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Vikings’ first game a positive in Zimmer’s eyes

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MANKATO, Minn. — The Vikings didn’t have to face Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown or Le’Veon Bell, but the Minnesota coaches still were satisfied with team’s 14-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Hall of Fame Game on Sunday in Canton, Ohio.

The starters on both sides of the ball played only one series as a group.

The defense, which was missing linebacker Anthony Barr (knee), opened with a three-and-out, giving up 3 net yards. Punt returner Marcus Sherels took the ensuing punt 24 yards, and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater moved the ball 50 yards in 10 plays while completing five of six passes for 44 yards and running for 6 yards.

“I thought our team looked fast and physical,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “Like the official said to me after the game, ‘You guys played a very clean game and did things the right way.’ That’s what I was looking for at this early stage of the season.”

The first-team units weren’t penalized. Tight end Kyle Rudolph, who has missed 15 games due to injuries the past two years, caught two passes for 22 yards and two first downs, including one on third-and-5. The defense held firm on third-and-long with a new-look nickel defense featuring rookie first-round draft pick Trae Waynes at left corner and starter Terence Newman shifting inside over the slot.

The punt return job also got very interesting when rookie fifth-round draft pick Stefon Diggs made the play of the night, a 62-yard return to the Pittsburgh 1-yard line.

The offense played without running back Adrian Peterson, who doesn’t play in the preseason, and new starting fullback Zach Line, who is replacing the departed Jerome Felton but is injured. Without Peterson and Line, the first-team offense was stopped on downs when undrafted rookie fullback Blake Renaud missed a block that got running back Jerick McKinnon stopped for no gain on fourth-and-1.

There were other areas in need of improvement. Blair Walsh, who recently signed a contract extension that will make him the fourth-highest paid kicker in the NFL, missed a 48-yard field goal on a play that had only 10 Vikings on the field. And Waynes, the 11th overall pick, struggled with the backups, committing three penalties. One of the flags was declined because Waynes’ man still beat him for a 35-yard gain.

“We still got a long ways to go,” Zimmer said. “I don’t like having 10 guys on the field goal and some penalties on our young corner (Waynes). But for the first day out, it’s probably a decent performance.”

Zimmer singled out two areas that impressed him most: pass protection and run defense. Not coincidently, those were two of the team’s weakest areas a year ago. On Sunday, the Vikings gave up one sack late in the game and held the Steelers to a 2.7-yard average on 25 carries.

Zimmer improved to 5-0 in preseason games as the Vikings’ head coach. However, he shrugged when it was mentioned, saying, “I wish I were 5-0 in the regular season.”

–Outside expectations remain high for a Vikings team that went 7-9 and didn’t beat a team with a winning record a year ago. On Sunday, Bridgewater was asked point blank, “Is this a playoff team?”

He smiled and laughed, knowing that the question was a verbal grenade thrown into his lap.

“We’re still in August,” he said. “You can’t predict the future. We have high expectations. Coach Zimmer talks about bringing the Minnesota Vikings their first Super Bowl (win). Why can’t it be us? But we know we’re nowhere near where we want to be.”

–In an exclusive interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Peterson said he thinks he can play at least another seven years and retire as the greatest player in NFL history. Not greatest running back. Greatest player.

He also said his off-the-field issues the past year won’t impact his legacy or how the Hall of Fame’s 46-member selection committee will view him. He said he’s a “no-brainer” Hall of Famer.

“I’m going to be blunt and honest with you,” Peterson said. “I feel like if I didn’t play another snap in my life, I got the opportunity to go in the Hall of Fame right now.”


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