Football / Sports

Vikings top Titans, 19-3, finish preseason unbeaten

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- This felt like a preseason finale, with starters from both teams sitting out, the Vikings and Titans both keeping the clock moving to avoid injuries, and the bleachers at LP Field mostly vacant due to rain showers and an NCAA game across town on Vanderbilt's campus.

It wouldn't have been a surprise to hear the Vikings started up their buses to the airport at halftime.

Beyond the important decisions that head coach Mike Zimmer has to make at middle linebacker, strong safety and on the back end of his 53-man roster -- which will be revealed Saturday -- there was not much to evaluate in a game in which a handful of lesser-known Vikings players made extended cameos.

Heck, there was even a Christian Ponder sighting, the first since the preseason opener.

But the Vikings did beat the Titans 19-3 in a sloppy but fast-paced game to complete their first perfect preseason since 2001.

This is the seventh time in franchise history that the Vikings went undefeated in the preseason. In four of the ensuing regular seasons, they had a winning record. In three, they made the playoffs. And in 1973, then went all the way to the Super Bowl. Of course, a perfect preseason is no guarantee for success. In 2001, the year after their 41-0 loss in the NFC Championship Game, the Vikings won just five games.

Before giving way to the second-stringers and roster long shots Thursday night, the Vikings in the preseason were mostly sharp offensively and Zimmer's defense offered hope that a turnaround will soon come.

But we won't truly get a good idea of who the Vikings will be in 2014 until they play in a game that counts in the standings. The first one of those will be in St. Louis next Sunday against the Rams.

With Zimmer holding out all of his clear-cut starters Thursday night, including top quarterback Matt Cassel, rookie Teddy Bridgewater -- sans gloves -- made his first start in the NFL, albeit one of the preseason variety. He completed four of his nine attempts for 17 yards and a touchdown and steered the Vikings to a pair of scores on his first two drives before exiting the game.

Second-year running back Joe Banyard did most of the heavy lifting, though, rushing for 27 yards on the opening drive and 32 during the second. He finished the game with 111 yards on 18 carries.

Banyard's 20-yard run set up a 3-yard touchdown pass from Bridgewater to wide receiver Adam Thielen that gave the Vikings a 7-0 lead. It was the only touchdown of the night.

Ponder, who did not play in the team's second and third preseason games, replaced Bridgewater with 9:26 left in the first half. For the most part, it was a positive performance. He completed 12 of his 15 attempts for 121 yards and would have had a touchdown pass had Banyard been able to make a catch at the goal line during the second quarter.

Kicker Blair Walsh booted three field goals, including a 45-yarder, to put the Vikings up 16-0 at halftime. He added another in the third quarter. Titans kicker Maikon Bonani kicked a field goal in the fourth to snap the shutout.

As was the case in three of the team's four preseason games, Zimmer's defense bent but didn't break against the Titans, especially in the first half, when the outcome was still in question.

Bonani missed a 32-yard field goal in the first quarter and the Vikings stuffed the Titans on fourth-and-3 in the second quarter when Zimmer blitzed and third-string defensive end Justin Trattou barged through the line to take down rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who got the start for the Titans.

After the game ended -- in a brisk two hours and 34 minutes -- the Vikings boarded a plane back to the Twin Cities to make their final preparations for the regular season. The team must make its final roster cuts by 3 p.m. on Saturday and Zimmer needs to pick starters at a couple of positions.

And for a handful of players, this forgettable preseason finale will be their final game in the NFL.

(c)2014 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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