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The Vikings' plane landed around 5 a.m. Tuesday, touching down in the Twin Cities after a series of travel snags at Philadelphia International Airport gave them extra time to stew about their 24-7 loss to the Eagles. Sitting there on the runway, Kevin O'Connell began the process of analyzing his first loss as a NFL head coach.

O'Connell started, he said, by asking himself how well he had done at constructing the Vikings' game plan and how consistently he stuck to it as a play-caller.

"You start that process, and you just know you can be better," O'Connell said. "You know you can be better in a lot of different ways of coaching this team, and our staff feels the same way."

By Wednesday morning, a number of players approached the coach to tell him they know they needed to play better, too.

"I feel like that's when all the culture stuff that we talk about, this is when it gets tested," O'Connell said. "You'd love for that response to happen in-game and to triumphantly come back and win that game, but it just wasn't in the cards for us. And we didn't do enough, quite honestly, to win that football game, in a lot of ways. So now that response takes place on a short week, getting ready to play a really important divisional game against a team playing really well."

For those skeptical of O'Connell's emphasis on culture, dismissing it as happy talk no doubt was easy after a loss in which the Vikings allowed 347 yards in the first half and quarterback Kirk Cousins threw three interceptions in the second. The moments after losses, though, are where O'Connell believes it makes a difference, where players and coaches can correct mistakes without turning on one another.

It still comes down to results, though, and in each of the past two seasons, the Vikings lost three of their first four games before a rally for a playoff spot fell a game short. Their next two home games are against NFC North opponents, and in between their matchups with the Lions and Bears, they travel to London to play the Saints on Oct. 2. To handle an important stretch of the schedule well, they will need to shake off Monday night's dud quickly.

"I've been a part of teams or have observed teams that, even going back to high school, college, where, when you're winning, you can be pretty dysfunctional and it's never going to come to the surface," Cousins said. "And the opposite's true too. You can be a really healthy locker room, a really great group that sticks together, and if you're not winning or if you didn't win recently, you feel like the sky's falling. And so you have to fight both those sides of it."

Adjusting the game plan

Reviewing Monday night's game, O'Connell said he could have done more as a play-caller to help Cousins, adding the offense might have pressed too much in the second half as the Vikings tried to come back from a 24-7 deficit.

But the Vikings missed a chance to pull within seven in the second quarter when tight end Irv Smith Jr. dropped a would-be touchdown. A play before each of Cousins' first two interceptions, he threw passes to running backs Alexander Mattison and Dalvin Cook where the timing looked off. Mattison had to slide to catch a swing pass that went for no gain and put the Vikings in a second-and-10, while Cousins' second-and-7 screen to Cook was broken up by linebacker Haason Reddick, making it third-and-7.

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and center Garrett Bradbury talk to offensive coordinator Wes Phillips during a practice after the loss to the Eagles.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and center Garrett Bradbury talk to offensive coordinator Wes Phillips during a practice after the loss to the Eagles.

Anthony Souffle, Star Tribune

"It really comes back down to it, you watch that tape real closely, offensively, we left a lot of yards out there," O'Connell said. "We left a lot of plays out there to be made, whether it was catching a football or just the detail in what we did."

The Vikings' deficit also meant Philadelphia could blitz Cousins frequently in the second half, particularly when they emptied their backfield. They're likely to see a heavy dose of extra pressure from the Lions, who blitzed more frequently than all but one team (the Cardinals) through the first two weeks of the season.

"We have tools within our protections to recognize looks and get guys to the right people, and some of those are having answers when they bring one more than you can block, regardless of how many guys you've got back there," offensive coordinator Wes Phillips said. "So those [man blitzes], we obviously saw some last week. Teams are watching the tape, and they're going to see if you get it fixed, so I expect us to be tested at some point in this game."

The Vikings could also try to mitigate the Lions' defensive approach by bringing back some of the play-action concepts they used only six times in Week 2 after the quarterback dropped back 13 times off play-action in Week 1. They could also try moving Cousins around in the pocket, after the quarterback spent much of the second half on straight dropbacks last week.

"A lot of times, personnel defensively can dictate the best way to find completions is via some drop-back pass, but that doesn't necessarily mean that's where you've got to live," O'Connell said. "I think it's a balance of a lot of those things and just picking the right spots to be aggressive."

Dealing with adversity

Receiver Adam Thielen this week reiterated the belief he stated before the season, that this team under O'Connell is better-equipped to deal with the adversity of a season than any team he has been on in his first nine years with the Vikings. Asked why that remained the case, Thielen pointed to the attitude he saw this week.

"When you walked in this building, there was nobody hanging their heads," he said, adding, "It was everybody kind of ready to talk about the game, to figure out what we can do better to help this team win. Then, flip the script, turn the page and move on."

O'Connell gave players the day off from practicing on Wednesday, substituting a jog-through he believed would give their bodies extra time to heal while they began preparations for the Lions.

The decision carried an implicit message that the Vikings do not need to reinvent themselves after following a resounding Week 1 victory over the Packers with a discombobulated performance on Monday night.

Now the Vikings will try to prove their new coach's approach can help them exit September with a winning record for the first time since 2017.

"There's no question everything's not on him, but he's putting it all on him," wide receiver Justin Jefferson said of O'Connell. "He's trying to take a look out for the team. He knows what's out on that field. He knows the stuff we left on the field, as players. For him to take the fall for it, it shows he's trying to be accountable. So we've just got to be accountable as players, and go out there and perform."