LAS VEGAS — Kellen Mond took the fourth-down shotgun snap, standing calmly in the pocket as the Raiders sent a three-man rush after him. He saw Dan Chisena — one of his secondary options on the play — break free from cornerback Chris Jones on a deep route, and Mond threw the ball to the receiver for a 22-yard gain.
“That was the determination: His first progression was taken away, calm in the pocket, just progressed in rhythm and threw an absolutely beautiful ball to Dan,” coach Kevin O’Connell said. “And then you saw him hit his third and fourth strides, late [in the game] there to Jalen Nailor [for 16 yards] or Miron [Mitchell for 16 yards] on the back [of the play]. When you see him come back to that, that’s growth.”
Contrast that with Mond’s final throw of the first half in the Vikings’ 26-20 loss to the Raiders in the preseason opener: He spun left, then right, avoiding a three-man rush as his teammates, first Bisi Johnson and Trishton Jackson, then Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Zach Davidson, raised their hands to call the ball. Mond threw behind Jackson and out the back of the end zone as Smith-Marsette put his hands on his helmet, and O’Connell called for his second short Greg Joseph field goal, after a play where he thought Mond had a chance for a touchdown. .
O’Connell approached his first preseason game, his first stint as the 10th coach in Vikings history, with two goals: Keep core starters healthy and learn as much as he could about the young players who will take camp at Allegiant Stadium on Sunday .
The first target was easy, with all of the Vikings’ skill players and five defensive starters not playing. If O’Connell could claim that he succeeded in the second, it may be because of experiences like that Mond had.
“I wanted to come out and win this game,” O’Connell said, “but we’re going to make sure we don’t miss an opportunity to have some real teachable moments.”
The Vikings lost because of their inability to finish drives in the first half and some defensive lapses throughout; they gave up two long second-half scoring drives and allowed the Raiders to hold the ball for the final 3 minutes, 44 seconds. But in some dynamic moments from young running backs Ty Chandler and Kene Nwangwu, flashes from defenders like Brian Asamoah and Patrick Jones and especially in the second half of Mond, the Vikings might be able to hang on to something.
Mond threw two second-half TD passes to Albert Wilson, finishing 9-for-14 for 119 yards. Sean Mannion, who played the first three series and returned for one more in the fourth quarter, went 8 of 12 for 79 yards.
The Vikings outgained the Raiders 172-94 in the first half, but incurred 66 penalty yards. They went 0-for-4 on third downs, and got just six points out of their two red zone trips.
Mannion overran Ihmir Smith-Marsette in the back corner of the end zone on the Vikings’ third drive, and O’Connell opted to send Joseph in for a 20-yard attempt.
“My thought process was, ‘I can leave the ball high and safe, and we’ve got points in hand with a great kick,'” Mannion said. “I was a little too worried; we have other people in the play if i can just move on there. Maybe there’s something and maybe there isn’t, but whenever you’re in the red zone, you want to come. away with seven.”
On Mond’s first series, the Vikings ran five times for 54 yards, with Chandler showing the elusiveness he showed in camp to extend runs that started with big holes up the middle. Nwangwu bounced outside for 12 yards, before Mond missed Johnson on a fade, and after a 2-yard Nwangwu run, the Vikings had to call on Joseph again after Mond’s missed third-down connection.
“I saw Kene on the right side,” Mond said. “It’s one of those where I probably gave the corner a little too much credit; his hips were a little lower down the field, and I thought he could still make a break on the ball. As you look back on it, obviously. it’s easy to train yourself whenever you go back to the sideline and you watch it on video. Those are some of those things where you keep training your eyes, and have a little more confidence in ripping those things.”
Las Vegas, which led 10-6 at the half, extended the lead to 10 points when Nick Mullens hit DJ Turner for a 34-yard touchdown on a drive where the Vikings’ illegal substitution penalty on a punt gave the Raiders a first down.
Mullens fitted his third-down TD pass over a shallow drop by linebacker Blake Lynch as Turner hit Parry Nickerson across the field. Nickerson tried unsuccessfully to strip the ball, and Turner eluded rookie Akayleb Evans while safety Josh Metellus was blocked.
“Finally, can we improve situationally?” O’Connell said. “Third down and red zone just wasn’t good enough for us to win.”
They went home, after their first ever game in the state of Nevada, hoping they had forged some progress.
“It just keeps piling up days and keeps getting better,” Mond said. “I felt a lot more comfortable as I kept going.”