EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — As bad as the Minnesota Vikings’ offense looked in the opening quarter of Sunday night’s game, coach Mike Zimmer’s vaunted defense looked even worse.
Lethargic. Disinterested. Take your pick.
Journeyman quarterback Brian Hoyer of the San Francisco 49ers toyed with last year’s No. 3-ranked defense like he was channeling Joe Montana.
Hoyer completed his first nine passes for 152 yards and touchdown strikes of 46 and 24 yards. In two possessions, the 49ers led 14-0.
Not exactly the final third-preseason-game dress rehearsal that the Vikings’ proud defenders were looking for.
“Terrible,” Viking free safety Harrison Smith said. “We kind of turned it on after we got hit in the mouth a few times, but you can’t start like that. You can’t give up 14 points that easy.”
–The Vikings have had touchdown machines at kick returner with Percy Harvin and then Cordarrelle Patterson manning the position since 2009.
In fact, in the last four seasons, Patterson was All-Pro twice and became the first player in league history to lead the NFL in kick return average three times.
But both are gone now. Patterson left via free agency for Oakland after last season.
The Vikings have spent the offseason and training camp trying to pick a new kick returner. Rookies Rodney Adams and Stacey Coley were drafted in part because of their return ability.
But neither stood out. So No. 3 running back Jerick McKinnon was given a crack at it.
And he put one heck of a selling point on film Sunday night. A 108-yard return for a touchdown during a 32-point second half that beat the 49ers, 32-31.
“Once I got some space, I was like, ‘I’ve got to score. I’ve got to score,'” McKinnon said.
McKinnon had a reason, other than the obvious one about the importance of scoring points.
“If I get caught, they’re going to take my nickname away,” He said.
The team calls the former third-round draft pick, “Jet.”
The Vikings haven’t named Jet their starting returner. At least not yet, Jet.
Looking at the roster:
–Wide receiver Laquon Treadwell finally suited up for a preseason game after missing the first two because of a hamstring injury. And he did take a step forward in his efforts to start proving he was worth a first-round draft pick last year. He was targeted three times and caught all three balls for 36 yards. Treadwell’s efforts to prove himself will be aided by Michael Floyd’s four-game suspension to start the season. Floyd has had the better camp and, frankly, is the better player. He absence gives Treadwell more opportunities as the No. 3 receiver.
–Kicker Marshall Koehn had a game Sunday night that kind of summarizes the difficulty in taking a leap of faith on a young, strong-legged guy with no regular-season experience. With experienced veteran Kai Forbath getting the night off, Koehn made 1 of 2 field goal attempts and all three extra points. He made a 58-yarder with plenty of room to spare, but he missed a 47-yarder. The Vikings also prefer his leg strength on kickoffs.
–Quarterback Sam Bradford completed 17 of 21 passes for 134 yards, no turnovers and a 93.3 passer rating. But the offense didn’t reach the end zone. Again. Bradford won’t play in the preseason finale on Thursday against Miami, so he heads into the regular season without having reached the end zone in limited action during three preseason games.
–Quarterback Case Keenum quietly upgraded the team’s No. 2 spot at signal caller. The Vikings decided against re-signing aging vet Shaun Hill after last season. They went out and got Keenum, who was familiar with Pat Shurmur’s offense. Keenum played well in the first two preseason games. Then, Sunday night against the 49ers, he completed 10 of 14 passes for 139 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 142.6 passer rating.
–Middle linebacker Eric Kendricks, who led the team in tackles in each of his first two seasons, looks even better heading into Year 3. He’s looking quicker and faster as he masters the defense and lets his strong instincts take over. He had a sack tied for the team lead in tackles with four against the 49ers.
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