It was a helluva game. The Vikings needed a catalyst to reset their disappointing season, and they showed up in prime time to beat one of the two leading contenders for the NFC crown. And they did it without Justin Jefferson. They held on to beat the 49ers 22-17, which could’ve been a larger margin of victory had they been able to convert a 1st-and-goal at the one and a first-and-goal at the two. Greg Joseph also missed a 50-yard field goal and an extra point.
Team Win Led by Kirk Cousins
Kirk Cousins led the Vikings with a gritty performance, going 35/45 for 378 yards 2 TDs and an early interception for a 107.2 rating. He wasn’t perfect, missing on a TD pass to Addison and threw behind Addison on his second touchdown, but Addison fought for it and ripped it from Chavarious Ward- who earlier ripped the ball from Addison for Cousins’ only interception. But he came up clutch early and often on third down. The Vikings only punted once late in the game against the 49ers’ second-ranked defense. They also put up 452 yards- averaging 6.8 yards per play. Cousins was able to hold things together despite a running game that began to falter in the second half, and while missing Jordan Addison and TJ Hockenson for parts of the game. Cousins’ 80.0 QBR was his highest this season. He had a QBR of over 80 against the Giants in the playoffs last season, and also in prime time against the Patriots on Thanksgiving last year, in addition to the last Bears game in January.
No Sacks Allowed
The 49ers defense also boasts one of the best defensive fronts in the league, but the Vikings did not allow a sack all night. Credit not just the Vikings top offensive line, but also tight ends and running backs for not allowing the 49ers blitzes to get home, and Cousins for moving well in the pocket and getting the ball out to avoid taking a sack.
Vikings Finally Win the Turnover Battle
The Vikings gave up an interception early, but the defense was able to respond with a takeaway of their own, forcing a fumble from Christian McCaffrey to stall the 49ers’ subsequent drive. The defense went on to produce two more takeaways in the second half, both interceptions by Cam Bynum. The first was on an errant throw by Brock Purdy, and on the second Bynum climbed the ladder and made a nice play on the ball to seal the Vikings’ victory with seconds left in the game. The Vikings won the turnover battle 3-1, a situation that results in victory 80% of the time in the NFL, and sure enough the Vikings won.
Receivers Shine in Prime Time
In addition to Cousins, Jordan Addison also shined in prime time, leading all receivers with 123 yards on ten targets and seven receptions. TJ Hockenson added 86 yards on 12 targets and 11 receptions, while Brandon Powell filled in nicely with 64 yards on 4 receptions and 5 targets. KJ Osborn also had 47 yards on 5 receptions and six targets. The drops that have plagued the Vikings’ receivers in recent games were largely not there, with the only crucial drop coming on 3rd-and-4 late in the game by KJ Osborn on a somewhat difficult catch.
Vikings’ Run Defense Also Stout
The defense also held the 49ers’ second-ranked rushing attack to just 3.0 yards per carry. That helped put the Vikings in position to get off the field on third down, which they didn’t do as often as hoped- giving up some third-and-long conversions in the air- but their run defense was solid throughout the game.
Vikings Match 49ers Physicality
It was a tough, physical game against the 49ers- as expected- but the Vikings were able to match the 49ers physicality in the trenches and elsewhere for sixty minutes. That is especially encouraging going forward, as that’s what helps carry teams to victory over tough opponents, trample mediocre ones, and can result in more plays being made. It’s unclear if the Vikings will be able to continue to play with the same level of physicality- which wasn’t necessarily lacking before but may have led to some turnovers and stalled drives. But this was the first time they’ve been able to play with this level of physicality and grit for sixty minutes this season.
Time to Start Stacking Wins
This win over the 49ers could prove to be the key turning point in the Vikings season. At this point the Vikings are 3-4, but also the 8th seed in the NFC- one spot out of the postseason tournament. They’re also second in the NFC North and have narrowed the gap with the Lions to two games.
Adding to that and the Vikings’ two-game win streak to jump-start their season, the Vikings now have very winnable games from now until mid-December. The Vikings next six games are at Green Bay, at Atlanta, New Orleans, at Denver, Chicago, and at Las Vegas. They could end up being favored in all of those games. Rattling off six wins would put the Vikings at 9-4 and with everything to play for. The Vikings could get Justin Jefferson back after two more games, depending on his progress, which would add more wind to their sails.
But the momentum created by this win helped change the narrative created during the first part of the season. It will be up to the Vikings to continue that momentum and style of play that led to a big upset of the 49ers, while improving red zone offense and third down defense. But they will have that chance against a string of six mediocre teams, only one of which is over .500. These next six games represent the Vikings best opportunity to make the playoffs after a disastrous start to the season.
This win against a top Super Bowl contender also showed that the Vikings can beat any team in the league if they can limit the turnovers and drops that plagued them earlier in the season. Indeed, they’ve fared better against the top contenders this year compared to last year, showing they’re a better team overall than they were last year, except for the turnovers.
The challenge for this Vikings team will be to build on the momentum from this victory, rather than coast into a let down game, as has happened in the past. That starts next Sunday in Green Bay.
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