Vikings take down Titans to finish preseason undefeated
By Chris Tomasson / St. Paul Pioneer Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Preseason might not mean a lot, but an undefeated record often has been a springboard for the Vikings.
The Vikings finished 4-0 with a 19-3 win over Tennessee on Thursday night at LP Field. It marked the seventh undefeated preseason in Minnesota’s 54-year history.Five of the first six times, the Vikings went on to have a regular-season record of .500 or better. That includes going 4-0 and then 15-1 in 1998, finishing 5-0 and then 12-2 in 1973 and going 4-0 and then 11-5 in 1992.
That 1992 team was coached by Dennis Green. He was the only first-year Minnesota coach to have an undefeated preseason until Mike Zimmer joined him Thursday.
The Vikings didn’t play a single offensive starter against the Titans and they only used a possible few on defense. Jasper Brinkley (at middle) and Audie Cole (at outside) both started at linebacker, with one to get the call to start the regular season in the middle. And Robert Blanton and Kurt Coleman started at safety, with either a possibility to be the starting strong safety alongside free safety Harrison Smith.
In addition to battles for the above two starting spots, Thursday’s game also was important in who will make the roster when it is cut to 53 by Saturday’s deadline. Running back Joe Banyard, who is on the bubble, made matters intriguing by rushing for 111 yards on 18 carries.
With starting quarterback Matt Cassel resting in preparation for the Sept. 7 regular-season opener at St. Louis, rookie Teddy Bridgewater got his first start since he led Louisville over Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl last December. Bridgewater led the Vikings to a 7-0 lead on their first drive with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Adam Thielen, but otherwise was unspectacular.
Bridgewater completed 4 of 9 passes for 17 yards. His longest completion was for six yards.
Bridgewater was relieved early in the second quarter by third-stringer Christian Ponder, Minnesota’s primary starter the past three seasons who was playing for the first time since the Aug. 8 preseason opener. Ponder, who insisted before the game he wasn’t auditioning for other teams, completed 12 of 15 passes for 121 yards.
Ponder looked crisp. In the third quarter, he had an expected 4-yard touchdown pass to Banyard dropped and a nice 16-yard pass to Donte Foster wiped out due to penalty.
Minnesota’s other points came courtesy of kicker Blair Walsh, who had missed two field goals of 50 yards or more and an extra point in the first two preseason games. He made field goals in the second quarter from 45, 22 and 35 and from 30 yards in the third quarter.
Again, it’s just preseason. Still, the Vikings outscored foes during it 89-49.
Minnesota’s defense Thursday got an interception by Julian Posey and sacks by Corey Wootton, Tom Johnson and Justin Trattou. On Wootton’s sack, he forced a fumble, which he recovered.
Minnesota officials will have plenty of discussions as Saturday’s cut-down date approaches. The Vikings can keep 10 players on the practice squad, up from eight last year, but those players would have to clear waivers.
The battle at strong safety is intriguing, with some players in recent weeks having as good of a chance at starting as of not making the team. Veteran Chris Crocker, who sat out Thursday, has been in the mix to start along with Blanton, Coleman and Andrew Sendejo.
Jamarca Sanford was the primary starter the previous three years under former coach Leslie Frazier, but he was hampered by missing two preseason games and nearly all of another due to injury. Sanford sat out Thursday with a quad strain.
Another priority was to make it out of Thursday’s game without any significant injuries. Fullback Zach Line was lost for the game early in the fourth qu