MINNEAPOLIS — You can glean a lot from the numbers in a box score.
Yes, there were several numbers to like from the 28-12 Minnesota Vikings victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, Sept. 8 — starting with the final score.
Four touchdowns. Two interceptions and a forced fumble, partnered with no offensive turnovers. One score allowed in the red zone.
And after all the special teams preseason drama, a perfect game in the kicking department — and the team's first blocked punt since 2014 as a cherry on top — was especially welcomed by head coach Mike Zimmer.
But it was some of the other numbers that had Zimmer irritated after his team kicked the season off with a win.
The Vikings defense was flagged four times for neutral zone infractions or offsides, and three times for illegal use of hands to the face (although two of those were declined by Atlanta).
In all, Minnesota gave the Falcons six first downs by penalty. In many other games, that many mistakes could have swung the game in the opponent's favor.
"We have got to clean up those penalties," Zimmer said after the game. "We had way too many of them today."
Zimmer said he plans to "harp on it pretty good this week," but it seems like the message is already making its way around the locker room.
"It's early and we have a lot of mistakes still," defensive end Everson Griffen said. "I mean, I myself jumped offsides and other guys did too, so we must clean up the mistakes and get ready. I do feel like we did well this first game, although we have a lot of cleaning up to do."
Good teams can find a way to mask their flaws. The Vikings covered up the penalties with big plays.
The lineman and linebackers sacked Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan four times. Harrison Smith and Eric Kendricks both deflected two passes, and Anthony Harris killed two drives with a pair of interceptions, including one in the back of the end zone. The coverage softened slightly in the second half as the team transitioned to a prevent defense, but Ryan didn't have many open targets to choose from throughout the game.
And, of course, the early lead helped.
"Once you get that momentum, that's when you got to start to have fun and really start to relax and go make some plays," Harris said.
Despite the showing from division rivals Green Bay and Chicago on Thursday night, the race for the NFC North crown will be tight. For the Vikings to have a chance, they can't just depend on big nights from their playmaking defense — they need to focus in on limiting penalties.