Thielen’s fourth-quarter TD grab caps Vikings’ weird, wild win over Patriots

Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune/Star Tribune/TNS

Patriots quarterback Mac Jones threw for 382 yards on Thursday night, but after a 10-point fourth quarter, the Vikings' defense got the two stops it needed to close out a game that turned into an unexpected shootout.

Sacks from Danielle Hunter and Khyiris Tonga stopped the Patriots' final two drives after the Vikings took the lead for good on Kirk Cousins' third touchdown pass of the game, giving the Vikings a 33-26 win over the Patriots in the first Thanksgiving game they've ever hosted.

The victory improved the Vikings' record to 9-2, giving them a chance to clinch the NFC North at home with a win against the Jets next Sunday and losses from the Packers and Lions.

Cousins, who overcame a first-half interception, finished 30 of 37 for 299 yards.

The Patriots deferred after winning the opening coin toss, giving the Vikings the ball first. And for the seventh time in 11 games this season, the Vikings scored on their opening drive.

After wide receiver Justin Jefferson had called for quicker passes on Monday to help mitigate pressure on Cousins, the Vikings opened with a series of short throws, including a quick 7-yard completion on their third play for Jefferson's first catch of the game. A face mask penalty on Jonathan Jones at the end of the play put the Vikings in Patriots territory, and two plays later, Cousins threw a quick backward pass to Jefferson, who fired downfield to Adam Thielen for an 11-yard gain.

Cousins hit Jefferson on a crossing route for a touchdown, putting the Vikings up 7-0. The Patriots, who didn't score an offensive touchdown last week, came back with a quick drive engineered by big plays.

BOXSCORE: Vikings 33, New England 26

Jakobi Meyers' diving catch gave New England a 24-yard gain on its first play, and with the Patriots on the Vikings' 34, Nelson Agholor ran a go route from the slot. Chandon Sullivan passed Agholor off to the Vikings' safeties, and Agholor streaked downfield into a seam between Harrison Smith and Cam Bynum, catching Mac Jones' pass for a 34-yard touchdown.

Two Vikings possessions later, Cousins threw over the middle for K.J. Osborn with Patriots tackle Daniel Ekuale diving at the quarterback's ankles 3.25 seconds after the snap. Cousins' pass sailed over Osborn's head, and Jones intercepted it to set up a Patriots field goal.

Patriots defensive end Matthew Judon, the NFL's sack leader, forced a holding penalty on Ed Ingram with a well-timed jump of Cousins' snap, forcing the Vikings to settle for a field goal to tie the game at 10.

With New England up 13-10 late in the first half, Judon tried again to time Cousins' snap on a third-and-12, but was flagged for encroachment. On third-and-7, Cousins fired downfield for Jefferson, who made a slick over-the-shoulder catch for a 37-yard gain.

Cousins would connect with Jefferson for 17 yards two plays later, and find T.J. Hockenson for 10 yards on a tight end screen. With the Vikings facing third-and-goal from the Patriots' 1, Cousins found Hockenson off play action for a touchdown that put the Vikings up 16-13. Greg Joseph, however, missed his fifth extra point of the season, meaning the Vikings' lead remained at a field goal.

New England drove into field goal range on Jones completions of 22, 16, 14 and 13 yards. Duke Shelley, who'd been targeted on two of the completions, came up with a pass breakup on an end zone fade, forcing the Patriots to settle for a field goal after officials decided not to flag Shelley's physical coverage on Kendrick Bourne. The Patriots tied the game heading into halftime.

The Patriots continued throwing to start the second half; Jones, with plenty of time to sit in the pocket, found receivers in space over the middle of the field. On a second-and-10 from the Vikings' 37, he threw over the middle for tight end Hunter Henry off play action; Henry eluded Bynum's diving tackle attempt and stormed into the end zone to make it 23-16 Patriots.

Kene Nwangwu caught the ensuing kickoff at the Vikings' 3, picked up a block down the left sideline and broke into the open. His 97-yard return, the third kick return TD of his career, tied the game at 23.

Jones went after Shelley again on the Patriots' next drive, hitting DeVante Parker for 41 yards to put the Patriots in position for another touchdown. But after officials ruled Henry scored on a 6-yard pass from Jones, a review found he'd lost the ball as he went to the ground. The Patriots settled for a field goal that made it 26-23.

But the Vikings tied the game after Cousins led another drive for a field goal, the defense forced just its second three-and-out of the night (after a Harrison Smith pressure on one of the Vikings' first blitzes of the game) and a penalty gave the Vikings new life on what turned out to be a go-ahead drive.

A play after officials flagged Jefferson for a false start – despite the Vikings arguing their offense had been induced by a Patriots pass rusher – Minnesota lined up to punt. Patriots running back Pierre Strong's helmet hit Ryan Wright's foot as he followed through, and officials called Strong for running into the kicker, giving the Vikings a first down.

Cousins hit Jefferson for 36 yards against double coverage two plays later, and Cousins stepped up in the pocket to find Thielen in the back corner of the end zone for a 15-yard score and the lead.