Joe Banyard. Charles Johnson. Shamar Stephen.
Three names the Vikings didn’t exactly think they’d rely on in a game but, nevertheless, played important roles in 24-21 loss to the Packers on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium.
Johnson and Stephen both made their first career starts at wide receiver and defensive tackle. Johnson started over wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and had a team-high 11 targets. The Packers seventh round pick in 2013 finished with three receptions for 52 yards and his first career touchdown reception, a 22-yard pass from rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
“It was exciting,” Johnson said. “The team that drafted me I got my first catch on (in Week 5) and now I got my first touchdown on and my first start. It was pretty exciting for me but kind of overshadowed now that we lost.
“I know what type of player I can be, I know what type of player I am,” Johnson said. “It’s just all about opportunity. Hard work makes opportunity and creates your own success.”
Stephen replaced defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who was out with a knee injury, at the three-technique spot. The seventh rounder played a bigger role, rotating with defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Tom Johnson at the nose and three-technique positions.
“It was pretty good and exciting trying to come out trying to play my best,” Stephen said. “Just doing my job and just commit to our gameplan; keying in on my fundamentals and technique.”
Banyard didn’t start and really didn’t know what his role would be with the Vikings acquiring running back Ben Tate off waivers from the Browns on Wednesday. The second-year running back however served as rookie running back Jerick McKinnon’s backup over Tate, who did not play.
Banyard finished with five carries for 26 yards and three catches for 19 yards, flashing some of the potential he displayed during the preseason.
“Collectively, we see ourselves as one group,” Banyard said of the running backs. “So we don’t really see ourselves as individuals. When the next guy is called up, we just try to encourage each other and make sure we stay on par. It doesn’t really affect anything because we all practice together.”
You might have noticed that Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater looked very much like a jittery rookie quarterback in the first half of Sunday’s 24-21 loss to the Packers at TCF Bank Stadium.
His throws were sailing or bouncing or, in once case, being picked off and used to set up a Packers touchdown and a 14-7 lead. For the first half, Bridgewater completed 11 of 22 passes for 122 yards, one touchdown and one interception. In the second half, he completed 10 of 15 passes for 88 yards, one touchdown, a two-point conversion and no interceptions.
So, what gives about the slow starts, Teddy?
“Coming into this game, I wasn’t able to play the first time we played the Green Bay Packers,” said Bridgewater, referring to the 42-10 debacle he missed because of a sprained ankle back on Oct. 2. “I was trying to get a feel for this rivalry. Now I know what it’s about.
“I was just very excited about being able to play the Green Bay Packers for the first time. I just have to settle down and remain poised and let the game come to me. We have a great group of guys here who will pull me to the side. Or [quarterbacks] Coach Scott Turner, who is on the sideline with me. He just tells me consistently throughout the game, ‘You’re going to have some ups and downs, but just keep fighting.’”
That’s a long way around saying he was nervous to start the game.
Vikings right tackle Phil Loadholt and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson both dealt with injuries in the 24-21 loss to the Packers on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said Loadholt will have an MRI on his left shoulder after suffering the injury with six minutes left on the Vikings’ final offensive possession. He kept moving around his shoulder, attempting to loosen it up, before he was replaced by Mike Harris at right tackle.
Loadholt declined to comment after the game about the injury.
Patterson suffered a knee and ankle injury after a 42-yard kickoff return with 2:41 left in the third quarter. It was his longest return of the season, but Patterson was tackled from behind by safety Morgan Burnett.
The wide receiver was listed as questionable but returned on the team’s final drive.
“It was the fourth quarter and the trainer told me if I could go, then go,” Patterson said. “Just go out there and finish the game, and we’ll talk about it later. I felt like I needed to be out there to try and help the team out, so I got back out there.”
Each of the Vikings’ seven losses this season has followed a fairly familiar script. Though the final scores and margins have varied, there have been several consistencies throughout.
Minnesota has scored 21 points or fewer in all seven, and allowed 24 points or fewer in five of the seven games. Here, then, is a choose-your-own-misadventure style recap of those seven games, including Sunday’s by-the-book 24-21 loss to the Packers:
It was a game in which the Vikings (had their chances to gain momentum early/had a chance to win at the end), but Minnesota ultimately came up short.
On offense, there were plenty of culprits. Quarterback (Matt Cassel/Christian Ponder/Teddy Bridgewater) had a hard time establishing consistency in the passing game, and the Vikings were held shy of 200 yards net yards passing for the game.
(Cassel/Ponder/Bridgewater) had some success on intermediate routes, but they were undone by (a lack of opportunities to make plays down the field/inaccuracy on deeper passes). After the game, though, coaches said the team was making progress at the quarterback position and that it would be a process.
The Vikings offensive line also struggled to adequately protect (Cassel/Ponder/Bridgewater). Left tackle Matt Kalil (committed costly drive-stalling penalties/had a handful of plays that led directly to quarterback pressures or sacks), leading to more vocal criticism that the 2012 No. 4 overall pick continues to regress.
Wide receivers, too, had a (hard time getting open/hard time holding onto the ball), compounding the offense’s problems. Cordarrelle Patterson had fewer than 60 yards from scrimmage and (didn’t seem to be a major part of the offensive game plan/didn’t seem to be fully engaged with the offense/struggled with nagging injuries).
The play-calling of offensive coordinator Norv Turner was questioned, too, at times. Fans on social media reacted with displeasure when the Vikings (ran a draw play on third and long/completed a five-yard pass on third and long/couldn’t seem to move the ball at all against a defense that had been struggling).
It added up to a frustrating day on offense, and it put increasing pressure on the defense – which generally played well except for (a slow start/a few big plays/a rough fourth quarter).
The defense was constantly working against short fields because of (turnovers/the offense’s inability to move the ball) and eventually the cracks in that unit showed up. An inability to stop the run – the Vikings allowed more than 100 yards on the ground – was compounded by (costly penalties/a poor job getting off the field on third down).
Afterward, head coach Mike Zimmer expressed frustration that his team (couldn’t get a key stop when it needed to/couldn’t put more points on the board) and said the game highlighted just how far the team has to go to be a consistent winner.
What was I thinking as the final gun sounded at TCF Bank Stadium?
That it didn’t take Teddy Bridgewater long to realize the margin for error against the Packers is mighty slim. Bridgewater’s slow start was lowlighted by a Ponder-esque throw that was intercepted by Michah Hyde at the Vikings’ 47-yard line.
From there, Aaron Rodgers completed 3 of 3 passes for 47 yards and a 40-yard cross-the-field, right-to-left pass that went in the books as a 1-yard touchdown pass.
That gave the Packers a 14-7 lead with 5:23 left in the first half. The Packers weren’t tied or behind after that score.
Defensively, the Vikings aren’t going to win if they can’t stop the run. All of their losses have had at least critical spurts where they’ve been unable to stop the run. Today, they let Eddie Lacy pound away on them for 125 yards on 25 carries (5.0). That can never happen when the QB is Aaron Rodgers.
But the most frustrating defensive play of the game has to be Rodgers’ 18-yard run on third-and-six with 11:29 left. The Vikings had seven men at the line of scrimmage. They rushed six. They forced Rodgers off his spot with tight coverage and a strong rush. But then he took off for 18 yards to help the Packers turn a 17-13 lead into a 24-13 lead with 8:34 left.
Overall, let’s face it, the Vikings weren’t going the playoffs even if they won this game. They’re 4-7, but a competitive game against the Packers has good value because it helps Bridgewater learn against the best team in the division. And it helps the Vikings’ new defense do the same against the best quarterback in the division, the conference and perhaps the entire league.