The Vikings moved to 9-2 on the season after taking down the Patriots in the final game of the NFL’s Thanksgiving triple-header, 33-26.
After being held to field goals in Week 11, both of these offenses wasted no time getting the end zone to begin 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 his own as Mac Jones connected with Nelson Agholor for a 34-yard touchdown. From there, these offenses continued to match one another throughout the first half and found themselves knotted at 16 at the break.
New England opened up the final half with a 75-yard touchdown drive to go up by seven. It didn’t take long for Minnesota to bring the game back to even as Kene Nwangwu ran back a 97-yard kickoff for a touchdown.
It was 26-all at the beginning of the fourth quarter, and it was at that point where the Vikings began to pull away. A penalty on New England for running into the kicker gave Minnesota new life on a third-and-4 punt and they cashed in. Two plays after the penalty, Cousins completed a 36-yard pass to Justin Jefferson and then a 15-yard touchdown to Adam Thielen to take and hold onto the lead.
Kirk Cousins finished 30-of-37 for 299 yards with three TDs and an interception. Justin Jefferson was his go-to target and the star wideout had 9 catches for 139 yards and a touchdown,in the process. Meanwhile, Mac 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 our takeaways below.
Why the Vikings won
While there has been a narrative around Kirk Cousins in primetime games, the Vikings quarterback was largely good on Thursday. He did have a poorly thrown interception, but outside of that he was stellar for Minnesota. He was able to match whatever scoring output the Patriots put up and was able to spread the ball around to seven different pass-catchers. That said, Justin Jefferson was his go-to target and the star wideout continues to carry the offense. On top of simply piling up stats, Jefferson was making a number of clutch catches, including 36-yard reception that helped set up Thielen’s go ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.
While the defense did allow a number of chunk plays through the air, you do have to also give them credit for keeping down the Patriots offense to close out the game. After Minnesota took the 33-26 lead, the defense forced a three-and-out, a turnover on downs on the ensuing possession and then kept them out of the end zone as the clock ticked down to the end of regulation.
Why the Patriots lost
New England’s struggles in the red zone continued on Thursday. Coming into this game, the Patriots ranked 31st in red zone touchdown rate and proceeded to go 0-3 in the red area against the Vikings. Really, the offense relied on chunk plays from Mac Jones, which he was able to deliver on as both of his passing scores were from 30-plus yards out. When they were knocking on the door of the end zone, however, they couldn’t punch it through. In fact, the Patriots had two drives where they got the ball to at least the Vikings 6-yard line and were unable to score touchdowns on either of them. Yes, there was a debatable Hunter Henry touchdown that was ultimately called back, but the Patriots had multiple plays inside the 10-yard line and couldn’t find a way to push through.
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 insufficient play directly resulted in 14 points for the Vikings. After taking the lead to begin 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 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. In the fourth quarter, they also committed a running into the kicker penalty that would allow the Vikings to score the game-winning touchdown.
This was a back and forth game all night as these clubs were containing catching up to one another to tie the game at various points. In the early stages of the fourth quarter, the score was knotted at 26 and it looked like New England was going to force a three-and-out and get the ball back with an opportunity to take the lead. However, rookie Pierre Strong ran into punter Ryan Wright as he was trying to boot the ball away, which drew a 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 Thielen what proved to be the go-ahead touchdown.
Play of the game
Let’s give some props to Kene Nwangwu for taking this kickoff 97-yards to the house. After New England scored on a 37-yard Hunter Henry touchdown to being the second half, it did feel like the momentum shifting in the Patriots direction. Once Nwangwu ran this back, however, any positive juice that the Patriots got was quickly deflated.
This was the third kickoff return for a touchdown of Nwangwu’s career.
From here, the Patriots will head back to Foxborough and gear up for another Thursday night game as they’ll host the Buffalo Bills for their first meeting of the season. As for the Vikings, they’ll hang around US Bank Stadium and prepare for the New York Jets.