MINNEAPOLIS (AP)Facing a third-and-7 and with a chance to even the score early Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins looked to one of his favorite targets, tight end T.J. Hockenson.
Cousins’ throw was high, going off Hockenson’s hands, and Minnesota had to settle for a field goal in the 27-20 loss. The throw was off and Hockenson wasn’t at the correct depth in his route, coach Kevin O’Connell explained later.
“Can we just be a little tighter with that throw?” O’Connell said. “Could T.J. be a little tighter on the route? Third-and-7 right there, it’s an 8-yard route. I think it ended up being right around 10 or 11 yards on the target right there.
“So, can we just tighten everything up just a little bit more? That kind of goes in line with can we just do a little more? Do it a little bit cleaner. Do it a little bit better. A little bit more detail? A little bit more urgency on everything we do, and it starts with me and I’m going to be driving that minute to minute here.”
Not much went wrong for O’Connell and the Vikings last year when they finished 13-4 in his first season and went a record 11-0 in games decided by one score. Minnesota (1-4) has already equaled the number of losses it had in 2022 – all of them one-score defeats. A big reason has been miscues from an offense that returned nearly every starter.
Last season, Minnesota’s offense was seventh in the league in yards per game (361.5) and eighth in scoring (24.9 points). While the yardage this season is similar (ninth at 362.4 per game), the Vikings are scoring 22 points per game, which is 16th in the league.
Minnesota has a league-high 12 giveaways.
“Minus-9 on the turnover differential, which is saying something, knowing we lost to four teams that were in the playoffs last year,” O’Connell said. “We have to stop giving away the football.”
On Sunday against Kansas City, there were also dropped passes and Cousins said he was sailing the ball on many throws.
“I felt like it was consistently high and I don’t have a great answer for that,” Cousins said. “But I felt that it was showing up and yeah, maybe catchable, but it shouldn’t be that hard on (Hockenson). The ball needs to be right in their chest. I was frustrated by that. It was early and I thought, ‘We’ll settle in,’ and I felt as the game went on it was still that way.”
Minnesota was 4 of 5 on fourth-down plays on Sunday and has converted 72.7% of fourth downs this season, which is the fifth-best mark in the NFL. Included in Sunday’s success was a fake punt in which safety Josh Metellus took a direct snap and handed off to running back Ty Chandler on a reverse.
“That was a sweet play by them,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “So, we had a pretty good idea they were going to fake it but did a little reverse, double-double there and they got us.”
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Turnovers have contributed to slow starts all season.
Minnesota has been outscored 27-3 in the first quarter. Six of the team’s turnovers have come in the opening quarter, including three times on the Vikings’ first drive. Tight end Josh Oliver had a 15-yard catch-and-run on the first play Sunday but lost a fumble at the end of the play.
One of the few changes to the offense came at receiver, where K.J. Osborn stepped into a starting role in place of Adam Thielen. The team also drafted Jordan Addison in the first round.
With All-Pro receiver Justin Jefferson dealing with a hamstring injury, Addison could take on an even bigger role. The 21-year-old, who was drafted 23rd overall out of USC, scored his third touchdown of the season on Sunday. He has 19 catches for 249 yards.
“Jordan’s the real deal,” Cousins said after the game. “We hit on that draft pick.”
The other change to the offensive starting unit was Alexander Mattison taking over at running back for Dalvin Cook.
Minnesota hasn’t been able to get much of a running game going this season, though, and after two games of rushing for at least 93 yards, Mattison had eight carries for 26 yards against the Chiefs. He also had a critical drop late in the game.
Jefferson’s status will be watched after he left Sunday’s game in the fourth quarter. Cornerback Akayleb Evans is dealing with a leg contusion. O’Connell also said the team might need to “make a roster move” with backup quarterback Nick Mullens, who wasn’t active on Sunday because of a low back injury
2,014 – Completions for Cousins in his six seasons in Minnesota, surpassing Tommy Kramer (2,011) for the second most in team history behind Fran Tarkenton (2,635).
The defending NFC North champions face their first divisional opponent of the season when they play at Chicago on Sunday.
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