MINNEAPOLIS — The giant glass doors were open at US Bank Stadium on Saturday evening because it was beautiful outside and Minnesotans probably would have chosen to go kayaking or enjoy their last weekend at the cabin if they had known about the starting lineups for the Minnesota Vikings’ second preseason game.
The only (presumed) starter on offense was rookie right guard Ed Ingram. On defense, well, they should have handed out rosters at the door.
Not that their opponent, the San Francisco 49ers, were any different. Trey Lance’s squad wasn’t interested in a nostalgic homecoming. He watched from the sideline. At least the teams had their starters dress up in their sports pajamas for warm ups so the early arriving fans got some small peak at the 2022 starters.
Welcome to the modern era of the NFL preseason. If you listened close you could hear Mike Zimmer’s blood pressure rising from northern Kentucky.
After the NFL canceled the 2020 preseason and football carried on normally after that, there was no reason to put starters in ever again. It’s clear Vikings new head coach Kevin O’Connell would prefer that his starters stay healthy rather than showing them off to the public for three drives.
“Kind of planned long ago that we would kind of handle this week like this, our game reps took place at our facility this week in that competitive environment that we were able to bring in,” O’Connell said, referring to joint practices with the 49ers.
That doesn’t mean it was completely meaningless for the players on the field for the Vikings. Many of them might make a difference at some point and they sure as heck won’t be getting many legit practice reps after the third week of training camp.
The Vikings did their best to keep fans entertained, having Sylvia Fowles of the Lynx blow the gjallarhorn and putting a brilliant sax player out there for the national anthem. Early in the game they put up a “Griddy Cam” and showed Justin Jefferson dancing. The kids in the stands danced along.
Backup quarterback Kellen Mond led the offense onto the field for their first drive with hopes of clarifying the muddy No. 2 situation. For a minute it looked like he might take command. Mond rolled out on third-and-6 and found receiver Bisi Johnson open across the middle for a 16-yard gain. A quality, athletic play with velocity on the ball.
Mond’s fortune changed almost instantly though. After a 13-yard Alexander Mattison run (no trade requests, please), the second-year QB got pressured by the 49ers and flung a Brett Favre-level risky pass to the sideline with hopes of delivering a brilliant dime for a touchdown. Instead the pass came about seven yards short of its target and was intercepted easily by a reserve safety named George Odum.
“Ultimately, we’ve just gotta be better,” O’Connell said. “I think in the end we’re trying to see who can come of the bench and help us win a football game.”
The Vikings got a fourth down stop on the 49ers’ first drive but not before Nate Sudfeld made an impressive throw on a bootleg that was caught right in front of Lewis Cine. Starter Cam Bynum got the night off. Oh, and yes, Sudfeld is the guy best known for making the Eagles really mad at Doug Pederson when he played over Jalen Hurts late in a 2020 game so they could get better draft position. Ah, memories.
With some energy in the building off the fourth down stop, Mond threw an incompletion in the dirt near Kene Nwangwu and then checked it down to the speedy running back for a 1-yard gain on third-and-9. Don’t even think about making the joke that he’s trying too hard to emulate the starter. The Vikings punted.
They got the ball back after DJ Wonnum pressured Sudfeld into an incompletion. Mond’s luck wasn’t any better on his third drive. Former top draft pick defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw welcomed Ingram to the NFL and Mond took a sack. In total his first three drives produced 43 passing yards on 10 throws, a turnover and eight yards lost to the Kinlaw sack. Kinlaw did the Griddy.
If we want to rub salt in the wound, against non-third teamers, Mond has been in charge of four drives in the first halves of preseason games and scored three points.
Mannion took over and immediately hit a bootleg pass for seven yards. Then he stepped up in the pocket and put his entire back into a third down throw and winged it behind an open receiver.
Brock Purdy came in for the 49ers. Mr. Irrelevant in the previous draft, for those wondering at home. That went about how you’d expect and San Francisco punted.
Ihmir Smith-Marsette, whose punt returning has been an adventure, was stripped after a nine-yard return and San Francisco booted a field goal through to light up the scoreboard for the first time in the 2022 US Bank Stadium campaign. Of course, they might have put up a seven had fifth-string tight end Tanner Hudson not dropped a pass in the flat.
Mannion got it together and completed back-to-back passes to tight ends Nick Muse and Zach Davidson. It was eye-catching that Ingram remained at right guard into the second quarter. We have already crowned him as the starter instead of veteran Jesse Davis but maybe now that’s less clear.
Ty Chandler had a nice five-yard run and catch out of the backfield. He’s the best Mr. Mankato candidate thus far.
Through his first seven passes Mannion averaged 2.9 yards per attempt.
The Vikings punted again.
The big screen showed a guy with a half purple and half gold No. 93 jersey. He had Viking horns, a mohawk and moves that suggested it wasn’t his first time on a jumbotron. People got a kick out of that. At that point, the first paper airplane came sailing down from above the press box. Last year fans became so bored during one of the preseason games that the giant voice guy had to ask them over the loudspeaker to stop throwing the airplanes.
Anyway, T.Y. McGill and Patrick Jones sacked Purdy with just under 5:00 left in the second quarter. Players like them are the reason we are still doing this dance, outside of the fact the league can make season ticket holders pay full price for these games. Jones has gotten a lot of second-team reps and the Vikings may end up needing him if Za’Darius Smith or Danielle Hunter have to miss time. McGill isn’t a future prospect but if the Vikings aren’t going to sign Ndamukong Suh they are going to need some depth players to be reliable. McGill has probably made the best case for a backup job with a huge game.
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“He’s one of those guys that flashed to me,” O’Connell said. He wrecked multiple plays tonight.”
On the same play as the McGill sack, a demonstration of why everyone important was hanging out on the sideline: Rookie Andrew Booth Jr. stayed down on the field and three trainers came out to meet him. He needed their help to hobble off the field. Not that it isn’t concerning since Booth Jr. has potential and might be needed if there are injuries in the secondary but that would be far more problematic if it were a starter.
At the two-minute warning Mannion was up to 5.1 yards per attempt. Trishton Jackson, an emerging contender for WR6, made an adjustment and snatched a pass out of the air for 17 yards and then he hit back-to-back 7-yard throws to Bisi Johnson and Smith-Marsette. The possibility of a touchdown didn’t exactly spark uncontrollable energy in the building but the crowd did react to the video board showing Brett Favre’s famous 2009 throw against San Francisco. Still unbelievable, right?
It was announced in the press box that Booth Jr. would be out for the game with an ankle injury. He was the same second-rounder who said that he hadn’t been healthy since high school on his post-draft press conference. The Vikings have to hope this doesn’t become a trend because he’s very talented.
“It was kind of that same ankle he’s kind of dealt with,” O’Connell said. “It sounds like it’s a positive thing from a standpoint of just an aggravation of an injury that we know about already. He’s worked his way through that throughout camp.”
Ty Chandler update: The fifth-round running back plowed into the end zone to get the Vikings on the board with 1:39 left. He waited for a hole and then put his head down and slammed forward for the touchdown. The Vikings have a lot of good running backs. It’s hard to say whether this preseason will be enough for them to move on from either their starter or No. 2 after this year but the signs are there for Chandler and Nwangwu in the future.
That touchdown, by the way, was the first on a drive led by Mannion of the preseason. But he showed competency on the drive that has been difficult to find for Vikings backup QBs.
Harrison Hand and Nate Hairston came in the game at corner, if you were wondering where the depth goes after Booth Jr.
McGill got after Purdy again but the former Iowa State QB actually made some quality tosses, hitting receiver Malik Turner on third down for 21 yards into double coverage. Instantly a tweet came into my mentions wondering if Purdy was available for trade. Two incomplete deep shots later and the 49ers kicked a field goal to make the game 7-6, an absolutely appropriate score considering how things went in the first half.
A little kid flag football team came out on the field at halftime. The biggest roar of the day was when one of them juked out his mini opponents and scored a touchdown. The kid did it again a few plays later and hit the Griddy.
The 49ers started the second half with the ball and the most noticeable lineup inclusions were last year’s mid-round picks Janarius Robinson and Chazz Surratt. It appears the new regime isn’t interested in their services. Jaylen Twyman didn’t make his way onto the field until the end of the third quarter, which may put him in line for a practice squad position rather than being a rotational rusher.
Purdy brought the 49ers to the goal line but fumbled a snap, which was picked up by outside linebacker Luiji Vilain. He did not see second-team reps on Saturday night so he needed the big play.
Mond returned to the field for the Vikings’ first drive of the second half. Speaking of the 2021 third round, there was still no sight of Wyatt Davis, who was once touted as the future starter. Albert Wilson got his first look. He may be on the Kendall Wright or Jordan Taylor path of confusing offseason veteran receiver signings. Zach Davidson dropped a pass over the middle, which has been a camp trend and the reason why Johnny Mundt and Ben Ellefson have gotten so many first-team reps during camp.
Sudfeld came back in at QB for the 49ers. The San Francisco running back Tyrion Davis-Price ran over three guys on one play and the third quarter ended with the 49ers on the move. Airplanes fluttered down from the rafters with more frequency. “Turn down for what” blared over the loudspeaker. The crowd largely remained the same from kickoff as the twilight faded outside.
Sudfeld threw a touchdown from the 2-yard line. The PA announcer needed a correction to get the receiver right and then somehow there was a timeout before San Francisco went for two. The Vikings left a receiver wide, wide, wide open on the conversion and San Fran went up 14-7 with 14 minutes and 57 merciful seconds remaining.
Mannion came back in to operate the offense and made the best pass of the entire preseason, heaving a pass down the middle of the field to a wide open Davidson. He could have run all the way to St. Paul without being touched but the ball bounced off his hands and fell to the turf. Mannion should have seen his yards per pass shoot through the roof and instead got a zero in the box score. He threw another incompletion on third down and the Vikings punted.
The 49ers put the Vikings’ chances at a preseason victory out of range with a field goal to go up 17-7 but not before fourth-round pick Akayleb Evans made a strong punch at the ball to force a fumble.
Mond remained in the game in the final moments of the fourth quarter. He let loose on a deep pass into double coverage that was knocked away and then whipped a pass way over the head of an open Myron Mitchell. When Mond did send a good throw Mitchell’s way, he let it slip through his hands.
Mond finished his miserable evening with another interception on an ill-advised, inaccurate pass and a smattering of boos could be heard from those still paying attention. He ended the game with a 82 yards on 20 passes and a 21.3 passer rating. You could argue it was a step back after his fourth quarter showing last week but only if you thought that it meant something.
“The last interception, I think he just lost track of where that post safety was and tried to press to make that play that we were trying to make all night,” O’Connell said.
While there may not have been a ton of highlight moments or major takeaways about the things that matter for the 2022 season, the biggest development from the Vikings’ loss to the 49ers is that this might be the game we remember as the last fleeting moment of discussion about Mond as a trustworthy option right now.
Other than that, the lack of starters and action made it hard to get amped about anything else from Saturday night’s contest.
Related: 5 things to know from the Vikings’ preseason loss to the 49ers