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Kirk Cousins' Record-Setting Start Followed by Heart-Pounding Finish

MINNEAPOLIS — A historic start, and another heart-pounding finish.

For the third consecutive week, the Minnesota Vikings saw their game come down to the wire and needed a final offensive drive to finish on top.

The latest installment featured the Vikings racing out to a dominant 21-3 lead on Sunday against the Chicago Bears in the first half, only to see the margin vanish midway through the fourth quarter.

But just like it did against the Detroit Lions at home in Week 3 and the New Orleans Saints last week in London, Minnesota dug deep late in the fourth.

A 1-yard sneak by quarterback Kirk Cousins was followed by a key 2-point conversion from Cousins to wide receiver Justin Jefferson put the Vikings up 29-22 with 2:26 left.

A forced fumble and recovery by cornerback Cameron Dantzler, Sr., sealed Minnesota's third consecutive victory.

The Vikings improved to 4-1 on the season, which leads the NFC North division.

"[It was a] very hard-fought, tough football game. I thought across the board, our team continues to show levels of grit and resiliency that should bode well for us," Minnesota Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said. "Don't necessarily think we found that four-quarters of consistent ball that we're looking for, but as we've learned, it's not easy to do in the NFL against teams with different scheme variations and a competitiveness. That's OK, but we're still going to continue to work tirelessly to have that."

After the Bears got a 51-yard field goal from Cairo Santos to take a 22-21 lead with 9:26 left, the Vikings ensuing drive started backwards with a false start.

Cousins got the penalty yards back with a 15-yard pass to Irv Smith, Jr., before the Vikings worked their way near midfield with the combination of running backs Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison.

Cousins connected with Jefferson for 10 yards before finding Smith for a 13-yard completion into Chicago territory.

View postgame celebration photos from the Vikings 29-22 win over the Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium on Oct. 9.

Cook carried Minnesota to the Bears 25-yard line with a 10-yard run before a 1-yard run by Cook and a 4-yard pass from Cousins to wide receiver Adam Thielen put the Vikings in a third-and-5 from the Chicago 20.

Cousins converted that play with a 5-yard scramble three plays before finding Mattison for an 11-yard gain to the Bears 2-yard line with 2:39 left.

Two quick plays by Minnesota only netted a yard, but Cousins stayed determined to finish the drive with a touchdown. The next play, Cousins pushed himself forward through a scrum of Chicago defenders for the score.

The go-ahead score and ensuing conversion was a fulfilling ending to another critical Vikings offensive drive in the final minutes. Minnesota went 75 yards on 17 plays during the go-ahead possession, but equally as important, it took 7 minutes off the clock.

The Vikings converted five third downs on the drive and were successful on 80 percent (12-for-15) on third down on the afternoon.

Speaking of conversions, Cousins was more than efficient to start the game. In fact, he was perfect.

He fired a 16-yard pass to Jefferson for his first completion of the day. Two plays later, Cousins connected with Jefferson again for 14 more yards.

By the time Cook scored on a 1-yard run to give Minnesota a 7-0 lead on the opening drive, Cousins was a perfect 7-for-7 for 68 yards — 55 of those going to Jefferson.

That was only the beginning of a record-setting start for both Cousins and Jefferson.

Cousins finished the first quarter 13-for-13 for 125 yards passing. The 125 yards were the sixth-most for a Vikings team in the opening quarter since 2000.

Cousins then completed his next four pass attempts for a perfect 17-for-17 mark, setting a team record for most completions to start a game. He also had two completions to end last Sunday's game against the Saints, giving Cousins 19 consecutive passes before his first incompletion came with 2:52 left in the first half.

Cousins said he didn't realize the completions had stacked up so quickly.

"It felt like we had only thrown about eight passes to me when they had said [I set the record]. You just kind of play, you're not really thinking about it," Cousins said. "I think it goes back to, again, the coaching, the plan. When you're just dropping back and going where your reads take you, but they're giving you No. 1 open and players are separating and the run game is giving you favorable opportunities to throw the ball, it just kind of all converged on putting me in a position to be successful."

Jefferson added: "Us being 17-for-17, it helps him out a lot, to say that he can go out there actually do it, we were pretty much having a great game the whole first half against [Chicago]. Kirk was dialing it up, throwing it to the right reads, making the right throws. We just have to progress to the second half."

After bouncing back against the Saints with a 10-reception, 147-yard performance, Jefferson continued his momentum against the Bears.

Seven of Cousins' 13 passes in the first quarter went to Jefferson. His seven receptions were tied for second-most in the first quarter of a game since 2000 and tied a team record, joining Rickey Young (at New England in 1979) and Cris Carter (vs. Houston in 1995).

Jefferson wasn't done there, though. He finished the first half with 10 receptions for 138 yards, the most catches by a player in a first half this season. Jefferson was the first to hit double digits in a first half since Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen had 10 in Week 11 in the 2020 season.

Jefferson then hauled in two catches in the second half to finish with a career-high 12. He also has 236 career receptions, passing Randy Moss to set a franchise record for most catches in a player's first three NFL seasons.

"It's definitely great to be compared to somebody like [Moss], a Hall-of-Famer, somewhere where I'm trying to be at the end of my career," Jefferson said. "It's definitely great to have the seasons I've been having but … we just want to win."

Jefferson finished Sunday's game with 12 catches for 154 yards and a two-point conversion. He also completed a pass in the second quarter, the third of his career, on a throw across the field to Cook on third-and-10. The 23-yard play set up a 1-yard touchdown pass from Cousins to wide receiver Jalen Reagor.

As hot as Cousins, Jefferson and the Vikings started the game, the second half saw Minnesota's momentum come to a grinding halt.

Minnesota only had four possessions in the second half, with the first two drives ending in a missed field goal and an interception. The Vikings had just 44 yards of total offense before their final touchdown drive.

"We weren't doing the little things. I think we had some penalties that stopped some drives, kind of the things that we talk about all the time," Thielen said. "They were defending us a little differently [in the second half], but we've got to be able to adjust and find a way to stay on the field."

Thielen knows games are going to be close the majority of the time and the team must continue to find ways to finish games strong.

"Coach [O'Connell] put up a stat that 15 out of 16 games [last week] were one-possession games in the fourth quarter. It's going to come down to the fourth quarter, and the teams that are able to finish consistently are going to have a great record and an opportunity to go to the playoffs," Thielen said. "We're going to need that moving forward… we've got to find a way to when we get in those positions, 21-3, that we just keep putting the foot on the gas pedal, but there will be some good learning."