The Vikings moved to 9-2 on the season after defeating the Patriots in the final game of the NFL’s Thanksgiving triple-header, 33-26.
After being kept field goals in Week 11, these two offenses wasted no time getting into the end zone to start this game. Minnesota needed just eight plays to travel 80 yards to score a touchdown on the opening drive of the night. Then, New England matched that score with one of its own as Mack Jones connected with Nelson Agholor for a 34-yard touchdown. From there, these attacks continued to match each other throughout the first half and found themselves knotted at 16 at the break.
New England opened the final half with a 75-yard drive to go up by seven. It didn’t take long for Minnesota to get the game back together when running back Ken Nwango ran back 97 yards for a touchdown.
It was 26 at the start of the fourth quarter, and at that point the Vikings began to pull away. A New England penalty for running the kick gave Minnesota new life on a 3rd-and-4 and then they had it. Two plays after the penalty, Cousins completed a 36-yard pass to Justin Jefferson and then a 15-yard touchdown pass to Adam Thielen to take the lead and hold on.
Kirk Cousins finished 30 of 37 for 299 yards with three TDs and an interception. Justin Jefferson was his first target and the wide star had 9 catches for 139 yards and a touchdown,in processing. Meanwhile, Mack Jones was 28-of-39 for a season-high 382 yards with a pair of TDs and no interceptions.
For a more detailed breakdown of this game, check out the takeaways below.
Why did the Vikings win?
While there has been a narrative about Kirk Cousins in prime time games, the Vikings quarterback has been pretty good on Thursday. He had poor interceptions, but outside of that he was excellent at Minnesota. He was able to match any scoring score set by the Patriots and was able to spin the ball around seven different players. Having said that, Justin Jefferson was his number one target and the star wide continues to take on the offense. On top of the accumulated stats, Jefferson was making a number of clutch catches, including a 36-yard reception that helped set up Thielen’s touchdown going into the fourth quarter.
While the defense allowed a number of sloppy plays in the air, you also have to give them credit for keeping the Patriots offense to close out the game. Taking a 33-26 Minnesota lead, the defense forced a three-and-out and two touchdown turnovers on the ensuing possession, then kept them out of the end zone as the clock ticked off the end of regulation.
Why did the Patriots lose?
New England’s struggles in the red continued Thursday. Entering this game, the Patriots ranked 31st in red zone touchdown average and proceeded to take an 0-3 lead in the red zone against the Vikings. Really, the offense relied on cut plays from Mac Jones, which he was able to deliver as both of his passing scores were from 30 yards. When they were knocking on the door of the end zone, they were unable to break through it. In fact, the Patriots had two drives where they at least got the ball at the Vikings 6-yard line and were unable to score a touchdown on either. Yes, there was a debatable Hunter Henry eventually called back, but the Patriots had multiple plays inside the 10-yard line and couldn’t find a way to go forward.
Of course you can’t talk about this loss without bringing up the Special Teams unit. This was a remarkably poor showing by that unit, and their inadequate play led directly to the Vikings’ 14 points. After taking the lead to start the second half with a 75-yard touchdown drive, the Patriots’ special teams unit immediately allowed Minnesota to tie the game back up, allowing a kickoff return 97 yards for a touchdown. In the fourth quarter, they also committed the run on the penalty that would have allowed the Vikings to score the winning touchdown.
This was a back and forth game all night as these clubs had to catch up with each other to tie the game at various points. In the early stages of the fourth quarter, the score was tied at 26 and it looked like New England were going to force a three and get the ball back with a chance to take the lead. However, rookie Pierre Strong ran into punter Ryan Wright as he was trying to get the ball wide, drawing the flag. The five-yard penalty was enough to give the Vikings a first down and keep the drive alive. Three plays later, Kirk Cousins hit Adam Thelin for what proved to be the illuminating touchdown.
Play the game
Let’s give Kene Nwangwu some props for taking home that 97-yard kickoff. After New England scored on a 37-yard Hunter Henry touchdown run to be the second half, I felt the momentum shift in the Patriots’ direction. Once Nwangwu ran back, any positive juice the Patriots had was quickly emptied out.
It was Nwangwu’s third career touchdown kickoff.
From here, the Patriots will return to Foxboro and prepare for another game Thursday night as they host the Buffalo Bills in their first meeting of the season. As for the Vikings, they’ll be lounging around US Bank Stadium and bracing for the New York Jets.
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