Cousins, Vikings overtake Patriots for 33-26 victory
Minneapolis — Kirk Cousins threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns, the last a go-ahead score to Adam Thielen in the fourth quarter to push the Minnesota Vikings past the New England Patriots 33-26 on Thursday night.
Justin Jefferson had 139 yards and one of the touchdown passes from Cousins, who delivered precisely the clutch performance against a formidable defense the Vikings (9-2) needed to bounce back from a blowout loss. Rookie coach Kevin O'Connell also got the bonus of a win over Bill Belichick, who drafted him with the Patriots in 2008.
"Kevin has empowered me so much. This team has empowered me so much," said Cousins, who went 30 for 37 with one interception that Jonathan Jones returned 55 yards to set up a field goal in the first quarter. "At times, it almost brings me to tears the way these guys support me."
Mac Jones passed for a career-high 382 yards and two scores to snap a lagging offense to life for the Patriots (6-5), but they ran out of steam down the stretch. Their fourth quarter included two three-and-out punts, a turnover on downs at the Minnesota 39 and three desperation passes on the final drive that didn't get New England anywhere close to scoring range.
Jones found Hunter Henry for a wide-open 37-yard touchdown pass to start the second half for a 23-16 lead. Kene Nwangwu scored on a 97-yard kickoff return to strike right back for the Vikings.
Jones — who has a 77.2 completion percentage over the last two games — appeared to hit his tight end for a second score in the third quarter with a twisting catch at the goal line that was ruled a touchdown on the field. The replay reversal — Henry's bottom hand appeared to be under the ball as it bobbled briefly and he fell on his back — forced the Patriots to settle for Nick Folk's fourth field goal of the game.
Another vital call went the Vikings way a few minutes later when Pierre Strong Jr. was called for running into punter Ryan Wright. With a fresh set of downs, Cousins and the Vikings cruised up the field for the go-ahead touchdown.
The Patriots allowed just three points in each of their last two games and brought the NFL sack leader Matt Judon to the stadium where the Vikings were decimated by Dallas just four days earlier while Cousins took a career-high seven sacks.
With standout left tackle Christian Darrisaw sidelined by a concussion, the Vikings gave backup Blake Brandel plenty of extra help and put Cousins in far more favorable situations with shorter drops and quicker throws. The Vikings had 231 yards in the first half, more than the Patriots allowed in the previous two games combined.
"This one means a whole heck of a lot, just because I have so much respect for that organization and coach Belichick," O'Connell said.
Moving on up
Jefferson had his footprints all over this game from the start, when his 3-yard reception on a crossing route in the end zone capped the opening drive. He made catch after improbable catch in tight coverage, including a 36-yard grab on a go route right before he was sandwiched by Jonathan Jones and Devin McCourty to set up Thielen's touchdown.
"His ability to not hear footsteps and not alligator-arm it but bring it in and get popped, that's one of his many traits," Cousins said.
Jefferson set the NFL record for most receiving yards in a player's first three seasons to pass Randy Moss. Jefferson has hit the 100-yard mark in 21 of 44 career games, and this one was one of his finest given the way Belichick's defenses frequently focus on taking star players out of the mix.
"Kevin did a good job," Belichick said. "They made a few more plays than we did. They've got a good football team, have a lot of good players, well coached. We just came up short."
Patriots: RB Damien Harris (thigh) was hurt in the third quarter and didn't return. ... C David Andrews (thigh) and RT Isaiah Wynn (foot) were inactive, replaced in the starting lineup by James Ferentz and Yodny Cajuste.
Vikings: Fourth-stringer Duke Shelley started at CB, with Cameron Dantzler Sr. (ankle), Akayleb Evans (concussion) and Andrew Booth Jr. (knee) all sidelined. ... DE Dalvin Tomlinson (calf) missed his fourth straight game, with James Lynch filling in.
Patriots: Host the Buffalo Bills on Dec. 1 in another Thursday night game.
Vikings: Host the New York Jets on Dec. 4.