PHILADELPHIA — Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell cast Monday's game against the Eagles as something of a heat check after the team's season-opening win over the Packers. The Vikings, O'Connell said, were going to "find out a lot about where we're at, when we can travel away from our great home environment and go play in a really tough environment."
Previous Vikings coaches have seen their teams humbled at Lincoln Financial Field before. On Monday night, O'Connell became the latest Vikings coach to leave there with a humbling defeat.
The 24-7 drubbing in Philadelphia stripped away the shiny veneer from Week 1's win and recast the Vikings as a team still in search of consistent answers to many of the questions that lingered about them before the season.
The Eagles outgained the Vikings 347-93 in the first half, when Jalen Hurts looked sublime and Ed Donatell's defense had few answers for the quarterback whether he was throwing underneath the Vikings' zones, keeping the ball to run or firing it deep to exploit busted coverages.
"When I look back on tonight, I put this one on me," O'Connell said. "I don't think I did enough in-game. They did some things defensively, and just seemed to kind of push us to the point where we needed to make those one, or two, plays to finish and capture that momentum. You've got to give Philadelphia a lot of credit. I do mean it: I feel like this one's on me, and I'm going to work like crazy to make sure this doesn't happen again."
In the second half, Kirk Cousins threw three interceptions: one from the Eagles' 19 to end a productive drive, one from the Philadelphia 27 after Kris Boyd returned Patrick Peterson's blocked field goal, and one from the Eagles' 9, when Cousins forced a third-down fade into the end zone after Jordan Hicks picked off Hurts. Justin Jefferson appeared to apologize to Cousins after the first pick; both Cousins and Jefferson said afterward that the interception to Darius Slay came because the quarterback threw the ball expecting the receiver to run a flatter route than he did.
James Bradberry sunk underneath Adam Thielen's route to make the second interception, and on the third, Slay came down with the jump ball Cousins threw while falling away from an Eagles blitz.
"There's not a common thread. Each one's different," Cousins said of the interceptions. "You just treat each one as they were, and try to improve and get better."
Cousins completed 27 of his 46 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown to go with the three picks. Dalvin Cook ran six times for 17 yards. Jefferson, after posting 184 yards last week, caught six of his 12 targets for 48 yards against an Eagles secondary that was happy to be physical with him. In the second quarter with the Vikings trailing 21-7, tight end Irv Smith Jr., who caught the Vikings' lone touchdown pass, dropped a deep ball from Cousins after separating from the Eagles' coverage downfield.
Four of the Vikings' five second-half possessions ended deep in Eagles territory. In the first half, four of their five ended in punts. Hurts, meanwhile, delivered what might have been his most spellbinding half in the NFL.
He completed 17 of his 20 passes for 251 yards and a touchdown in the game's first two quarters, running seven more times for 50 yards and two touchdowns that came on option plays. On the first, Hurts kept the ball after Patrick Jones crashed hard on a handoff, before juking Cam Bynum and carrying Hicks into the end zone. On his second run, he pulled the ball from Miles Sanders as Danielle Hunter tackled the running back and followed tight end Dallas Goedert, who drove safety Harrison Smith more than 20 yards downfield.
"They did a good job [on their read option plays], but I feel like sometimes, it was just a missed assignment," Hunter said. "We had to take out the tight end; I don't think we took out the tight end. It's just small errors that allowed them to have that big run."
By the time Hurts' only touchdown pass of the game — a 53-yard thunderbolt in the second quarter — landed in Quez Watkins' hands, Peterson had already thrown his arms in the air in disbelief in the Vikings secondary.
Bynum followed an out route from Goedert, as cornerback Cameron Dantzler stayed in an intermediate zone to play the same route. Watkins streaked down the field past both of them, hauling in the pass as Hurts folded his arms in a pose for the cameras.
"They kind of had body blows with their run game," O'Connell said, "and when those explosive opportunities came, [Hurts] made a lot of those plays."
He finished the night 26 of 31 for 333 yards, at the helm of an Eagles attack that averaged 7.1 yards on its 68 plays.
"The plan was to account for Jalen in the run game, and they put a lot of pressure on you with those [run-pass options]," O'Connell said. "Sometimes they're reading to throw, sometimes they're reading to pull and run, and they've got layers to what they're doing on those early downs. He puts a lot of pressure on the defense with how he can break contain. A couple of times early in the game, we were right there, and he just made the play."
The Vikings, like each of their three NFC North counterparts, are 1-1 after two weeks. Their next two home games will be their final matchups against division opponents at U.S. Bank Stadium, with games against the Lions and Bears sandwiched around a Week 4 trip to London to face the Saints. The schedule, with two home games against rebuilding teams and what amounts to a neutral-site game instead of a trip to one of the NFL's toughest venues, gives the Vikings time to get themselves right before a Week 6 trip to face a 2-0 Dolphins team that stunned the Ravens on Sunday.
O'Connell, the son of a Philadelphia-raised FBI agent, grew up with what his father Bill called a "family stubbornness" that taught him how to redouble his efforts, rather than lashing out in frustration, after setbacks. It's a trait the new Vikings coach got to practice as part of a Rams team that lost three straight games to contenders last season before winning nine of 10 in a run that ended with a Super Bowl title, and it's an approach he wants to bring to his first team in Minnesota.
The coach's first trip to Lincoln Financial Field, which came with family in the stands and millions watching on "Monday Night Football," provided him with his first chance to practice the approach as the leader of the Vikings.
"I can promise you this much: Our guys, even postgame, there's a hunger to get right back to work," O'Connell said. "We know what our standard is, and it starts with me. I've got to do much, much more to make sure our guys play to their standard."