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Vikings hope history repeats itself following undefeated preseason

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) celebrates with Vikings running back Joe Banyard (23) after catching a touchdown pass against the Tennessee Titans during the first half Thursday night at LP Field. (Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports)

By Chris Tomasson

St. Paul Pioneer Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Preseason might not mean a lot, but an undefeated record often has been a springboard for the Vikings.

The Vikings finished 4-0 with a 19-3 win over Tennessee on Thursday night at LP Field. It marked the seventh undefeated preseason in Minnesota’s 54-year history.

Five of the first six times, the Vikings went on to have a regular-season record of .500 or better. That includes going 4-0 and then 15-1 in 1998, finishing 5-0 and then 12-2 in 1973 and going 4-0 and then 11-5 in 1992.

That 1992 team was coached by Dennis Green. He was the only first-yearMinnesota coach to have an undefeated preseason until Mike Zimmer joined himThursday.

“More than the record in the preseason, I feel good about the way we’ve performed,’’ Zimmer said. “It’s always nice to win, especially when you start a new program, but to me it’s how are we playing.’’

Playing at times in a driving rainstorm, which Zimmer called good practice for the regular season, the Vikings didn’t use a single offensive starter. Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater got the start and led the Vikings to a touchdown on the opening drive for a 7-0 lead.

On defense, Jasper Brinkley (at middle) and Audie Cole (at outside) both started at linebacker, with one to get the call to start the regular season in the middle. Zimmer said Brinkley, who got all four preseason starts, has “got the lead, but I haven't made any firm decision yet.’’

Robert Blanton started at string safety and Kurt Coleman at free safety, with either a possibility to be the starting strong safety alongside Harrison Smith.  Zimmer said he still doesn’t full know how that position stands.

In addition to battles for the above two starting spots, Thursday’s game also was important in who will make the roster when it is cut to 53 by Saturday’s deadline. Running back Joe Banyard, who is on the bubble, made matters intriguing by rushing for 111 yards on 18 carries.

“Joe, he’s played great the whole preseason,’’ Zimmer said.

With starting quarterback Matt Cassel resting in preparation for the Sept. 7regular-season opener at St. Louis, Bridgewater got his first start since he ledLouisville over Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl last December. Bridgewaterthrew a 3-yard touchdown pass to Adam Thielen for the 7-0 lead, but generally was unspectacular.

Bridgewater completed 4 of 9 passes for 17 yards. His longest completion was for six yards.

“It was a good feeling,’’ Bridgewater said of his first start. “It is another goal that I can cross off my list. At the same time, it was a preseason start. It ws just a great feeling getting on the field, walking out of the locker room and knowing what it feels like to start an NFL game.’’

Bridgewater was relieved early in the second quarter by third-stringer Christian Ponder, Minnesota’s primary starter the past three seasons who was playing for the first time since the Aug. 8 preseason opener. Ponder, who insisted before the game he wasn’t auditioning for other teams, completed 12 of 15 passes for 121 yards.

Ponder looked crisp. In the third quarter, he had an expected 4-yard touchdown pass to Banyard dropped and a nice 16-yard pass to Donte Foster wiped out due to penalty.

“Overall, I’m pretty proud of the way I played and the team played,’’ Ponder said.

Minnesota’s other points came courtesy of kicker Blair Walsh, who had missed two field goals of 50 yards or more and an extra point in the first two preseason games. He made field goals in the second quarter from 45, 22 and 35 and from 30 yards in the third quarter.

Again, it’s just preseason. Still, the Vikings outscored foes 89-49 in the four games.

“I think the biggest thing in preseason is you want to win games,’’ said defensive end Corey Wootton. “Everyone says preseason doesn’t matter but biggest thing you have to do is go out there, try to get better each week.’’

Minnesota’s defense Thursday got an interception by Julian Posey and sacks by Wootton, Tom Johnson and Justin Trattou. On Wootton’s sack, he forced a fumble, which he recovered.

Minnesota officials will have plenty of discussions as Saturday’s cut-down date approaches. The Vikings can keep 10 players on the practice squad, up from eight last year, but those players would have to clear waivers.

The battle at strong safety is intriguing, with some players in recent weeks having as good of a chance at starting as of not making the team. Veteran Chris Crocker is in the mix to start along with Blanton, Coleman and Andrew Sendejo.

Jamarca Sanford was the primary starter the previous three years under former coach Leslie Frazier, but he was hampered by missing two preseason games and nearly all of another due to injury. Sanford sat out against the Titans with a quad strain.

Another priority was to make it out of Thursday’s game without any significant injuries. Zimmer said Thielen (hip), Trattou (shoulder) and fullback Zach Lane were hurt but he doesn’t know yet the severity of any.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with the Forum News Service