Cowboys Vikings Football

Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell watches from the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, in Minneapolis. The Cowboys won 40-3. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

MINNEAPOLIS — The first regular-season game Kevin O'Connell participated in during his fleeting NFL playing career came in late-game relief for New England in a rare lopsided loss.

The Patriots had a bye the following week, and sure enough coach Bill Belichick had them ready for a bounce-back victory. Even after Tom Brady was lost for the year with a knee injury in the opener, the Patriots finished that 2008 season with an 11-5 record.

The response to the Week 3 blowout was methodical, not maniacal. The message was about controlling what was in their control and simply letting the rest of it go.

"That sticks with me to this very day, just as an example of what it's like to coach in those moments where adversity hits and how you need to be at your best for your team," O'Connell said.

The first-year Minnesota Vikings coach has found himself in that very situation this week, following a 40-3 loss to Dallas. The Vikings (8-2) host the Patriots (6-4), still coached by Belichick all these years later, on Thursday night with only four days to regroup. O'Connell, fittingly, will experience one of the biggest tests of his mettle as the boss against a coach who significantly influenced his know-how and perspective.

"I still have old notebooks with team meeting notes and things like that that are always great to go back and look through," O'Connell said.

The first thing Belichick said this week when asked about his memory of O'Connell? That he was a "smart kid" who picked up the offense quickly.

"He's done a heck of a job and climbed through the coaching ranks quickly," Belichick said. "Based on the way the Vikings are playing this year, you could see why he's done it."

PALS FROM THE PATS

O'Connell made fast friends in 2008 with roommate Matthew Slater, a fellow member of that draft class who just so happens to still be playing for the Patriots as their long-time special teams ace. Slater was a groomsman in O'Connell's wedding, and their wives are close with each other, too.

"I just can't tell you how proud I am of him, to see him grow and to see him accomplish so much as a young coach in this league," Slater said.

The two Southern California natives found plenty in common as 20-somethings living on the opposite coast in a vastly different climate.

During the 2011 lockout, when O'Connell was with the New York Jets, they got together for daily workouts at whatever school fields they could find to throw routes and stay in shape.

"A couple of kids trying to find our way. I guess we did all right for ourselves," Slater said.

BIG STAGE

This is the first Thanksgiving Day home game in Vikings history. They're 6-2 on the football-fueled holiday, last playing at Detroit in 2017. The Patriots are 3-2, all on the road. Their previous appearance was a win over the Jets in 2012.

Washington played at Dallas three times on Thanksgiving when quarterback Kirk Cousins was there, twice as the starter.

"A lot of kids grow up playing in the backyard, playing football on Thanksgiving, but not a lot get to continue like we've been able to do," Cousins said. "It's a real privilege, and you want to play in such a way that reflects that. Hopefully we can get it done."

LINE SHUFFLE

The Patriots tried a new look on the offensive line last week in a 10-3 win over the Jets, seeking improvement for a group that has given up 12 sacks in the past two games. They benched Trent Brown, who started the previous nine games at left tackle. Then they shifted Isaiah Wynn from right tackle back to the left side he played on most of last season. Yodny Cajuste started on the right side.

But that alignment was altered after Wynn injured his foot. Brown replaced him. Center David Andrews also left the game with a thigh injury, cutting short his return from back-to-back absences recovering from a concussion. Wynn didn't practice on Tuesday, putting his availability in question. Andrews was listed as a limited participant.

FILM ROOM

The Vikings had several flaws exposed by the Cowboys in the blowout loss, but the Patriots have been treating that more like an anomaly than a tip sheet. Safety Kyle Dugger said he has spent more time watching prior performances to get a true picture, considering the Vikings won seven straight games all by eight points or fewer.

"The closer games are the ones that tell you a little more because there are a lot more go-to situations," Dugger said. "Coordinators are going to go to the things they feel like are going to have success. Blowouts or big point differentials can be a little misleading in some ways."

NEW ENGLAND (6-4) at MINNESOTA (8-2)

Thursday, 7:20 p.m. CST, NBC

FANDUEL SPORTSBOOK NFL LINE: Vikings by 2½.

AGAINST THE SPREAD: Patriots 6-3-1; Vikings 4-5-1

SERIES RECORD: Patriots lead 9-4.

LAST MEETING: Patriots beat Vikings 24-10 on Dec. 2, 2018, in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

LAST WEEK: Patriots beat Jets 10-3; Vikings lost to Cowboys 40-3.

PATRIOTS OFFENSE: OVERALL (25), RUSH (17), PASS (24), SCORING (20).

PATRIOTS DEFENSE: OVERALL (4), RUSH (13), PASS (4), SCORING (2).

VIKINGS OFFENSE: OVERALL (18), RUSH (24), PASS (10), SCORING (13).

VIKINGS DEFENSE: OVERALL (29), RUSH (18), PASS (31), SCORING (19).

TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: Patriots even; Vikings plus-7.

PATRIOTS PLAYER TO WATCH: LB Matt Judon. He leads the NFL with a career-high 13 sacks. The three-time Pro Bowl pick, who's in his second season with the Patriots, has three games with at least two sacks and had 1½ sacks against the Jets.

VIKINGS PLAYER TO WATCH: TE T.J. Hockenson. With the Patriots sure to be trying to smother star WR Justin Jefferson, Hockenson ought to have plenty of pass-catching opportunities. In three games with the Vikings since arriving in a trade with Detroit, Hockenson has 21 receptions for 149 yards on 28 targets.

KEY MATCHUP: Vikings offensive line vs. Patriots pass rush. After QB Kirk Cousins took a career-high seven sacks against NFL sack leader Dallas (42), the next team on the league list comes to town. New England has 36 sacks. Vikings LT Christian Darrisaw gave up two sacks in the first half against the Cowboys, the first he'd allowed all season, and entered the concussion protocol for the second time in as many weeks. Blake Brandel will fill in this week.

KEY INJURIES: Patriots C David Andrews is in danger of being sidelined for the third time in four games because of the thigh injury he sustained early in last week’s win over the Jets. That was in his return from missing back-to-back games with a concussion. Andrews was limited in practice Tuesday. ... Patriots RT Isaiah Wynn (foot) didn't practice Tuesday. ... Vikings CB Andrew Booth Jr. (knee) has been listed as a non-participant on the injury report this week. Booth started last week for CB Akayleb Evans (concussion), who returned to practice this week on a limited basis. So did DE Dalvin Tomlinson (calf), who has missed the past three games.

SERIES NOTES: The Patriots have won five straight games against the Vikings. Their previous loss was on Sept. 17, 2000, at home in their old Foxboro Stadium. ... The Patriots are 3-2 in the regular season in Minnesota, with each of their three wins coming in different stadiums. They lost Super Bowl 52 to Philadelphia in their previous visit to U.S. Bank Stadium, which opened in 2016. ... First-year Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell was drafted by New England in the third round in 2008 and spent one season there under Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who’s in his 23rd season with the club. The Patriots also play Arizona this year, and Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury was a sixth-round pick by New England in 2002. The previous time a team faced two of its drafted players later as opposing head coaches was Chicago in 2014 against Jim Harbaugh and Ron Rivera.

STATS AND STUFF: The Patriots are 3-2 on Thanksgiving Day, with three straight wins. ... Belichick has won at least one game in 50 different stadiums, including the postseason. The only two active venues not on his list are U.S. Bank Stadium and Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, which opened in 2020. ... The Patriots have not allowed a touchdown in two straight games, their longest streak since the first three games of the 2019 season. ... The Patriots have held their opponent under 200 yards in the past two games, their first such streak since a four-game run in 2005. ... The Patriots are 26-4 when S Devin McCourty has an interception in a regular-season game. His 33 interceptions are second in team history behind Ty Law and Raymond Clayborn (36). ... Patriots DB Marcus Jones is second in the NFL with a 24.3-yard kickoff return average and second with a 16.6-yard punt return average after returning a punt for the tiebreaking 84-yard TD with 5 seconds left to beat the Jets. ... McCourty is tied with Vikings S Harrison Smith for the most interceptions (33) among active NFL players. McCourty, Smith, Marcus Peters and Vikings CB Patrick Peterson are the only active players with at least 30 interceptions. ... The Vikings are 6-2 on Thanksgiving Day. This is their first home game on the holiday in team history. ... Jefferson needs 55 receiving yards to set the NFL record for most yards in a player's first three seasons, currently held by Randy Moss. ... Cousins had a streak of 39 straight games with a TD pass snapped by the Cowboys. That was the longest active streak in the league and the sixth longest in NFL history. ... Vikings WR Adam Thielen (6,458) passed Jake Reed last week to move into fourth place on the team's career receiving yardage list. ... Vikings OLB Za'Darius Smith is fourth in the NFL with 9½ sacks. ... Vikings DT Harrison Phillips had a career-high six solo tackles last week, one for loss.

FANTASY TIP: Nick Folk needs four FGs to become the fifth Patriots player with 100. He missed two of three FGs last week against the Jets, his first game with multiple misses in three years.

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