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 Viking did exactly what they wanted to do Thursday night: Move on from it.
Their 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.
By beating the Patriots, the Vikings recorded 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 the score has been tied separately on 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 score 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 p.m. ET, Sunday)
New England Patriots
The 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 for 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.
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. In his first seven games this season, he had one total touchdown on throws 15-plus yards.
Promising trend: The short-handed 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 past 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)
Kevin O’Connell ‘could not be more proud’ of Vikings’ bounce-back win on Thanksgiving after blowout loss
Four days after getting pummeled by the Dallas Cowboys, the Minnesota Vikings bounced back in a big way, earning a 33-26 victory over the New England Patriots Thanksgiving night.
Vikes coach Kevin O’Connell said the ability to wipe away the bitter taste of Sunday’s 40-3 loss and earn a win speaks volumes about his team’s character.
“Four days after being here with a pretty dejected feeling and asking our team to respond and our coaches to respond and show up tonight on a mission to try and play a really good football team and try to get a win,” the coach said, via the team’s official transcript. “I could not be more proud of my football team and our staff and all that goes into it as an organization. Really excited and happy. Feel very fortunate, including being very thankful, to be the head coach of this team and that locker room in there.”
After looking inept on Sunday, all three phases played well Thursday for Minnesota.
Justin Jefferson scorched the Patriots’ defense, proving uncoverable as he went for 139 yards and a touchdown on nine catches. Kirk Cousins bounced back from an early interception and played exceptionally, completing 81.1 percent of his passes for 299 yards and three TDs against a previously stingy Pats D. A Vikings offensive line missing its left tackle gave up just one sack on the night.
The defense swarmed late, sacking Mac Jones on the final two drives to destroy any attempt at a comeback.
And special teams added a massive kick return TD from Kene Nwangwu that swung momentum.
“This was a good football team we played tonight. They made it hard for us,” Cousins said. “What I think has been unique about our journey this season has just been the team factor. We needed a kickoff return tonight, we’ve needed interceptions, fumble recoveries, pass-rush, run game, pass game. There’s just been a lot of contributions. For us to win it would seem we really do need the whole team to contribute. That’s what I think has been a unique theme to this year, is we win as a team and really lean on all three phases.”
The win moved the Vikings to 9-2, already on the doorstep of clinching the NFC North division. The bounce-back from blowout to victory displayed mettle from O’Connell’s team that will serve well come January.
“My goal here is to have our organization ready to put it all together, even when people don’t give us a chance or when adversity hits, that’s when I happen to believe the best parts of our team come out,” O’Connell said. “I think that will continue to serve us well as we continue to improve as a football team this year.”