MINNEAPOLIS – One, two, three, four consecutive first downs.
The Vikings offense needed a good drive, and that's exactly what the unit delivered early in the fourth quarter of an eventual 27-22 victory over the Jets Sunday.
On first-and-10 from Minnesota's 25-yard line, Kirk Cousins was able to negotiate a corner blitz by Sauce Gardner and get the ball to Johnny Mundt, who was in a perfect spot for Cousins to attack the area that the pressure came from.
Instead of a loss on the play, the Vikings gained yards and momentum.
Cousins found T.J. Hockenson for a 13-yard gain on the following play, then handed off to Dalvin Cook on the next. The running back picked up 11 yards before being pushed out of bounds. Then on first-and-10 from the Jets 39, Cousins threw over the middle to Adam Thielen, who secured the catch for 25 yards.
The grab was Thielen's first of the game and set Minnesota up at the New York 14.
Cousins went to Thielen again, moving the sticks 2 yards, and then Cook rushed for another 2. On third-and-6, Cousins led Justin Jefferson with a perfectly placed pass in the end zone.
View postgame celebration photos of the Vikings following their 27-22 win over the Jets at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"I just kind of clicked through the progression: T.J., K.J. [Osborn] – I think I probably had K.J. and could have pulled the trigger to him – to Adam and then saying 'no' to all of them, J.J. had the right leverage with the DB inside, and then I just tried to put that ball out to the sideline for him," Cousins said. "It's a route that he's had a lot of success with going back to training camp, and it was great to hit that one.
"We've been looking for that one for a while and couldn't get it, and it was great to hit it," he added.
Jefferson also commented on the timeliness of the successful series.
"It was a tough situation [where] we didn't really get any points for a little while. Putting the defense in tough situations," he said. "We just needed some points to [extend] the lead. It's a tough team that we were playing."
The score came after three straight Minnesota possessions had netted 10 yards and ended with punts.
"It was what we needed. That's where you believe, 'Hey, the next possession, the next play, anything can happen, anything can turn, so just stay going,' " Cousins said. "Coaches did a great job that entire drive of applying pressure to the defense and putting us in a position to be successful. It was great to have that drive, [but] you walk away saying, 'Gosh, could we have had two or three more of those instead of just that one in the fourth quarter?' "
Jefferson's touchdown gave the Vikings a 27-15 lead with 8:33 left in the game. What seemed like breathing room, though, was short-lived when the Jets drove down the field and scored a TD of their own.
But the Vikings held on to eke out the 27-22 win, improving to 10-2 on the season.
Looking back, Minnesota's lone scoring drive of the second half stands out as the offense's most significant of the afternoon.
Minnesota experienced its shares of ups and downs, calling on Ryan Wright to punt six times.
Cousins seemed to be a bit off the mark on a handful of plays; he called an overthrow of a wide-open Hockenson in the third quarter "the most egregious miss" of the day.
"That was just a miss. Gave it too much," he said. "There were a couple [where] my feet were ahead of the play, so I'm hitching and my feet are telling me to release it, but the play hasn't really developed yet, so some of that's press coverage that slows down the route.
"They've got to negotiate the route. They're not running it on air, so the timing was something that I needed to go back and watch and make sure that I'm slowing down my drop," Cousins continued, "to make sure I'm not ahead of the read or ahead of the play."
He finished the day 21-of-35 passing for 173 yards and one touchdown with a passer rating of 82.2.
View game action photos from the Week 13 matchup between the Vikings and the Jets at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Though Sunday may not have been his best performance of the season, Cousins didn't throw an interception and hung tough in some difficult situations. One such instance occurred in the second quarter, when the Vikings faced third-and-9. Cousins felt immediate pressure and not only managed to get out of a sack, but he took off running for the first down, picking up 11 yards before taking a big hit.
It's never ideal to see your QB withstand so much contact, but O'Connell appreciated Cousins' efforts to keep the ball moving.
"If it's third-and-8, third-and-9, third-and-whatever, Kirk knows – he's such a competitor, he's going to go try to get those yards to stay on the field," O'Connell said. "I think it did kind of give us a little bit of juice in that moment to flip the situation in a third-and-longer-type situation and go get those yards.
"I would love to see him be able to get it and get down, as valuable as he is for us," O'Connell added. "I think his toughness and his durability over a long period of time really speaks for itself, but as the play caller and head coach, I definitely want to take care of him as much as we possibly can."
Cousins said he "came out clean" from the hit. His run kept alive a drive eventually capped by Alexander Mattison's 14-yard rushing touchdown.
The Vikings knew entering Sunday's game they'd be up against a tough Jets passing defense featuring cornerbacks Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner and D.J. Reed. New York succeeded in largely stifling Minnesota's passing game, not allowing a single pass catcher to reach 50 receiving yards.
"We knew this is a really good defense, and they're playing at a high level that's really helping them win football games – and you saw that again today," Thielen said. "It's a grind against a good football team.
"I already knew it was going to be a tough battle," continued Thielen, who is familiar with Jets Head Coach Robert Saleh from his previous work as the 49ers defensive coordinator. "But at the end of the day, you've just gotta find a way to make plays and be at your best against the best. I feel like we did that, but we've just got to execute a little bit better to some first downs and get some momentum."
The Vikings did get Cook going on the ground, which helped them keep the Jets just enough off-balance.
Cook finished the game with 20 carries for 86 yards and a second-quarter rushing touchdown. He followed the score by doing "The Griddy" in the end zone with teammates and received a game ball from O'Connell after the game.
"We knew we had to have energy all day," Mattison said of the running backs group. "We take pride in being the legs of this football team, so trying to bring extra energy, extra juice – keeping that going for this team is something we put on our plate today. Coming out there with positive energy was one of our goals, and as you can see, we were out there having fun."
Ideally, the Vikings would prefer to win games a little more handily.
But week after week, Minnesota is making the big plays down the stretch to pull out victories. It's why nobody ever loses faith, Cousins noted.
"You just take one play at a time, and you know … the next play can go a different way. So you just keep playing and believe it can turn," Cousins said. "It obviously helps when you have the defense making stops and your teammates making plays for you time and time again."
The Vikings now turn the page to the Lions (5-7), whom they will face in Detroit next Sunday.
Minnesota can clinch the NFC North with a win over its division rival, which just beat Jacksonville 40-14.
"Every week, you gain some confidence. You gain confidence that, 'Hey, we're gonna turn this around. We're gonna find a way. We're gonna get it going and we're gonna win this game,' " Thielen said. "The more you can gain that confidence, the better, but I think we're still far from where we want to be as far as the whole team and putting the whole thing together."
Still, Thielen doesn't take 10 wins – something he's only accomplished two other times during his nine seasons on Minnesota's 53-man roster – for granted.
"To be able to get to 10 wins is awesome, and I'm glad we're finding ways to win," he said. "But I'm excited to get back to work, because we've got a lot of work to do, and we play a really good football team next week."