Under rookie head coach Kevin O’Connell and his staff, the Minnesota Vikings have rapidly become a confident and resilient squad, and they demonstrated it in this short week.
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins passed for 299 yards and three touchdowns in their 33-26 win against the New England Patriots on Thursday night. His last touchdown pass went to Adam Thielen with 9:34 remaining in the game.
Cousins’ clutch effort against a powerful defense was just what the Vikings (9-2) needed to come back from a blowout defeat four days before, and Justin Jefferson benefited by catching seven receptions for 139 yards and a score.
They also had many offensive boards throughout the contest. The Vikings scored on five consecutive drives, eliminating a kneel-down at the close of the first half, when an overthrow by Cousins was intercepted by Jonathan Jones and returned 55 yards to set up a field goal.
“Kevin has given me so much confidence. After a 30 for 37 performance, Cousins remarked, “This team has empowered me so much it nearly takes me to tears the way these guys embrace me.”
While Mac Jones threw for a career-high 382 yards and two touchdowns to spark the Patriots’ (6-5) sputtering offense, the squad ultimately fizzled out in the fourth quarter, resulting in two three-and-out punts, a fumble on downs at the Minnesota 39, and a short, futile final drive.
While Jones opened the second half by connecting with Hunter Henry on a 37-yard touchdown throw, the Vikings responded quickly thanks to Kene Nwangwu’s touchdown on a 97-yard kickoff return.
On the ensuing possession, Jones, who has completed over 77% of his passes over the last two games, appeared to hit Henry for another score with a twisting catch at the goal line that was ruled a touchdown on the field, but replay showed that the pass was actually incomplete, and the Patriots were forced to settle for Nick Folk’s fourth field goal of the game.
Even when it landed, Henry said, his hand was still beneath it.
A few minutes later, the Vikings benefited from a key call when Pierre Strong Jr. was penalized for rushing into punter Ryan Wright, giving Kirk Cousins and the Vikings a new set of downs and eventually leading to the game-winning score.
In his words, “we absolutely wanted to come in and show folks that last week, it simply wasn’t our week,” Jefferson said of the previous week’s results.
Even better for O’Connell was beating the coach who had selected him to the Patriots in 2008: Bill Belichick.
For O’Connell, “this one means a whole heck of a lot” because of his admiration for the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick.
The Vikings were annihilated by Dallas on Sunday as Cousins took a career-high seven sacks, while the Patriots allowed just three points in each of their previous two games and brought the NFL sack leader Matt Judon to the stadium.
The Vikings had 231 yards in the first half, more than the Patriots allowed in the previous two games combined, with backup left tackle Blake Brandel getting a lot of help and Cousins benefiting from shorter drops and quicker throws. Star left tackle Christian Darrisaw missed the game due to a concussion.
SHIFT IN LEVEL
With his 3-yard reception on a crossing route in the end zone to cap the opening drive, Jefferson stamped his presence on the game early and often. He made improbable catch after improbable catch in tight coverage, including a 36-yard grab on a go route right before he was sandwiched by Jonathan Jones and Devin McCourty. Thielen scored on the next play.
One of his many talents is “not hearing footsteps” and “not alligator-arming it,” as Cousins put it.
Jefferson passed Randy Moss for the NFL record for most receiving yards in a player’s first three seasons, and this game was one of his best considering how Belichick’s defenses often concentrate on neutralizing star players. Jefferson has over 100 receiving yards in 21 of his 44 career games.
Belichick praised Kevin’s performance, saying, “Kevin did a fantastic job.” We didn’t make as many plays as they did.
DESCRIPTION OF INJURY
Patriots running back Damien Harris left the game in the third quarter with a thigh injury and did not return. Center David Andrews (thigh) and right tackle Isaiah Wynn (foot) did not play and were replaced by James Ferentz and Yodny Cajuste, respectively.
Injuries to Cameron Dantzler Sr. (ankle), Akayleb Evans (concussion), and Andrew Booth Jr. (knee) forced the Vikings to start fourth-stringer Duke Shelley at cornerback. Likewise, Dalvin Tomlinson (calf) sat out for a fourth consecutive game, with James Lynch taking his place.