EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Holding an opponent without a touchdown, a road win and a Gatorade bath for a coach — yes, things were different for the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
There was a bit of familiar circumstances too — Hello, Cordarrelle Patterson — as Minnesota opened its 2014 season with a 34-6 victory at St. Louis to give new coach Mike Zimmer the first real win on his head coaching record. Zimmer’s influence helped the Vikings to a big win and Patterson gave his coach the celebratory shower as the seconds ticked down in Minnesota’s win.
Here’s what we learned from the first regular-season game and victory for Zimmer’s Vikings.
Patterson might get away with showering Zimmer with the Gatorade tub. Patterson began this season the way he ended last year, scoring touchdowns and being a versatile threat. Patterson had 128 total yards and scored a touchdown for the sixth straight regular-season game. The big blow, and perhaps the backbreaker for St. Louis, was a 67-yard touchdown run.
Patterson, the second-year wide receiver, lined up in the backfield and followed running back Matt Asiata’s lead back in bursting through the right side of the defense. Patterson weaved his way through the Rams and broke four tackles on his way to the end zone. One of the league’s most dynamic kickoff returners, Patterson again demonstrated his open-field running ability.
Patterson finished with three carries for 102 yards, setting team records for rushing yards in game by a receiver, longest run by a receiver and tying Percy Harvin’s team record with four rushing touchdowns. Patterson was also targeted five times by quarterback Matt Cassel, catching three passes for 26 yards.
Patterson said this week that teams can’t game plan to stop him because of the other pieces of Minnesota’s offense. He might force opponents to worry about him as he continues his breakout in the NFL.
St. Louis was without starting quarterback Sam Bradford and lost second-stringer Shaun Hill to an injury. But the Vikings defense looked revitalized under Zimmer’s tutelage. Minnesota allowed the most points in the league last year and the second-most yards. Only four teams had fewer takeaways than the Vikings last year.
Minnesota will face tougher offenses this season but was opportunistic on Sunday. The Vikings, after allowing 30 points per game last season, held the Rams without a touchdown and to just six points. St. Louis’ second field goal came with 1 minute, 31 seconds left.
Josh Robinson and Harrison Smith had interceptions. Smith returned his interception for a touchdown. Robinson’s interception helped set up Minnesota’s first touchdown at the end of the first half. Smith is back to lead the secondary after missing eight games with a foot injury last season. His presence makes a big difference. Smith added a tackle for loss, a pass deflection and a sack.
Everson Griffen, now a starter at defensive end, had two sacks to lead the team’s five-sack performance in constantly harassing the Rams quarterbacks. New tackles Linval Joseph and Tom Johnson had sacks. Rookie Anthony Barr and new starting safety Robert Blanton led the team with seven tackles apiece.
Robinson’s interception was an athletic move in which he went high for a pass, jumping in front of the receiver and toe-tapping at the sideline to remain in bounds. Robinson also provided good coverage as the team’s third cornerback, who saw more action with cornerback Xavier Rhodes dealing with a groin injury.
Robinson’s past has been well-documented and he’s received plenty of criticism. Robinson was a mess last season as one of the starting cornerbacks, struggling with moving inside in the nickel and also having trouble on the outside. Much maligned, Robinson is hoping for a revival with Zimmer and new defensive backs coach Jerry Gray. He’s still athletic and was a third-round draft pick just two years ago.
Robinson doesn’t have as much responsibility as last season with Rhodes continuing to come along in his second year and the team signing Captain Munnerlyn. But Robinson will be important to the defense as the third cornerback. He dealt with injuries in the preseason — and hobbled off late in the game Sunday — but has a chance to prove himself to Zimmer.
Minnesota went on the road and came away with a victory. The Vikings’ last road win was Dec. 23, 2012. Minnesota lost each of its eight road games last season. Sunday’s win snapped a nine-game road losing streak, including the 2012 playoff loss at Green Bay.
The crowd was loud early in the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, with the Rams opening the season at home and believing in the potential of the season. St. Louis’ defense was active early. But in the end, the Vikings did what’s needed to win on the road. After a sloppy first half, Minnesota cleaned up penalties, avoided turnovers and won the turnover-margin, played strong defense and ran the ball.
Sunday was our first glimpse at running back Adrian Peterson in coordinator Norv Turner’s offense. Patterson stole the show offensively. Peterson was the workhorse. He had 21 carries for 75 yards. The Rams’ defensive line provided a challenge for Minnesota’s offensive line and Peterson was hit in the backfield several times.
Peterson was able to get going a few times and had a long carry of 17 yards. But it wasn’t the explosive Peterson seen from the past. There were just not as many holes for Peterson, who had to work for his yardage many times. Credit the St. Louis defense for keeping Peterson in check.
Peterson did have a role in the passing game a bit too, as promised by Turner. Peterson was targeted three times and caught two passes for 18 yards. One 9-yard reception by Peterson helped set-up the Vikings’ first touchdown in the first half.