While it remains unknown what the future – short-term and long-term – will be for the Minnesota Vikings quarterback position, head coach Mike Zimmer made the call last Thursday that, for the season opener against the Tennessee Titans anyways, veteran Shaun Hill was going to get the call.
While his numbers don’t jump off the page – completing 18 of 33 passes for 236 yards with no touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 77.3 – he did everything that was asked of him and made plays down the field to keep drives alive on a day when Tennessee was selling out completely to stop the run.
Although it didn’t result in any offensive touchdowns, the Vikings scored points on offense in four of their five drives in the second half to earn a 25-16 win.
Hill credited head coach Mike Zimmer with his approach to coaching the game and cited that philosophy as part of the reason why the Vikings never panicked after falling behind 10-0 at halftime.
“We all understand what it takes to win in this league,” Hill said. “I understand how this team is built, having gone through a year with this team. There’s certainly a way to win in this league and a way to lose. Coach Zimmer does a great job of preaching how to win and teaching how to win. With all the different scenarios that can come up in a ballgame, we start that the first week of OTAs.”
There was the perception that Hill would be asked to throw short, safe passes, yet he averaged 13 yards per reception and 12 of his 18 completions went for 10 yards or more.
Hill stood tall in the pocket despite players flying around him. He absorbed his share of big hits, but was never sacked, and delivered most of his passes right on target.
Equally impressive was how he spread the ball around. Stefon Diggs was the primary big-play guy, catching seven passes for 103 yards, but both Kyle Rudolph and Adam Thielen caught four passes and each had key third-down receptions to extend drives.
From the viewpoint of a veteran quarterback being asked to put the team in position to win the game and not make the plays that would lose it – something that Marcus Mariota couldn’t say from the other sideline – Hill did everything he needed to do to give Minnesota the best chance of winning.
Where things go from here remains uncertain. There is a sentiment that Sam Bradford will take over next week, but Hill said all he can control are those things within his power, which he did like a wily old veteran on Sunday.
“I did what I came here to do and that was to be one-53rd part of getting a ‘W’,” Hill said. “That was it, to be honest with you – on the players’ side. Obviously there are more pieces than just the players. From what happens after (today), it’s not up to me. I’m just going to continue to be the same guy every single day no matter what.”
GAME DAY NOTES
- Xavier Rhodes was a late scratch after what Mike Zimmer described as a “pop” in his knee while stretching. He was replaced in the starting lineup by Trae Waynes, who finished with a team-high 10 tackles.
- After an anemic first half, the Vikings outscored the Titans 25-0 before allowing a meaningless touchdown with 28 seconds to play.
- The Vikings dominated two big categories defensively – sacks and turnovers. Tennessee had three turnovers and Mariota was sacked twice (by Linval Joseph and Danielle Hunter). Hill was not sacked and didn’t turn the ball over.
- The Titans committed to stopping Adrian Peterson, who had just 31 yards on 19 carries. Peterson hasn’t had a 100-yard rushing game in a season-opening game since 2009.
- While Peterson wasn’t happy with his performance, he said the Titans were constantly shooting the running lane gaps. The win was what mattered to him, saying, “Any time you come off the field with a W, you have to be happy.”
- The Vikings defense did an excellent job of shutting down the Tennessee running back tandem of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. The two combined to rush just 18 times for 45 yards.
- Neither team could generate anything on the ground. The Vikings averaged just 2.3 yards a carry (28 carries, 65 yards), while Tennessee averaged just 2.9 yards (22-64).
- Diggs tied a career best with 103 receiving yards.
- Tennessee rookie Tajae Sharpe led Titans receivers with seven catches for 76 yards, while 2015 leading receiver Delanie Walker had just three catches for 42 yards – two of those catches coming on Tennessee’s final drive.
- Cordarrelle Patterson had just one chance to return a kickoff and it was a 61-yarder that started the shift in momentum the second half.
- Both teams were above average on converting third downs. The Vikings made good on 43 percent (6 of 14) of their chances. Zimmer won’t be happy with his defensive number, since Tennessee converted 57 percent of its chances on third down (8 of 14).
- The Vikings gained 301 yards of offense – 150 in the first half and 151 in the second half. Tennessee had 316 yards—194 in the first half and 122 in the second half.
- Of the Vikings’ 28 rushing attempts, seven of them were for lost yardage.
- Blair Walsh had an erratic day. He missed two field goals in the first half – one of the misses coming after a timeout in which he missed that attempt as well – and missed an extra point. After the game, Zimmer gave Walsh a vote of confidence that he is their kicker going forward despite his struggles.
- There were only five accepted penalties in the game – three on the Vikings and two on the Titans.
- The Vikings got in the red zone three times Sunday but didn’t score any touchdowns.
- Of their seven drives in the second half, Tennessee had three plays or less on five of them and the longest drive they had came against a prevent defense in the final two minutes.
- Tennessee had just one drive in the second half of more than two minutes and 26 seconds.
- Tennessee won the time of possession battle, but the Vikings held the ball for 10:10 of the final 15 minutes.
- First-round pick Laquon Treadwell was active for the game but did not play.
- Everyone on the Titans roster saw action Sunday with the exception of backup quarterback Matt Cassel.
- Jarius Wright was a healthy inactive.
- The Vikings tried a little trickery in the second half on a punt return. Marcus Sherels fielded the punt, but gave it to Patterson on a reverse for a modest gain.
- For some reason, on their late touchdown Tennessee decided to go for two points instead of kicking the extra point. When the pass failed, the Titans remained two scores behind with 28 seconds left and rendered any comeback attempt moot.
- Late in the game, with many of the Titans’ fans either leaving the stadium or sitting on their hands, a loud chant of “Let’s go Vikings!” started in the crowd and could be heard by Minnesota players on the sideline.
- The Titans chose to have the Vikings wear purple on the road given the temperatures – which was 80 degrees in the second half – on a very humid day to boot.
- In one of the more painful moments of the day, crooner Billy Ray Cyrus, who still rocks an impressive mullet, “sang” the National Anthem.