The Tennessee Titans made sure Adrian Peterson wouldn’t hurt them.
So the Minnesota defense took control.
Eric Kendricks returned an interception 77 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter and Danielle Hunter scored a 24-yard TD off a fumble return and the Vikings beat Tennessee 25-16 in their season opener Sunday.
The Vikings forced three turnovers in the span of just under seven minutes and also had two sacks.
”The defense came through for us and made some big plays,” Peterson said. ”They pretty much bailed us out today.”
The defending NFC North champs needed the help from their defense in scoring 25 straight points after being shut out in the first half with the NFL’s 2015 rushing leader smothered.
Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer did his best to hide his starter at quarterback after the Vikings lost Teddy Bridgewater to a major knee injury Aug. 30, and after they traded their 2017 first-round draft pick to Philadelphia for Sam Bradford .
The mystery finally ended when Shaun Hill, 36, took the field for the Vikings’ first series for his first start since 2014 when he was with the St. Louis Rams.
Zimmer said Hill did well.
”We’ll take it one week at a time and see where it takes us,” Zimmer said.
Tennessee focused on stopping Peterson, who had 1,485 yards rushing last season, and the Titans did just that.
Peterson had 31 yards on 19 carries.
The Titans had a revamped roster from a new general manager for coach Mike Mularkey in his first game since having the interim tag removed in January.
They also opened at home for the first time since 2012 and jumped out to a 10-0 halftime lead looking for a rare home win after going 1-7 in Nashville each of the past two seasons.
Their highlight came on the first of two TD catches by DeMarco Murray, the 2014 Offensive Player of the Year, when he vaulted himself over a defender for a 6-yard TD catch just before halftime.
The Titans were driving trailing 12-10 when Marcus Mariota tried to force a quick throw under pressure only to be picked off by Kendricks who returned it for the TD with 1:24 left in the third quarter. The Titans then went three-and-out before turnovers on the next two drives. Mariota lost the ball after faking a handoff to Murray, which Hunter picked up for his own TD return. Then Murray lost a fumble.
”The turnovers obviously were catastrophic,” Mularkey said.
Vikings kicker Blair Walsh kicked four field goals, including a 50-yarder. But the kicker who missed a 27-yard field goal in the playoffs, costing Minnesota in a 10-9 loss to Seattle in January, had a rough start. His first field goal from 37 hooked wide left. Zimmer sent Walsh out to attempt a 56-yarder at the end of the first half, and the kicker was well short despite being lined up in the middle of the field. The Titans missed a chance to return the kick by taking a timeout. With a second chance, Walsh still missed badly with the ball going way left out of the end zone.
The kicker connected on field goals of 50 and 33 yards in the third quarter, and he added two more in the fourth. But he missed an extra point right after Kendricks’ interception return.
Mariota had a perfect passer rating in his NFL debut as a rookie, and his second season couldn’t have started much differently. The Vikings pressured Mariota repeatedly, and he threw into coverage while being pressured on the interception. He also lost a fumble and had another turnover wiped out by a roughing the passer call.
Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes was scratched after aggravating an injury in warmups. … Titans linebacker Derrick Morgan went down grabbing the back of his left leg, and he did not return with an injured left hamstring.