Vikings hold off Patriots, take commanding lead in NFC North
MINNEAPOLIS — In a game packed with highlight plays, the Minnesota Vikings held off the New England Patriots on Thanksgiving night for a 33-26 victory.
Both teams scored early in each half, including a thrilling kickoff return touchdown by the Vikings in response to a Patriots score to start the second half.
The Vikings move to 9-2 on the season, while the Patriots slip to 6-5.
Fresh off one of the worst home losses in team history, the Minnesota Vikings did exactly what they wanted to do Thursday night: Move on from it.
Their 33-26 victory over the Patriots made it a lot easier to stomach a 37-point loss they absorbed four days earlier from the Dallas Cowboys, one that had called into question whether they could be considered one of the NFL’s top teams.
The Vikings are now 9-2 after beating the Patriots, their second win over a team with a winning record in their past three games. If someone told you the Vikings would beat the Patriots and the Buffalo Bills in a three-week span, what would you say about them? A reasonable argument could be made that, yes, they are among the top five teams in the NFL.
Just as important, a Cowboys game that receiver Justin Jefferson called “embarrassing” and “a disaster all around” can be better viewed as an aberration rather than a deep look into the Vikings’ future.
The Vikings will now have 10 days to prepare for their next game, at home against the New York Jets, as they close in on an NFC North title and remain in contention for the NFC’s top seed.
Describe the game in two words: Very close. The Vikings took the lead three separate times in this game, lost it twice and, overall, were tied with the Patriots five different times. Games like that rarely happen in the NFL. According to ESPN Stats & Information, it was only the second time in seven seasons when a game has been tied separately at least five different times.
QB breakdown: Kirk Cousins threw a bad interception in the first quarter, a throw off his back foot that sailed far past receiver K.J. Osborn, but he avoided any other big mistakes during this prime-time game. He finished with 30 completions, the most against the Patriots this season, on 37 attempts for 299 yards and two scores. Most importantly, he expertly drove the Vikings to their winning touchdown by throwing a perfect 36-yard go pass to Jefferson before he found Adam Thielen open for a 15-yard score.
Pivotal play: Returner Kene Nwangwu brought back a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter, his first of the season after returning two for scores as a rookie last season. The return answered a Patriots touchdown on the previous play and tied the game at 23, an important emotional swing that allowed the Vikings to avoid a potential avalanche. The Patriots were one of the few teams to challenge Nwangwu this season. He entered the game with 19 returns all season, as most teams have been kicking deep for touchbacks, but he had five against the Patriots alone.
Next game: vs. Jets (1:00 p.m. ET, Sunday)
The New England Patriots’ red zone struggles on offense came back to haunt them Thursday night against the Minnesota Vikings.
They were 0-for-3 inside the 20-yard line against the NFL’s last-ranked red zone defense. The Vikings were 3-of-5.
Of course, there’s more to it than just that, but until the Patriots find answers to turn those situations into points, it threatens their hopes to make a push to the postseason. Quarterback Mac Jones had talked about trying to “flip the switch” in the red zone, but that didn’t come to fruition against the Vikings.
A close call in the third quarter that was overturned on replay by referee Alex Kemp — when Jones initially appeared to connect with tight end Hunter Henry for a touchdown — was a notable aspect to the team’s lack of red zone production.
Biggest hole in the game plan: It’s similar to what happens to most teams that play the Vikings — covering receiver Justin Jefferson. He shredded the Patriots (9 catches, 139 yards, 1 TD) and showed why he’s one of the NFL’s elite pass-catchers.
Describe the game in two words: Playoff caliber. A great environment at U.S. Bank Stadium and two teams that went toe-to-toe with each other.
QB breakdown: Jones played his best game of the season — particularly when attacking down the field. He was 5-of-5 for 153 yards and two touchdowns on throws traveling 15-plus yards down the field. In his first seven games this season, he had one total touchdown on throws 15-plus yards downfield.
Promising trend: The shorthanded offensive line — with left tackle Trent Brown, left guard Cole Strange, center James Ferentz, right guard Mike Onwenu and right tackle Yodny Cajuste — provided Jones with the best pass protection he’s had all season. As a result, Jones looked like a different quarterback.
Under-the-radar stat that matters: The Patriots allowed five first downs via penalties, tied for their most in a game in the last three seasons. It is their most since Week 11 of 2019 at Philadelphia (also five).
Next game: vs. Bills (8:15 p.m. ET, Thursday)