh made good on an attempt. He hit from 50 yards out and Minnesota cut the lead to 10-3 only 64 seconds into the second half.
The Vikings forced their first-and-three out of the game, and completions of 15, 14 and 10 yards to Thielen and Diggs started them on a drive into Titans territory. Patterson picked up a first down on an end around and Walsh hit his second field goal to pull the Vikings within four points at 10-6.
The defense did it on the next possession. As the Titans drove into Minnesota territory, Everson Griffen pressured Mariota and he floated a pass that Eric Kendricks intercepted and returned 77 yards for a touchdown to give the Vikings their first lead of the game, 12-10, after Walsh missed the extra point.
The defensive resurgence continued in the fourth quarter. The Vikings forced another Tennessee three-and-out and Hill converted third downs with passes of 16 yards to Thielen and 18 yards to Rudolph before Walsh was called upon for a 45-yard field goal that he hit for a 15-10 lead with 11:17 to play.
On the first play of Tennessee’s next possession, Mariota botched a handoff and Danielle Hunter scooped up the ball and ran 25 yards for a touchdown and a 22-10 Minnesota lead.
The defense forced another turnover when Linval Joseph stripped Murray of the ball and Andrew Sendejo recovered. The Vikings couldn’t capitalize on that drive, but forced another Titans three-and-out thanks to a 10-yard sack by Hunter.
That helped give them good field position and Hill put them in scoring position with a 33-yard pass to Diggs to the 16-yard line. From there, the Vikings milked the clock and settled for a 30-yard field and a 25-10 lead with 2:36 to play.
The Titans drove down the field in 2:08, capped with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Murray to pull within nine points with 28 seconds left, but they elected to go for the two-point conversion and failed, essentially ending all hope, even if they recovered the onside kick. It turned out Rudolph recovered and the Vikings came away with the nine-point win, 25-16.
Despite Peterson being held to 31 yards on 19 carries, the offense survived with Hill completing 18 of 33 passes for 236 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. Diggs led all receivers with seven catches for 103 yards and Rudolph chipped in 65 yards on four catches.
But, mostly, it was a second-half defense that forced three turnovers and scored two touchdowns that was the difference in the team starting the season with a win.
RHODES, WRIGHT INACTIVE
The Vikings have made CB Xavier Rhodes and WR Jarius Wright inactive for the opening game of the 2016 season against the Tennessee Titans.
Rhodes was downgraded to questionable on Sunday morning with a knee injury, and CB Trae Waynes will start for Rhodes.
Wright was a healthy scratch on Sunday after falling down the depth chart this offseason. The five receivers that are active are Charles Johnson, Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Laquon Treadwell and Cordarrelle Patterson.
Inactive for the Titans are QB Alex Tanney, WR Kendall Wright, CB LeShaun Sims, OLB Aaron Wallace, G Sebastian Tretola, OL Josh Kline and TE Jace Amaro.
Minnesota Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes has been downgraded to questionable on Sunday morning because of a knee injury. Rhodes had participated fully in Friday’s practice and was listed with a hamstring injury throughout the week. However, the knee injury may have cropped up Saturday.
In the NFL’s new injury reporting protocol, the designation of “probable” has been eliminated in 2016 and therefore Rhodes wasn’t even given a playing status on Friday’s injury report, meaning the team fully expected him to play.