Vikings return to form with wild, weird win over Patriots, move close to clinching NFC North title

Four hours before the Vikings’ Thanksgiving night game against the Patriots, Kevin O’Connell walked into the U.S. Bank Stadium locker room and was stunned at the number of players already in the building.

The team had absorbed its biggest ever loss four days earlier in Minneapolis; Thursday night’s game provided the Vikings with a chance to quickly reverse that 37-point loss to the Cowboys. If they felt the game didn’t suit their character, the 33-26 win they managed against the Patriots – sweating the whole way through – was a return to the form that puts them on the precipice of an NFC North title.

“It just shows how excited guys were to get out here and show that energy, that excitement, that brotherhood that we have in this locker room,” said wide receiver Adam Thielen. “I think that helped us to prevail.”

After Kirk Cousins ​​found Thielen for a go-ahead touchdown with 9:40 left, the Vikings’ pass rush conjured up the biggest plays of the night, stopping the Patriots’ last two drives with sacks from Danielle Hunter and Khyiris Tonga.

The win improved the Vikings’ record to 9-2, giving them a chance to take the NFC North at home with a win against the Jets next Sunday and losses to the Packers and Lions.

Neven, who overcame a first half interception, completed 30 of 37 passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns. Whoever came to Thielen on a play the Vikings had tried to call several times; Cousins ​​had left the game when the Patriots failed to present the defense they wanted.

The quarterback reached the line of scrimmage before his headset was turned off; he could hear O’Connell say, “We’ve got the look [we wanted]Playing with Devin McCourty as their lone deep safety, the Patriots followed Justin Jefferson down the field; Thielen crossed to the other side and reeled in a touchdown pass into the left back corner of the end zone behind Jalen Mills.

“I was stubborn [with that call]O’Connell said with a smile. “I would continue to find the look we were looking for, and as great coaching staff do, they were able to vary some things. Our whole group was ready – clean bag. I think Kirk had three or four hitches there. Even though it’s a play pass, you still have to block the guy above you and block the edges. I thought that was one of the cleanest pockets all night. We thought we’d have one of those guys; Kirk made a great decision at that point and an incredible throw.”

The Patriots delayed after winning the opening pitch, allowing the Vikings to get the ball first. And for the seventh time in 11 games this season, the Vikings scored on their opening drive.

After Jefferson called for faster passes on Monday to take the pressure off Cousins, the Vikings opened with a series of short throws, including a quick 7-yard completion on their third play for Jefferson’s first catch of the game. The drive ended when Cousins ​​hit Jefferson on a crossroads for a touchdown, giving the Vikings a 7–0 lead.

The Patriots, who failed to score an offensive touchdown last week, came back with a quick TD drive developed by big plays.

Jakobi Meyers’ diving catch gave New England a 24-yard gain on his first play, and with the Patriots on the Vikings’ 34, Nelson Agholor ran a go route from the lock. Chandon Sullivan passed Agholor to the Vikings’ safety, and Agholor blasted downfield into a seam between Harrison Smith and Cam Bynum, catching Mac Jones’ pass for a 34-yard touchdown.

Two Vikings possessions later, Cousins ​​threw over center for KJ Osborn with New England tackle Daniel Ekuale diving to the quarterback’s ankles 3.25 seconds after the snap. Cousins’ pass sailed over Osborn’s head and Jonathan Jones intercepted it to set up a Patriots field goal.

Cousins ​​stood on a stage after the game smiling as he talked about the Vikings’ ninth win of the season. It won’t stop him, he said, from critically reviewing the throws he missed.

“This is how I am, man,” he said. “I go back and think of all the plays I need to get better. I’m probably driving my family crazy being like this, but it’s just the way I’m wired. I’m kind of obsessed with improvement, so even when things are good, I think: ‘How can they be better?’ “

But cousins ​​will also judge the throws to Jefferson, he passed between the Patriots double teams, like the 37-yarder where Jefferson’s slick over-the-shoulder catch caused a touchdown to TJ Hockenson.

The score put the Vikings up 16-13 late in the first half after kicker Greg Joseph missed his fifth extra point of the season.

Patriots quarterback Mac Jones, who finished with a career-high 382 yards, drove the Patriots into field goal range before halftime with completions of 22, 16, 14 and 13 yards.

The Patriots continued to throw to start the second half. Jones, with plenty of time to be in the pocket, found receivers in the space above center of the field. On a

second-and-10 of the Vikings’ 37, he threw over the middle for tight Hunter Henry off-play action. Henry evaded Bynum’s diving tackle attempt and charged into the end zone to make it 23-16 Patriots.

The Vikings’ response came in the form of one of several game-changing special teams.

Kene Nwangwu caught the ensuing kickoff at the Vikings 3, took a block down the left sideline and broke into the open. His 97-yard return, the third kick return TD of his career, tied the score at 23.

Jones went after Duke Shelley on the Patriots’ next drive, as he had for most of the night, hitting DeVante Parker for 41 yards to put the Patriots in position for another touchdown. But after officials ruled that Henry scored on a 6-yard pass from Jones, a review found that he had lost the ball as he went to ground. The Patriots settled for a field goal that made it 26–23.

“I thought we were either going to look a quarter and an inch or it was incomplete,” O’Connell said. “It’s one of those things that could have gone many different ways, but I was very happy that it went the way it did.”

The Vikings tied the score after Cousins ​​led another drive for a field goal. The defense forced only the second three-and-out of the night (after a hit from Harrison Smith on one of the Vikings’ first blitzes of the game) and a penalty revived the Vikings in what turned out to be a green light. to be. motive.

Patriots ran back to Pierre Strong’s helmet and hit Ryan Wright’s foot as he went through with his second punt of the night, and officials called Strong for running into the kicker, causing the Vikings to go down first.

Cousins ​​hit Jefferson for 36 yards against double cover two plays later. Then came the play touchdown that O’Connell and Cousins ​​had been waiting for all night.

“Kirk read it right and just shot it,” Thielen said. “It was pretty close to getting a tip, but I’m glad we completed it.”

And the Vikings, as so often this season, managed to keep their season from going off course.

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