3 Reasons Why The Vikings Lost to Tampa Bay

Aug 11, 2023; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) hands off to running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn (21) against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

For those of you trying to forget, I’ll remind you: the Vikings lost their season opener on Sunday, 20-17, at home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

How did the Vikings manage to run up a 369-242 advantage in total yards (including Kirk Cousins nearly doubling Baker Mayfield with a a 328-169 passing yardage edge) and yet still lose the game?

I’ll tell you, but, spoiler alert: this blame game will not focus on Kirk Cousins, despite throwing a key interception at the goal line and turning over two fumbles. How did they lose? Here are 3 reasons.

1. Baker Mayfield is a Genius

3 Reasons Why the Vikings Lost to Tampa Bay
Sep 10, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) throws against the Minnesota Vikings in the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay quarterback endured a rough first half but learned some remarkable things along the way. Mayfield’s completion percentage was 40% (6 of 15) for 63 yards and a 75 quarterback rating prior to halftime, then 80% (15 of 19) for 110 yards and a 108 rating in the second half. How did he turn it around?

According to CBS Sports, Rachaad White, Tampa Bay’s second year running back, described it this way to the Buccaneer Radio Network: “I just remember Bake came in the locker room, literally at halftime, he said, ‘I got it. We got all these signals.’ We’re in there talking as an offense and he’s like, ‘I know all these signals. If they do this, they’re going into Cover-2. If they do this, they’re going into Cover-3. Every time I alert this and they do this signal, they’re dropping back to this.’ And I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s amazing.’ … I was just listening to him and we were listening to him and we just kind of understood.” So Mayfield is a now a serviceable NFL Quarterback and a world-class cryptographer.

Maybe Brian Flores’ defense deserves some kudos for holding Tampa Bay to just 10 points despite the fact that they knew what was coming the entire second half. Unfortunately, 10 was just the amount needed for a 3-point Buccaneer win. The old saying goes, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” One thing is for sure: Flores and his squad will quickly address their signaling and ensure Mayfield is the last Genius to crack their code. Flores is way too smart to be fooled twice.

2. Rookie Mistakes

Mar 3, 2023; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Louisiana State defensive back Jay Ward (DB36) participates in drills at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

When Tampa Bay lined up to kick a field goal late in the first half, it felt like a big win for the Viking defense to keep their lead at 10-6 with halftime looming.

The only problem was, as the kick sailed through the uprights, a yellow flag was also sailing through the air. Jay Ward—the Vikings’ rookie defensive back out of LSU (but not the Jay Ward who created the classic cartoon, “Rocky and Bullwinkle”) had lined up in the neutral zone. The five-yard infraction gave Tampa a first down, and they promptly scored on a 28-yard Mayfield touchdown pass to Mike Evans.

That was a four-point swing and turned out to be the difference in the 20-17 final score. Without Ward’s blunder, the purple pull it out 17-16. In Ward’s defense, replays appeared to show at least three linemen all lined up in the neutral zone—he just happened to be the one on the end whose number was called by the referee.

Nevertheless, it was a rookie mistake, and it cost the Vikings. Ward was a fourth-round pick for Minnesota in the 2023 draft, highly touted, even heralded as “The Steal of the Draft” by some. By all accounts, he will be fine. The point here is, in one game little things count, and sometimes, in the moment, they aren’t so little, either. This was a huge reason why the Vikings came up short on Sunday. We can expect that Ward—and many other young Vikings—will learn from that mistake.

3. The Buccaneers Wanted It More

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Minnesota Vikings
Sep 10, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) catches a touchdown pass from quarterback Baker Mayfield (not pictured) as Minnesota Vikings safety Josh Metellus (44) defends during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Remember last year, when the Vikings were clinging to the lead after an improbable comeback against the Chicago Bears? Justin Fields was marching his squad down the field, but victory was sealed when Minnesota’s Cam Dantzler ripped the ball from the hands of Ihmir Sith-Marsette for an interception and the win. It was a great case of one player—and, in the Vikings’ case when looking more broadly at 2022, one team-simply wanting it more. Well, Bucs safety Christian Izien simply Dantzlered the Vikings on Sunday on a crucial pass to the goal line.

Though many are calling for Cousins’ head for a) throwing into double-coverage, b) failing to lead K.J. Osborn on the pass and/or c) simply being Kirk Cousins, a close look at the replay shows Tampa Bay DB Ryan Neal lurking just where a pass leading Osborn might have gone. Cousins saw one path to success on that play and he took it by throwing it short – throwing the ball slightly behind Osborn may have been an overcorrection, of course, but it ensured that Neal would not have an interception opportunity.

What neither Cousins nor Osborn took onto account was that the trailing Izien would simply want the ball more than Osborn would. He pounced when Osborn gathered the football in his arms, snatching the ball and with it, Minnesota’s hope for a touchdown.

This is the play that is emblematic of the Viking’s performance on Sunday. At times they looked very good, whether it be offensively or defensively. At times they looked lost. They looked disinterested, and for a good portion of the second half in particular, nobody looked like they particularly wanted it. Creating turnovers, such the Izien play, are often a leading indicator of desire. The Bucs forced three turnovers, the Vikings none.

Tampa had a quarterback with a lot to prove in Mayfield, and they have a team in general who is only two seasons removed from a 13-4 season and three from a Super Bowl championship. They’re eager to demonstrate that they can win without Tom Brady. They have a lot of talent, as do the Vikings. They were, and are, two very evenly matched teams. But on Sunday, it was the desire that created the separation.

For the Vikings, the goofy slip ups (including Ed Ingram inadvertently punching the ball out of Cousins’ grasp on a center snap) were random; the young mistakes are correctable. But they need more fire. Not wanting it as much as your opponent is a sure-fire recipe for a long and painful season. The level of focus and intensity will need to be improved to beat the Tampa Bays of the NFL in 2023—and it’ll be even more important against Super Bowl contenders such as Week 2’s opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles.

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