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O'Connell Helps Vikings Distribute Footballs During & After Win Over Packers

MINNEAPOLIS — Kevin O'Connell had a plan for distributing the football — make that a lot of footballs — to celebrate his first win in his debut game as a head coach.

He and his offensive staff schemed to get Justin Jefferson open, and it worked again and again Sunday in Minnesota's 23-7 victory over Green Bay at U.S. Bank Stadium to open the 2022 regular season.

The former NFL backup quarterback wasn't done distributing the rock when the game clock struck 0:00. He presented game balls to Minnesota Owner/Chairman Zygi Wilf and Owner/President Mark Wilf in appreciation for entrusting him with this opportunity.

O'Connell then hoisted another ball and said it represented the ones he plans to provide to every player and coach.

Collective recognition for a collaborative win that was built on the buy-in from returning players and newcomers who synched well Sunday.

The offense scored on its first possession and continued with strategic attacks.

The defense didn't allow any points until 5:16 remained in the third quarter and none thereafter.

Special teams included impressive legwork by kicker Greg Joseph and punter Ryan Wright, to go along with solid coverage teams.

Add it all up, and the Vikings met the moment they'd been preparing for since the schedule was released in the spring.

Vikings Entertainment Network cameras filmed O'Connell addressing the team in the locker room:

"Everything we talked about, all week long, what it was going to take to win the game, that little added bonus we talked about last night, it all came to fruition, right? … You guys woke up today on a mission and got it done in every phase. Give it up for yourselves."

Quarterback Kirk Cousins also extended his crisp distribution of footballs into postgame.

After completing 23 of 32 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 118.9, Cousins presented game balls to O'Connell and first-year General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah.

"You guys who have played in the league long enough know this, and I strongly believe everything rises and falls on leadership," Cousins said. "The speed of the leader, the speed of the team. These two guys are running this organization. We're going to go as far as they take us. This was their first win, so game balls to both of you."

Several minutes later, O'Connell was asked by media members about how he planned to celebrate.

"I cannot wait to see my family. Hopefully they'll be coming down soon," the 37-year-old father of three (with another child expected soon) said. "Then, I've got news for you, in this thing I've learned the second you celebrate and start feeling yourself a little bit, this league has a funny way of humbling you. I'll be right back to work tomorrow. Got a lot to correct personally, a lot that I can do better for our team and our coaches, and we will get back to work. We've got an unbelievable challenge on the road, Monday Night Football next week, against a really good football team."

O'Connell was calm and collected as he approached midfield for a postgame exchange with Packers Head Coach Matt LaFleur, but he admitted to working in a few fist pumps on pass plays earlier in the game.

"I just told somebody I've got to get used to maybe having the camera on me, because I was jumping around after a few of those," O'Connell said. "Yeah, I just — you saw the reaction of our team. Saw the reaction of our fans. I was really just taking it all in at that moment, and this is one I will not forget."

Cousins said he hasn't really made too much of a habit of distributing game balls but wanted to because of Sunday's significance.

"I think it's special to win at home, Week 1, divisional opponent. It's a great start. You know, we have to just build on it," Cousins said.

A couple of fourth-down plays at the east end zone — ya know, the "Miracle" one — proved pivotal.

Jefferson finished with a personal-best 184 yards on nine catches. He caught Minnesota's first touchdown of the season on a fourth-and-1.

O'Connell credited Cousins for hitting Adam Thielen on a crossing route on third-and-8 to pick up 7. He thought about challenging the spot but said, "I love this call. We'll go get this thing in the end zone."

Cousins said he liked what he had seen from the fourth-and-1 play during practices.

"You never know what practice will do in the game, but it worked for us in practice and worked today," Cousins said.

View postgame celebration photos from the Vikings season opener win over the Packers on Sept. 11 at U.S. Bank Stadium.

In the second quarter, Green Bay drove 79 yards to the Minnesota 1. Trailing 7-0, LaFleur opted to go for it on fourth-and-1, but AJ Dillon was stuffed with Harrison Phillips plugging the interior and former Packers edge rusher Za'Darius Smith crashing down.

Phillips first pointed credit toward another Harrison on the team for setting the Vikings up to make that key stop.

Safety Harrison Smith stopped Aaron Jones for no gain after a short reception on second-and-7 and then helped deny Dillon the end zone on a pass that gained 6.

"The most important thing was the way Harrison Smith played those two plays before, getting us to line up again," Phillips said. "We'll defend a blade of grass if we can, and then [Defensive Coordinator Ed] Donatell calling the defense today, he kind of put the ball in my hand a little bit to go make a play, and I was thankful I was able to do that.

"Eric Kendricks came down really fast and helped hold the double team off, so I kind of got to defeat the one block and was there on a pretty big running back, so you've got to put all your weight on him, but that was fun for sure," Phillips added.

Minnesota's offense built on that momentum on its next possession thanks to a 64-yard pass from Cousins to Jefferson that set up a field goal by Greg Joseph. Cousins navigated around pressure and fired down the field to Jefferson.

An impressive connection by the team to which O'Connell has emphasized connectivity.

"It means a lot to K.O., man. This is his first head coaching job," Patrick Peterson said. "To get a win here at [U.S. Bank Stadium], he said when he first got here he didn't want to see anything but purple in the stands, and they were out there today. I believe it's going to continue to build on the regular season. I expect not to see an opponent jersey in our stadium moving forward because this is The Bank. This is our home. We need to protect it and we need the fans to be here to make it loud for opposing teams."