The Minnesota Vikings quickly grew into a confident and resilient team under rookie coach Kevin O’Connell and his staff – and they certainly showed it in this short week.
Kirk Cousins threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns, the last a go-ahead for Adam Thielen with 9:34 left to push Minnesota past the New England Patriots in a 33-26 win on Thanksgiving Thursday night.
Justin Jefferson had 139 receiving yards and one of Cousins’ touchdown passes that provided the clutch performance against an impressive defense the Vikings (9-2) needed to recover from a blowout loss four days ago.
They also recovered multiple times within the game. After a tumble from Cousins was intercepted by Jonathan Jones and returned 55 yards to set up a field goal in the first quarter, the Vikings scored with five straight possession, save for a kneeling, to end the first half.
“Kevin gave me so much strength. This team has empowered me so much,” said Cousins, who went 30 for 37. “Sometimes it almost brings me to tears the way these guys support me.”
Mac Jones rushed for a career-high 382 yards and two points to bring life to a delayed offense for the Patriots (6-5), but they ran out of breath on the stretch. Her fourth quarter included two 3-and-out punts, a turnover on downs at the Minnesota 39, and a short desperate final drive.
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Jones found Hunter Henry for a wide-open 37-yard touchdown pass to start the second half with a 23-16 lead. Kene Nwangwu hit on a 97-yard kickoff return to hit straight back for the Vikings.
Jones – who has completed more than 77 percent of his passes in the last two games – appeared to slap Henry on the next possession with a goal-line spin catch that counted as an onfield touchdown for another goal. Reversing the replay to an incomplete pass forced the Patriots to settle for Nick Folk’s fourth field goal of the game.
“My hand was under it even when it hit the ground,” Henry said.
Another important call came to the Vikings a few minutes later when Pierre Strong Jr. was called out for bumping into punter Ryan Wright. With a fresh set of downs, Cousins and the Vikings crossed the field for the go-ahead touchdown.
“We definitely had to come in and show people that last week just wasn’t our week,” Jefferson said.
O’Connell also got the bonus of a win over Bill Belichick, who drafted him to the Patriots in 2008.
“This one means a hell of a lot just because I have so much respect for this organization and Coach Belichick,” O’Connell said.
The Patriots conceded just three points each in their last two games and brought NFL sack leader Matt Judon to the stadium where the Vikings were decimated by Dallas on Sunday while Cousins had seven sacks in his career.
With standout left tackle Christian Darrisaw out with a concussion, the Vikings gave backup Blake Brandel plenty of extra help, putting Cousins into far more favorable situations with shorter drops and faster throws. The Vikings had 231 yards in the first half, more than the Patriots allowed in the previous two games combined.
Jefferson had his mark all over this game from the start, as his 3-yard reception on a crossover route in the end zone capped the opening drive. He made catch after catch from close cover, including a 36-yard grab on a go route just before he was pinched by Jonathan Jones and Devin McCourty. Thielen’s touchdown came on the next move.
“His ability to not hear footsteps and not gator arm but bring him in and get banged, that’s one of his many traits,” Cousins said.
Jefferson set the NFL record for most yards in a player’s first three seasons to overtake Randy Moss. Jefferson has hit the 100-yard mark in 21 of 44 career games, and this was one of his best considering Belichick’s defense often focuses on taking star players out of the mix.
“Kevin did a good job,” said Belichick. “They played a few more games than we did.”
The Vikings host the New York Jets on December 4th. You can win the NFC North Division with a win and some help.