NFL: Titans hand Vikings first preseason loss
By Chris TomassonSt. Paul Pioneer Press NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Taylor Heinicke had one final audition Thursday night. His goal was to persuade the Vikings to keep a third quarterback on the active roster. Heinicke helped himself even though his team...
By Chris Tomasson
St. Paul Pioneer Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Taylor Heinicke had one final audition Thursday night. His goal was to persuade the Vikings to keep a third quarterback on the active roster.
Heinicke helped himself even though his team lost. The undrafted rookie from Old Dominion completed 27 of 41 passes for 279 yards with two touchdowns in a 24-17 setback to Tennessee at Nissan Stadium in the preseason finale.
Heinicke got the start for the Vikings and played the entire game. Starter Teddy Bridgewater was not a candidate to play, and backup Shaun Hill dressed out only in the event of an injury.
It remains to be seen if Minnesota holds on to three quarterbacks when final cuts are made Saturday. The Vikings at the very least want to keep Heinicke on the practice squad, but he would have to pass through waivers for that to happen.
Heinicke’s performance might have been good enough to make any roster move on him risky. He threw touchdown passes of 14 yards to Dominque Williams in the third quarter and 7 yards to Stefon Diggs in the fourth quarter.
For the Vikings, it ended a streak of nine straight preseason wins, two shy of the team record set from 1963-65. The streak had begun Aug. 29, 2013, with a 24-23 home win over Tennessee.
It was first NFL exhibition loss for Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer. He went 4-0 in his debut last year and 4-1 this summer.
Only two possible starters got the nod for the Vikings.
They were Robert Blanton, trying to hold off Antone Exum at strong safety, and Gerald Hodges, who got his second straight preseason start at middle linebacker and is the favorite to hold off Eric Kendricks and Audie Cole for the job.
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner conceded early in the week the Vikings are very thin on the offensive line. With that in mind, it was no surprise that Heinicke endured plenty of pressure behind a line of starters that included David Yankey, Tyrus Thompson, Austin Shepherd, Isame Faciane and Zac Kerin.
The Vikings were porous early on defense. Rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota threw a 59-yard touchdown pass to Harry Douglas on the fourth play of the game for a 7-0 Titans lead, and Zach Mettenberger came in later in the quarter to toss a 3-yard TD pass to Rico Richardson to make it 14-0.
The first quarter saw Vikings kicker Blair Walsh miss yet another field-goal attempt, a 48-yarder that went wide right. Walsh did come back to boot a 33-yarder in the second quarter to make him 5 of 11 in the preseason.
Mistakes hampered the Vikings in the first quarter. Diggs lost a fumble that led to Tennessee’s second touchdown, and he had an offensive pass interference call in front of the goal line on second-and-9 at the Titans 27.
Diggs eventually did better. He finished with eight catches for 85 yards, including the touchdown in the fourth quarter, and had a 29-yard punt return in the third.
Overall, the Vikings eventually got going. Walsh’s field goal late in the first half cut the deficit to 14-3, and Heinicke’s TD pass to Williams made it 14-10.
But then another mistake happened. Marcus Sherels muffed a punt. That led to a 40-yard field goal by Tennessee’s Ryan Succop late in the third quarter for a 17-10 lead.
The Titans extended the lead to 24-10 with 8:12 left in the game on a 1-yard touchdown pass from Alex Tanney to Phillip Supernaw. After a fumbled snap on the extra point, Succop threw a two-point conversion pass to defensive end Angelo Blackson, who was mobbed by teammates after crossing the goal line. Alas, it didn’t count because of an illegal man downfield and Succop made a longer extra point.
The Vikings cut the deficit to 24-17 with 3:54 remaining on the 7-yard TD pass from Heinicke to Diggs. The Vikings got the ball back, but Heinicke was sacked with 27 seconds left on fourth-and-11 from the Tennessee 40.
It was Minnesota’s first preseason loss since Aug. 25, 2013, at San Francisco. Still, Heinicke might have done enough to earn a roster spot.