The Vikings vowed to bounce back after an humiliating loss, and that’s just what they did.
In the first NFL game on Thanksgiving in Minnesota, the Vikings defeated the New England Patriots 33-26 on Thursday night at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The win came four days after an ugly 40-3 loss to the Cowboys, Minnesota’s worst home loss in 59 years. Wide receiver Adam Thielen said how the Vikings looked against the Patriots would be a test of the 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 we show up on a mission to try and play a really good football team and try to get a win,” said Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell. “I cannot be more proud of our football team and our staff. … I’m really excited and happy.”
The Vikings continued to have some issues on defense, but they got big plays on offense and on special teams to raise their record to 9-2, the second-best in the NFL.
Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson had nine catches for 139 yards and a touchdown and broke Minnesota hall of famer Randy Moss’ NFL record for most yards receiving in a player’s first three seasons with 4,248. Jefferson entered the game with 4,109 yards and broke Moss’ mark of 4,163 in the second quarter with a 37-yard grab.
“It means a lot,” Jefferson said. “It means that my course of reaching the hall of fame is near. But I’m just going to keep working, doing whatever it takes to make plays for this team.”
Most of all, Jefferson was happy that he got the record in a win and that the Vikings made up for the loss to the Cowboys.
“A lot of determination,” he said. “I mean, we didn’t like getting blown out like that, especially at home. So just bouncing back. Short week. Thursday night. No better way to win it.
In the third quarter, Vikings running back Kene Nwangwu returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown, his third return for a TD in his two-year career. Last season, he had returns for touchdowns of 98 yards at Baltimore and 99 at San Francisco.
Nwangwu’s return tied the score 23-23 after the Patriots had taken a 23-16 lead, their biggest of the game.
The Patriots led 26-23 entering the fourth quarter, but the Vikings got a 36-yard field goal by Greg Joseph early in the quarter to tie the score 26-26. Kirk Cousins threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Thielen with 9:34 left in the game to give Minnesota the lead for good at 33-26.
“Another great team win,” Cousins said. “Just so many people to grateful for in the way they contributed. Obviously, the kickoff return. … Found a way to get more explosive plays.”
The drive for Thielen’s touchdown was kept alive by a running-into-the kicker penalty against New England’s Pierre Strong Jr. on punter Ryan Wright when the Vikings faced fourth and 3 at the Minnesota 36 with 11:04 left in the game.
The Patriots (6-5) were much more undisciplined than normal under legendary coach Bill Belichick. They had six penalties for 55 yards including an ugly unnecessary roughness penalty late in the third quarter when New England defensive back Myles Bryant gave Thielen a cheap shot.
Belichick was going against first-year Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell for the first time. O’Connell was a New England backup quarterback under Belichick in 2008.
“This one means a whole heck of a lot because I have so much respect for that organization and and Coach Belichick,” O’Connell said.
Cousins completed 30 of 37 passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns on a night that the Vikings had just 57 yards rushing. Most importantly, after being sacked seven times against the Cowboys, the most in 11-year career, Cousins was sacked just once Thursday.
“We had a real plan, kind of knowing where we’d be at,” O’Connell said. “We wanted to try to run the football. it’s a tough group to run it against, … But we were able to churn out runs to then allow us to activate some play passes.”
New England quarterback Mac Jones completed 26 of 37 passes for 342 yards and two touchdowns. The Patriots were potent on offense after entering the game ranked just 25th in the NFL in total offense.
The Patriots outgained the Vikings 409 to 358 yards, but Minnesota’s defense made timely plays when needed. That included the Vikings sacking Jones three times, including a nine-yard dump by Danielle Hunter when the Patriots had third-and-7 at the Minnesota w30 with 2:15 left and trained 33-26. Jones then throw an incomplete pass on fourth-and-16 at the Vikings 39, which effectively ended the game.
Jones looked to have a third touchdown pass when he hit tight end Hunter Henry at the goal line midway through the third quarter from seven yards out. But after a touchdown was called, replay determined that the ball had hit the ground and the pass was incomplete.
“He was going to the ground, the ball ended up touching the ground and then he lost control of the ball in his hands.” NFL senior vice president of officiating Walt Anderson told a pool reporter.
Nick Folk then hit a 25-yard field goal to put the Patriots up 26-23 before the Vikings backed back to tie the score 26-26 on Joseph’s 36-yard field goal. Cousins then hit Thielen for the go-ahead score.
“We called that play like several times (before),” Cousins said. “We just didn’t get the look we wanted, so I just kept checking to something else. (O’Connell) called it again and we got the look.”
The Vikings wasted no time on the opening drive of the game in going 80 yards on eight plays, with Jefferson catching a 6-yard touchdown pass from Cousins. But the Patriots came right back to tie the score 7-7 on a 34-yard touchdown pass from Jones to Nelson Agholor.
The back-and-forth nature of the game continued after that. A 34-yard field goal by Folk late in the first quarter gave the Patriots a 10-7 lead, but the Vikings tied it 10-10 on a 30-yard boot by Joseph midway through the second quarter.
The Patriots then went up 13-10 on a 46-yard field goal by Folk before the Vikings took a 16-13 lead on a Cousins 1-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Hockenson with 1:30 left in the half. But the Patriots tied the score 16-16 on Folk’s 23-yard field goal with three seconds left in the first half.
The teams continued to pile up points in the third quarter. The Patriots took a 23-16 lead on Jones’ 37-yard touchdown pass to Hunter before Nwangwu tied the score 23-23 on his 97-yard return. Folk then put the Patriots back up 26-23 with his field following the touchdown to Henry that was called back.