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3 Observations: Cousins to Jefferson TD Punctuates Vikings & Cardinals Practices

EAGAN, Minn. — Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson picked a good one to end on.

The quarterback and receiver connected for a 32-yard, go-ahead touchdown for Minnesota's first-team offense against Arizona's first-team defense in the end-of-game situation Thursday.

The crisp delivery and clean catch of the football wrapped up a drive that began at the 50-yard line with 1:00 on the clock and the Vikings trailing 24-20.

Cousins opened the possession with a pass to Johnny Mundt and followed with a short completion to Jefferson before going for the gusto on what should be the final snap for either player against another team until Week 1 when the Vikings open the 2023 regular season by hosting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The touchdown also gave the fans attending the final open day of training camp a reason to cheer, but it wasn't the only one.

On the adjacent field, the Vikings first-team defense kept the Cardinals first-team offense from finding similar success.

Arizona's possession began with promise via a quick completion by Colt McCoy, but the drive backtracked with penalties. McCoy's throw on fourth-and-long was nabbed by former Cardinals cornerback Byron Murphy, Jr., who followed up a big Wednesday with another impressive showing against the team that drafted him in the second round in 2019.

The Vikings second-team defense also kept the Cardinals second-team offense from driving past the 25-yard line on its opportunity.

The Cardinals faced a third-and-5, but Jaylen Williams made a diving breakup on a pass intended for Brian Cobbs. Safety Theo Jackson then broke up a pass along the sideline on fourth down.

The Vikings second-team offense's opportunity ended quickly with a great play by linebacker Jesse Luketa on a pass by Nick Mullens. Luketa, a second-year pro, tipped the ball with his left hand and secured it.

Not participating: Lewis Cine, K.J. Osborn, Kene Nwangwu, Joejuan Williams, Tay Gowan and Abraham Beauplan did not participate. T.J. Hockenson was again limited.

Returned to practice: Esezi Otomewo shed the red jersey he wore in Wednesday's practice, and NaJee Thompson participated a bit in individual drills while wearing a red no-contact jersey.

Here are three observations from Thursday's session presented by Minnesota Eye Consultants, the Proud LASIK Partner of the Minnesota Vikings:

1. Working in the red zone

Thursday's session was shorter than Wednesday's, and teams spent a considerable amount of time in condensed areas of the field.

The Vikings first-team defense yielded a stop in the high red zone with a nice sequence that began with a run stuff. It looked like Dean Lowry was in line to tackle James Connor for a loss. The Cardinals got 7 yards back with a pass to Michael Wilson, but Ivan Pace, Jr., was there to defend a throw to running back Keaontay Ingram on third down.

The Cardinals struck back with a touchdown pass to Greg Dortch by Tune.

Vikings rookie safety Jay Ward got in on the playmaking with a diving interception.

On offense, protection looked good, allowing Cousins to connect with Jefferson, and Josh Oliver showed graceful athleticism on a diving catch for a touchdown.

2. Mattison closes camp strong

Alexander Mattison and the run game again flashed for the second day in a row on a couple of nice runs.

Mattison ripped off a nice run and then was able to catch and accelerate on a check-down pass from Cousins.

After another quality run, Mattison was taken to the turf — which led to players from both teams exchanging words. Everybody calmed down, however, without incident.

Everything will be much different for Mattison in Week 1 and teams are trying to tackle him on every play, but he's shown a good sync with the offense that wants to be able to reduce negative runs and marry the run game with play-action passes.

3. 2022 Draft picks more in mix

Brian Asamoah II, the 2022 third rounder, participated in some team drills with the first team alongside undrafted rookie Ivan Pace, Jr.

Jalen Nailor, who was selected in the sixth round, joined 2023 first-round pick Jordan Addison and free agent signee Brandon Powell for reps with the first team when the Vikings were using three receivers.

The increased participation was a sign of progress for both players who have been battling through protracted injuries.