MINNEAPOLIS — The Vikings set the tone for their 28-12 season-opening victory over Atlanta on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium on the very first series.
The Vikings won the toss, elected to defer and then forced the Falcons into a three-and-out. Atlanta’s Matt Bosher attempted to punt from his own 33-yard line, but Vikings backup linebacker Eric Wilson blocked and recovered the punt at the Falcons 21.
Two plays later, the Vikings had a 7-0 lead as Kirk Cousins found Adam Thielen on a 23-yard touchdown pass. It was the Vikings’ first blocked punt since Jasper Brinkley had one against Carolina on Nov. 30, 2014, and made Wilson the first Vikings player to block a punt in a season-opener. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said Wilson blocking the punt was really about “mentality” more than anything.
“Wilson brings it each and every time,” Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen said. “The special teams did great running to the ball and hustling. We need to keep it up and it is the first game so we can’t get ahead of ourselves. We just need to keep on going out there and executing day in and day out.”
Zimmer decided to take advantage of the new NFL rule that allows a coach to challenge a pass interference call when he asked referee Bill Vinovich’s crew to take a look at a pass interference flag thrown on cornerback Trae Waynes.
Waynes actually was called for two penalties on a play in which Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan attempted to find wide receiver Calvin Ridley for a touchdown. On third-and-9 from the Vikings’ 28-yard line, Waynes was called for illegal use of hands and pass interference. The Falcons declined the former and took the latter.
Zimmer’s goal was for the call to be overturned, meaning the first penalty would have been called but the second, which put the ball on the Vikings’ 2-yard line, would have been nullified. The challenge proved unsuccessful as the call was upheld.
“They never got the replay from behind because of the number of cameras that were here today, so the one I was seeing in the stadium was not the same one that they were looking at (from television),” Zimmer said. “I don’t know. I figure it’s worth a shot to get them back to the 20 yard line. … Some of the players said ‘why did you do that?’ They really didn’t, but I know they were thinking it.”
Two plays later Ryan’s pass into the end zone for tight end Luke Stocker was picked off by Anthony Harris.
Zimmer did win a challenge in the first quarter. He threw the flag after Cousins was sacked for a 9-yard loss and appeared to lose a fumble. Zimmer felt Cousins’ arm was moving forward and that it should have been called an incomplete pass. The call was reversed and instead of facing a 2-and-19 from the Atlanta 28, it was second-and-10 from the Falcons 19. Cook scored on a 19-yard run on the next play.
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
Mackensie Alexander, who plays on a regular basis as the Vikings’ nickel corner, suffered an elbow injury late in the second quarter and did not return. Zimmer said Alexander will undergo an MRI on Monday to determine the extent of the injury.
Alexander’s departure created an opportunity for safety Jayron Kearse to play in the nickel. That put three safeties on the field with starters Harrison Smith and Harris remaining in the game. Zimmer said Kearse was going to play more because Falcons wide receiver Mohamed Sanu is 6-foot-2, 210 pounds and Kearse was a good matchup at 6-4, 215.
“Sanu is a big, physical receiver so we kind of planned on him (Kearse) playing some today anyway because of the matchup that we thought we might have,” Zimmer said. “But Jayron has been doing a nice job and hopefully we can keep getting him more looks and plays in there.”
KIRK’S TOUCHDOWN DANCE
Cousins scored on a 1-yard sneak in the second quarter to give the Vikings a 21-0 lead and then celebrated with this dance.
The Kirk Cousins "Dad Dance" is back and better than ever! pic.twitter.com/OL2E6MpwaQ
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) September 8, 2019
“That’s kind of an inside joke between an old buddy/friend/teammate Tom Compton,” Cousins said of his former teammate who started at guard for the Vikings last season. “I texted him saying, ‘See if you can find a video of that. I think you’re going to like it.’ And I told the guys again in the locker room, if I scored today, I was going to do it. So they were ready for it, and that was just fun, having a good time, enjoying playing.”
Said Vikings running back Dalvin Cook: “I was right there with him. We just do our thing. Kirk is kind of like the football dad on this team. We love seeing him show his personality. It gets the whole team hyped.”
TOO MANY FLAGS
It was difficult for Zimmer to find much to be upset about on Sunday, but he wasn’t happy with the fact the Vikings were called for 11 penalties for 100 yards. It started on the Vikings’ first play from scrimmage when tight end Kyle Rudolph was called for holding after Cook had a 13-yard run.
“I was not very happy about it,” Zimmer said of the penalties. “I’m going to harp on it pretty good this week and hopefully it cleans it up. We had two hands to the face (illegal use of hands) on the last drive. You do that, the other team’s going to score points, and they did. We have to eliminate those things.”
The Falcons were called for nine penalties for 78 yards.
TIDBITS IN TIDBITS
The Falcons are the eighth team the Vikings have beaten 20 times. Minnesota is now 20-11 against Atlanta, including 12-4 at home. … Zimmer is 5-1 in season openers as the Vikings coach with his only loss being a 20-3 defeat in 2015 in San Francisco. … Harrison Smith became only the fifth Vikings safety to play in 100 career games and only the second free safety. Paul Krause played in 171 games from 1968 to 1979.