In what is better known as the final audition for players hoping to make the final 53-man roster than a game with meaningful results, the Houston Texans held on to an early lead to stave off the Minnesota Vikings 28-24.
The first drive of the game spelled bad news for Vikings fans, as the Texans advanced 83 yards in under 3 minutes, propelled on the heels of a 52 yard play by third Houston running back Justin Forsett.
After that, several back-and-forths followed, without either team scoring until the middle of the 2nd quarter, when backup quarterback Joe Webb led the Vikings downfield to allow Blair Walsh to kick a 36 yard field goal. Walsh missed a 43 yard field goal in the first quarter, possibly because of a poor job by the holder, punter Chris Kluwe.
Joe Webb left the game after two quarters in favor of presumed third quarterback Sage Rosenfels, and finished the game with four completed passes out of seven attempts, although one of his throws was dropped by young receiver Stephen Burton. Webb also ran twice for 22 yards, and was sacked twice.
Rosenfels, who had been on the team as the third quarterback before, completed seven out of eleven passes for 111 yards with a touchdown and finished with the best performance out of all three Minnesota quarterbacks.
Hoping to make the team and supplant Rosenfels from his spot as the last backup quarterback was exciting young prospect McLeod Bethel-Thompson. Showcasing his arm strength, Bethel-Thompson threw for 193 yards in 29 attempts, along with an interception and a touchdown.
He generally fired the ball out of the pocket with zip, but sometimes put too much power on the ball, either throwing over his receivers, or not providing enough touch to ensure easy catches.
It is unlikely that Bethel-Thompson secured a roster spot, but he has showed enough this offseason to earn consideration by other teams, or for the Vikings to put him on their supplemental 8-man practice squad.
As is traditional for the Vikings, a large fraction of their yardage came from rushing the ball, and several running backs featured for the Vikings in this game.
Matt Asiata, who has been generating excitement amongst the Vikings faithful for his preseason play, finished the game with seven carries for 43 yards, averaged 6.1 yards a carry. Asiata also carried himself well in pass blocking, preventing several sacks to either Joe Webb or Sage Rosenfels.
But despite electric running by Webb and effective carries by Asiata, it was Jordan Todman who had the best play on the ground, with a 76 yard run to the outside in the middle of the third quarter. On the other plays, Todman average 4.2 yards per carry.
The battle for the third running back has heated up with Todman's return from injury, although veteran running back Lex Hilliard had been expected to compete for the spot early in the season. Unfortunately, he has only averaged 2.6 yards a carry this offseason, making the likelihood of earning a spot on the roster fairly low.
Competing for scarce opportunities on the thin linebacking corps were preseason sensation Audie Cole and veteran special teams ace Larry Dean. With the two of them were the relatively unremarkable Tyrone McKenzie and Marvin Mitchell, who neither made cases for the inclusion or exclusion to the team.
Cole impressed with another solid performance. He finished with 6 tackles, including one tackle for loss. He generally found himself in the right place and didn't make too many mistakes, except a notable missed tackle on a punt return that came back for a touchdown.
Larry Dean, on the other hand, exhibited excellent positioning but poor follow-through, missing several tackles both over the course of regular play and on special teams.
In the secondary, both Reggie Jones and the previously injured Robert Blanton were notable.
Blanton had a very good game for someone who missed much of practice—he only had a few missteps. He displayed good field awareness and tackling form. Originally a cornerback at Notre Dame, the Vikings converted Robert Blanton to safety in minicamp. While it is too early to tell, it seems as if he is making the transition successfully.
Jones' first action in the game was a muffed punt that allowed Houston to recover the ball close to their goal line, and it was shortly followed by a holding penalty in the end zone.
Fortunately, Jones redeemed himself in at least a small way with fantastic coverage on several receivers on deep and short routes. The former Portland State standout will be one of the more intriguing players to watch as the Vikings make roster decisions. Competing with him are rookie Bobby Felder and veterans Zackary Bowman and potentially Chris Carr, who has been disappointing in his preseason play.
The final interesting position battle is at wide receiver, where fourth-round draft pick Jarius Wright is competing with veteran Devin Aromashodu and sophomores Emmanuel Arceneaux and Stephen Burton. All four have different skillsets to bring to the game.
Wright was impressive for the first time this offseason, with six catches for 122 yards. He ran a few deep routes, which isn't usually his strength, but beat his coverage several times. His quickness and speed did him well, and he may have gone a fair way in to alleviating the worries his relative silence may have caused.
Aromashodu had been particularly disappointing in the offseason, but also did excellent work to resolve concerns about his place on the roster. He had five catches for 89 yards, all in the first half.
Wright and Aromashodu were the only receivers to record touchdowns, each with one.
Stephen Burton was given several attempts to return kickoffs and punts, but was largely not very impressive in the return game. As a receiver he caught three passes for 47 yards, but was also target eight times. His offseason improvement excited observers, but he has largely been quiet in preseason games.
The Texans started John Beck. He and rookie Case Keenum combined for 184 yards on 20 attempts, with 11 completions.
The Vikings will cut their roster from 75 to 53 players on Aug. 31st, by 8:00 PM. They play the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sept. 9th.