You Like That (Response)?

Photo Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Four days following a 40-3 shellacking in their own backyard, the Minnesota Vikings had multiple excuses to continue their late-November ride on the NFL’s struggle bus against the New England Patriots. For the second consecutive game, they welcomed one of the league’s premier pass rushes — and the NFL’s sack leader — without the luxury of having their best offensive lineman in Christian Darrisaw. Bill Belichick and his defense completely eliminated the ever-important running game for Kevin O’Connell‘s offense. And speaking of struggle busses: Patriots quarterback Mac Jones resembled Tom Brady after he picked apart a Minnesota defense that was down a borderline-laughable number of cornerbacks due to injury.

But instead of taking the easy way out and falling back on this handful of excuses, the Vikings gutted out a hard-fought 33-26 victory for the entire football world to see in primetime on Thanksgiving. For the first time all season, Minnesota’s offense didn’t hit the inevitable rough patch in the second and/or third quarter. That’s not to say the offense was perfect — especially after Kirk Cousins‘ interception on the team’s second offensive drive. But the Vikings responded to that adversity with five-straight scoring drives, which included the first kickoff return touchdown of the year for Kene Nwangwu.

Skoldiers have patiently waited for this offense to look like the unit that O’Connell coordinated to a Lombardi Trophy less than a year ago. And in the game where folks were least expecting it, Vikings fans were gifted with an iconic performance out of its offense. Filling in for the injured Darrisaw, backup left tackle Blake Brandel held up admirably against Matt Judon and Deatrich Wise. He wasn’t exposed until the opening play of the fourth quarter when Josh Uche beat him for a sack on second down when the Vikings were inside the 10-yard line.

After letting his first touchdown in purple slip through his fingers last week against the Cowboys, T.J. Hockenson found the end zone right before halftime. As we’ve seen throughout the year with his tight ends, O’Connell schemed the recently acquired pass-catcher open on a critical third-and-goal from the one-yard line.

Have Vikings fans become numb to Justin Jefferson‘s consistent greatness? Because the third-year superstar continued to build his case for the title of Best Receiver on the Planet last night. The former national champion LSU Tiger capped off Minnesota’s opening drive after he hauled in his sixth touchdown (fifth receiving score) this season on a third-and-two from New England’s seven-yard line.

Jefferson was masterful throughout the night. He displayed incredible toughness and spatial awareness by coming down with big-play receptions after taking multiple shots from New England’s secondary. He again reminded football fans of Booby Miles from Friday Night Lights with his ability to pass on Minnesota’s opening script — completing an 11-yard throw to Adam Thielen. Jefferson finished the night with 11 targets, nine receptions, 139 receiving yards, and an opening-drive touchdown.

Thielen had his biggest game of the year against the Patriots. Cousins targeted him a season-high 10 times, and he came down with a season-high nine receptions. The Pride of Detroit Lakes, Minn., saved his best for crunch time, hauling in a 15-yard fourth-quarter touchdown that would serve as the game-winner for the Vikings.

If Minnesota’s top three pass-catchers had their fingerprints on this ball game, that means Cousins was doing his thing from the pocket all night. After laying an egg — just like the rest of his teammates — against Dallas, Cousins was clicking on all cylinders. And in primetime against arguably the league’s best defense. The talking heads and a particular segment of Skoldiers said it couldn’t be done, certainly not against Belichick’s vaunted pass rush — especially while missing his best pass protector in Darrisaw.

Cousins displayed a seldom-seen ability to maneuver the pass rush and generate high-level offense throughout the night. To be blunt, last night was the best performance of his five-year tenure with the Vikings. He accomplished everything that the football world said he couldn’t.

  • Win in Primetime
  • Escape a chaotic pocket
  • Overcome less-than-ideal circumstances without Darrisaw
  • Shine against (arguably) the league’s best defense

His final stat line was impeccable.

  • 30 for 37
  • 299 yards
  • 3 TDs
  • 1 INT
  • 116.1 passer rating (his highest since Week 1)

For crying out loud, look at what Cousins did against one of the scariest pass rushes in all of football.

This type of efficiency simply doesn’t happen against Belichick. And certainly not when he has one of the league’s best fronts with Judon and Wise. That New England front eliminated Minnesota’s running game to the tune of 27 carries for 57 yards — a comically bad 2.1 yards per carry. Cousins was forced to put the offense on his back and deliver in ways that even his biggest supporters might not be sure he’s capable of.

Last night the O’Connell/Cousins partnership diced up the best defensive mastermind that the game of football has ever seen. Even when Cousins did the thing that his naysayers despise the most — check it down on third-and-a-mile — it proved to be the absolute best decision for the team. Following Jefferson’s false start on third-and-nine early in the fourth quarter, Cousins checked it down to Hockenson for an 11-yard gain on third-and-14. And when New England ran into Ryan Wright‘s punt on the next play, the Vikings were awarded with a new set of downs that would ultimately conclude with Cousins’ game-winning touchdown pass to Thielen three plays later.

That’s situational mastery — and against the head coach who emphasizes situational football more than anyone else in the history of the game.

O’Connell and Cousins picked apart Belichick’s defense in historic fashion last night. It’s been 14 years since an opponent was this efficient with its passing game against New England.

Are these Vikings finally turning into the offense that Skoldiers expected them to be when general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah hired O’Connell away from the Los Angeles Rams? They most definitely looked the part last night. With the best skill position player in the world at his disposal, Cousins showed against Belichick and the Patriots that sky-high expectations have always been warranted for this offense.

And expectations don’t get much higher for NFL offenses than to resemble the 2021 Los Angeles Rams. This is precisely what O’Connell, Cousins, Jefferson, and the Vikings put on display for the entire football world to see last night against the NFL’s best in Belichick.

Teams with legitimate cases for Super Bowl contention find ways to respond after getting punched in the mouth. The Vikings passed their most recent test with flying colors. This team has scored 28-plus points in six of their past nine games and 33-plus points in three of their past five. The offense is beginning to hum at the exact right time.

As long as the offense continues to hover around 30 points per game, they will remain a legitimate threat to reach the NFL mountaintop and hoist the Lombardi in Glendale, Ariz.

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Photo Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

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