NFL: Jaguars beat Vikings in defense-dominated exhibition
MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota and Jacksonville had the top two defenses in the NFL last season, a major reason why the Vikings and Jaguars reached their respective conference championship games.
Two joint practices and one exhibition game produced yet more evidence of the exceptional skill and sound scheme each team has on that side of the ball.
Yannick Ngakoue had an 11-yard sack that helped Jacksonville hold Kirk Cousins and Minnesota's starting offense to three completions and three points, before the Jaguars reserves rallied for a 14-10 victory over the Vikings on Saturday.
"The defense got after them pretty good, and their defense got after us pretty good," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. "That's kind of how it looked all week."
Cousins was crisp in his only series last week, but the Vikings went three-and-out on two of their four possessions with their new quarterback. Latavius Murray's second fumble, stripped by Malik Jackson and recovered by Calais Campbell, stopped another drive. Cousins finished just 3 for 8 for 12 yards.
"Frankly, I think that's what we need and maybe want at this time of year," Cousins said. "Nobody feeling comfortable."
About all the ever-demanding Zimmer was pleased with was that the Vikings didn't actually win.
"It kind of looked like we didn't practice this week, to be honest with you," he said.
Minnesota's defense was closer to midseason form, with an interception by Harrison Smith of Blake Bortles and another sure pick by Mackensie Alexander that was bobbled and dropped.
Bortles played the entire first half and went 12 for 20 for 159 yards, producing a touchdown run by Leonard Fournette on one of his seven series, the last of three possessions the Vikings starters were still in the game.
The Vikings, who led the league with the fewest yards and points allowed in 2017 while the Jaguars finished second, gave Bortles trouble during drills in practices on Wednesday and Thursday at Minnesota's suburban facility.
"We've still got some things to fix," Bortles said.
The Vikings had six sacks, two by Ifeadi Odenigbo. Mike Boone, in a stiff competition for the No. 3 running back spot, had 13 carries for 91 yards and a score.
T.J. Yeldon helped his cause to be Fournette's backup with five catches for 73 yards and 10 carries for 39 yards. With a 57-yard punt return by Rashad Greene to set up the touchdown just after the two-minute warning, Jacksonville took a late lead on a short run by Brandon Wilds.
The Jaguars were called for 13 penalties for a whopping 140 yards, including 10 infractions in the first half. Ngakoue celebrated his sack with an incendiary hip-thrusting dance, taking one of the 15-yarders.
"Penalties cost you games," Ngakoue said. "We still were lucky enough to win today, but we've got to clean it up."
Cornerback A.J. Bouye was singled out for the NFL's new targeting rule, for lowering his helmet on a tackle attempt.
"Both of our heads were lowered," Bouye said. "I think they should offset, but I've just got to learn from it."
Vikings linebacker Antwione Williams was also flagged for unnecessary roughness, negating a sack of Cody Kessler for driving him into the turf, another point of emphasis this year for officials on the field. Zimmer initially argued, but said afterward he thought the call was correct.
ON THE LINE
Left tackle Riley Reiff was the only starter from last year suited up on Minnesota's offensive line, with guards Nick Easton (neck) and Joe Berger (retirement) gone. The new right side, Mike Remmers and Rashod Hill, was held out with ankle injuries. Center Pat Elflein is still recovering from offseason shoulder and ankle surgeries.
The Vikings failed to move the chains on all 12 of their third-down attempts.
The wife (Jeanette), daughter (Ryan) and son (Tony Jr.) of former Vikings offensive line coach Tony Sparano, who died suddenly last month of heart disease, were honored before the game. The entire Vikings offensive line joined the family at midfield for the coin flip. Tony Sparano Jr. is the assistant offensive line coach for the Jaguars. Sparano's other son, Andy, was unable to attend. Berger blew the ceremonial Gjallarhorn kickoff.
Last week, four Jaguars players remained in the locker room during "The Star-Spangled Banner," cornerback Jalen Ramsey, linebacker Telvin Smith and running backs Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon. Ramsey was not at this game, left at home like Dante Fowler for disciplinary reasons related to the fight at practice last week between Fowler and Ngakoue Fournette and Yeldon were spotted on the sideline during the anthem, though Smith was not.
Jaguars: Left guard Andrew Norwell, the team's premier free agent addition, was held out for the second straight game because of a calf injury, as was rookie defensive end Taven Bryan (abdomen). Center Brandon Linder (knee), strong safety Don Carey (hamstring) and left guard Chris Reed (knee) were injured during the game. Reed started for Norwell.
Vikings: Alexander, who's competing with rookie Mike Hughes to play the slot position in the nickel package, hurt his ankle on his dropped interception. Five other backups were hurt during the game: defensive end Ade Aruna (right knee), guards Josh Andrews (right ankle) and Cedrick Lang (right leg), wide receiver Jeff Badet (head) and fullback Johnny Stanton (left leg). Multiple players will be out for the season, including Lang, Zimmer said.
The Jaguars host Atlanta next Saturday.
The Vikings host Seattle on Friday.