Breaking News
More () »

Vikings look to open season with another hot start

The Vikings cruised to a season-opening win over the Packers last season, now they’re looking for another quick start to kick off 2023.

EAGAN, Minn. — Facing fourth down from the 5-yard line in the 2022 season opener, Minnesota Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell wanted to make an early statement.

Rather than trotting out kicker Greg Joseph for a chip-shot field goal, the rookie head coach left the offense out to set the tone, not only for the game, but for the rest of the season.

O’Connell was brought in to ignite the Vikings’ offense, and in that moment, he did so with one play call. Quarterback Kirk Cousins put Justin Jefferson in motion and whipped a pass to the star receiver – his third catch of the drive – for a walk-in touchdown.

Minnesota coasted to a 23-7 win over the rival Green Bay Packers that day, and now, one year later, O’Connell and the Vikings will look to do the same in Sunday’s season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“My confidence level in our team is pretty darn high right now and it’s time for us to just go play,” said O’Connell at a press conference Wednesday. “There will be adversity, there will be moments in the game where we’ve got to find a way to recapture or try to initially capture momentum, and what phase of our team is out on the field when we need to do that.”

In last year’s season opener, it was the offense. The Vikings used their opening-drive gamble to seize the early momentum, and parlay it into the most lopsided victory for Minnesota in a game where Aaron Rodgers was under center.

“It was a fast start, it was a very clean game,” said Cousins. “It surprised me a little bit being that we hadn’t played in the preseason, and it was a new staff, so it was a great way to start the season.”

With O’Connell once again calling plays this year, Sunday will be the first time in Cousins’ career he’s started consecutive seasons with the same play caller. Kevin Stefanski spent time as the offensive coordinator in 2018 and 2019, but it was John DeFilippo who began the 2018 campaign as the team’s play caller. Stefanski stepped in as the interim offensive coordinator late in the season after DeFilippo was fired in mid-January.

“In just about every phase at quarterbacking, you’re going to feel more comfortable (in year two),” said Cousins. “… I think it really helps play-in and play-out, just being able to execute at a high level, avoiding penalties, managing the game, making good decisions, staying on the field. I hesitate to ever be so optimistic (that) you start to let your guard down, and you say, ‘Oh, it’ll just work out.’ So, on one hand you say, ‘Hey, I expect it to be better in year two,’ but that doesn’t mean I go in there, now, with any kind of false optimism that isn’t backed up by actually playing better.”

While the play caller remains consistent from a year ago, Cousins’ surrounding cast has been shaken up a bit. Receiver Adam Thielen, who had been one of Cousins’ more reliable targets throughout his time in Minnesota, is in Carolina, and running back Dalvin Cook is now with the New York Jets, so there will be some changes as Cousins and the offense look to maintain – and perhaps build – on last season’s success.

Minnesota’s offense, particularly the passing attack, will be tested Sunday as Tampa Bay possessed a top-10 pass defense in terms of yards a season ago. The Buccaneers defense also got to the quarterback 45 times last year, tied for the seventh-most sacks in the league.

“We came out the right way a year ago, and I think our players are confident to try and go out there and play a good football game,” said O’Connell. “We know it’s going to be very competitive; I’ve got so much respect for (Buccaneers head coach) Todd Bowles – defensively what he’s done in this league for a long time.”

Much of the Vikings’ first-team offense remained on the sideline for the duration of the preseason, which ended 0-3 for the third straight year, but it’s the same blueprint O’Connell used a season ago when there didn’t appear to be a whole lot of rust come Week 1.

“We set a high bar,” Cousins said of last year’s season opener. “We’ve got to try and match that on Sunday.”

Watch more of Minnesota sports:

Watch the latest reports from the KARE 11 sports team in our YouTube playlist:

Before You Leave, Check This Out