The best word to describe Minnesota’s 27-22 win over the New York Jets: finish!
The one play that captures the toughness the Vikings summoned Sunday: Kirk Cousins' shoulder-lowering scramble for a first down.
Eight of Minnesota's 13 offensive drives gained fewer than 10 yards. But the Vikings finished, converting all three of their excursions into New York’s red area into touchdowns – two on the ground, one through the air.
Jets quarterback Mike White, making his second consecutive start in place of 2021 No. 2 overall draft choice Zach Wilson, moved New York into striking distance for the go-ahead TD with seconds to spare – you know how that ended.
White played well, with all the confidence in the world. But the Vikings finished, intercepting him twice – on New York’s first offensive series and its last – playing like every blade of grass in the red zone matters.
Because it does. And that’s how a smart team confronts adversity. It bands together in tough conditions.
Win No. 10 this season, much like the first nine, tested Minnesota’s trust. The Vikings offense sputtered in the second half, unable to put away the Jets despite beginning the third quarter with a 20-6 lead.
Cousins admittedly didn’t have his A+ stuff all game – he completed 21 of 35 throws for 173 yards and a touchdown – but was lights out when Minnesota needed him to be, going 5-for-5 with 62 yards on the drive that put the Vikings in front 27-15 with about 8 1/2 minutes to play at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Minnesota’s defense and coach Kevin O’Connell trusted Cousins would deliver the finishing blow. Just like Cousins and the rest of the Vikings offense trusted the 11 guys on the other side of the ball to make a stand, or several.
Finishing isn’t new for Minnesota. Its ability to finish tight games is the underlying theme of its season.
And it’s because of the trust we saw displayed Sunday – trust in Cousins’ willingness to withstand pressure and unleash the ball from the pocket; trust in playmakers like Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook to do something spectacular; trust in the coaching staff to dial up the right look and in the defense to execute calls – that Minnesota is 10-2.
Here’s our Week 13 recap:
PLAYER OF THE GAME
We’ll delve more into some stats that defined Minnesota’s defense Sunday below, but focus on a trio of defenders here: safeties Harrison Smith and Camryn Bynum and linebacker Eric Kendricks. Each gets a share of our POTG honors for setting the tone, constantly flying to the football and staying calm when circumstances looked bleak. Smith started the game by picking White off on the fourth play. The interception was the 34th of Smith’s Hall of Fame caliber career, the most of any active player and fifth most in franchise history. “Hitman” finished the game with eight tackles and three pass breakups, including a deflection on a deep middle-of-the-field throw to Jets rookie receiver Garrett Wilson, preventing New York from tacking on a touchdown in the sequence right before halftime. Bynum gets a nod from us for an obvious reason, intercepting White at the doorstep of Minnesota’s end zone on a fourth-and-10 from the Vikings 19, effectively calling the game. Bynum also posted seven tackles. Lastly, Kendricks. No one embraced the physicality of Sunday’s game better than the veteran linebacker. Kendricks was all over the place, recording game highs in solo tackles (9) and total stops (14), his most combined tackles in a game since notching a career-best 18 in Week 9 last season at Baltimore. In an interview at his locker afterwards, Kendricks credited Minnesota’s defense for its calmness, enabling it to get stop after stop in the red zone. Kendricks also commented that the Vikings didn’t lose their aggression when the Jets came knocking. O’Connell wasn’t as calm as his LB – the Vikings coach was asked during his postgame presser about Kendricks’ remarks and started to smirk when he heard the word “calm” in relation to those goal-line scenarios – but was quick to note he had complete confidence in that group to finish the job.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME
This wouldn’t be a detailed account of another Vikings win without mention of Jefferson and Cook. Minnesota’s star WR and RB didn’t go crazy against New York but they were instrumental to the win. Jefferson caught seven of 11 targets for 45 yards. KOC said he marveled at Cousins’ ability to be accurate on a far-hash, full-field throw to Jefferson, who before being shoved out of bounds, tapped his toes in the end zone on a 10-yard catch for a TD in the fourth quarter. It’s a play Jefferson has made with ease dating to training camp, according to Cousins. Then there’s Cook, who rushed for 86 yards, with a long of 21, on 20 carries (4.3 avg.). Cook was responsible for the game’s first TD, a four-yard run off tackle to the left side near the start of the second quarter. Hidden in his yardage were a couple nice gainers that sparked his club.
We’ve got an unconventional pick this week: Alexander Mattison’s touchdown … celebration. Say what? If you saw it live, you probably gasped then laughed. Minnesota’s backup running back scored his first TD since Week 8 taking a handoff 14 yards through the middle of the Jets defense with 3:39 left in the first half. The run itself wasn’t special – Mattison exploded through an open crease and wasn’t touched as he accelerated past the second level into the end zone – but his celebration was funny and creative. As Mattison dropped the football and started walking toward Vikings wide receiver K.J. Osborn, he reached for the back of his right leg and acted like he pulled his hamstring. With teammates jumping into the picture to greet the Vikings RB, Mattison fell on his hands and knees, arched his back … and twerked. Social media reacted appropriately, with some users in disbelief over Mattison’s celebration of choice and others immediately tabbing it as an all-time gesture in the end zone. Was Mattison inspired by a TikTok clip? Was he paying homage to Stanford soccer alum and current professional futbolista Lo’eau LaBonta, who was born, coincidentally, in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., about a 25-minute drive from Mattison's hometown of San Bernardino, and made famous the same ruse over the summer after scoring on a penalty kick? These are the types of "Big J" journalism questions we need answered after such an iconic and unimportant moment. Ha ha. Skol!
Despite possessing the football for approximately 31 minutes, compiling 486 yards from scrimmage and averaging a robust 5.9 yards per play, the New York offense managed a single touchdown Sunday. That, in the simplest of terms, was the story of the game. The Jets finished half of their 12 drives in the Vikings red zone – including three trips inside Minnesota’s 10-yard line – but converted just once for six points. That made for a busy day for Jets kicker Greg Zuerlein, who sailed five field goals through the uprights for the second time in his career – FWIW, Zuerlein’s career high for FGs in a game is seven (Oct. 1, 2017). Of course, New York turning to Zuerlein time and again was a huge win for Minnesota’s defense, which gets credit in our book for bending and bending and bending, but never really breaking. Even the TD the Vikings did allow almost didn’t happen – a booth review discovered White crossed the goal stripe on a fourth-and-1 from the Minnesota 1 with 6:49 remaining (giving White his first career rushing score). Stats are always a part of the story. But they can mislead. Like how when a quarterback completes 31 passes for 369 yards, you’d think his team had 30+ points. The opposite was true Sunday. New York’s offense posted gaudy numbers compared to the Vikings. But one stat – one lonely TD – said everything.
THEY SAID IT
“It was something I saw on TikTok and it was in the back of my head for some weeks now. I committed to it and just had to go ahead and pop it off.” – RB Alexander Mattison on his hilarious TD celebration
“If I had the opportunity to score and kind of have enough space to celebrate it was going to be the first celebration off the table. I saw it in MLB, I saw it in soccer, so I said ‘You know I’ve gotta bring it to the NFL and put it on all platforms.’” – Mattison further explaining what prompted his twerking celly
“My best attribute is route running, so whenever I get those man-to-man [looks] I think I’m going to win – I know imma win.” – WR Justin Jefferson on liking the matchups Sunday, even against gifted Jets’ DBs
“That end zone is sacred. We want to keep them out of there. I think that once they get down there, we have a calmness about us. … We just go out there and we hit and we play.” – LB Eric Kendricks
“Tough times don’t last, tough people do. I felt like this game, in a way, was a little bit of a microcosm of that.” – QB Kirk Cousins on the mantra he’s tried to live by during his pro football journey
“Their [pass] rush made it uncomfortable in the pocket. So even if they’re not hitting you, you feel like they’re affecting your accuracy, they’re affecting your timing.” – Cousins on what the Jets D presented
“Our guys expect to find a way. The situational success on third down and [in the] red zone, players can feel that.” – Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell on confidence carrying over from winning close games
A T-shirt and hat game. A chance to clinch the NFC North in a tough road test at Detroit against the equally humble and hungry Lions, who shredded the Jaguars, 40-14, in Week 13. These aren’t the same Lions who won only three games in 2021 – they’re fighters. Let’s amend that sentence: They’re a talented group of fighters – the italicized adjective being the key difference from last season. Dan Campbell instilled a certain demeanor in Detroit when he was hired as coach over a year ago. That don’t-F-with-me identity has mushroomed in 2022. The Vikings already met the Lions this season, in Week 3, and needed a 14-point fourth quarter to prevail with a 28-24 win. Since then, Detroit has won games over Green Bay, Chicago and the Giants – in addition to beating Jacksonville. Here’s the 4-1-1 on Detroit: The Lions have scored 30+ points six times this season and 25+ four games in a row. Their offense is severely underrated. Former Rams Super Bowl QB Jared Goff leads the way with 3,022 passing yards and a TD-INT ratio of 19:7. Detroit’s backfield is hard to tame – Jamaal Williams has rushed for 14 TDs in 12 games and D’Andre Swift has home-run potential – and WR Amon-Ra St. Brown is a rising star. Defensively is where Detroit lags, as the Lions have surrendered 24 or more points in 10 of 12 contests. Minnesota has won nine of the past 10 and has a firm grip on the all-time series, leading 80-40-2.