EAGAN, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings have seen their share of ups and downs offensively so far this season.
Minnesota went from red-hot in Week 1 against Green Bay to frigid cold in Philadelphia in Week 2. The past two weeks, though, the Vikings have done just enough to earn consecutive nail-biter victories against Detroit and New Orleans, respectively.
The Vikings have averaged 21.5 points per game , ranking 15th in the NFL so far this season.
Against the Saints on Sunday, Minnesota was able to get out to a quick start, as quarterback Kirk Cousins found running back Alexander Mattison on a screen pass before Mattison took it 15 yards for an opening-drive touchdown.
But that was the only Vikings drive that resulted in a touchdown until receiver Justin Jefferson carried it into the end zone from 3 yards out with 4:20 left in the game.
Minnesota went 2-for-5 on its red zone trips on Sunday after going a perfect 3-for-3 in Week 3 against Detroit. The Vikings are 7-for-15 in the red zone this season.
"We talked a lot to our team the night before the game about getting off to a fast start, which we were able to do, obviously with that significant drive to start the game," Minnesota Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said to Twin Cities reporters on Monday afternoon. "I think obviously we're still only four weeks, four opportunities, four games into it for this year's version of our team, but we're going to coach these guys hard.
"I think they're confident we can win games that have been close and really down to the wire these last two weeks, but now it's a matter of continuing to grow within our schemes and trying to be more consistent and maybe not needing to have it be as stressful toward the ends of these games," O'Connell added.
View postgame celebration photos from London following the Vikings 28-25 victory over the Saints on Oct. 2 in Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Minnesota's second and third red zone trips came just before halftime. Facing a third-and-1 from the New Orleans 10, Cousins appeared to have tight end Johnny Mundt open in the flat, but the ball went through Mundt's hands and fell incomplete.
Instead of going for it on fourth down, O'Connell elected for a 28-yard field goal from kicker Greg Joseph, and the Vikings took a 10-7 lead with 1:04 left in the first half.
"I thought with the momentum in the game, just making sure we got points right there was big for us," O'Connell said. "Third-and-1, felt very, very good about that play and our chances of converting on that third down when we had a chance there with Johnny out there in the flat. Adam Thielen was kind of a good second option, as well, on that one. And just didn't feel great about, after calling that play on third down, where we would maybe take that on fourth-and-1. Knowing how tough of a front that is to run the ball against, so just a momentum swing and what that could have meant."
Then, after defensive end Dalvin Tomlinson and nose tackle Harrison Phillips teamed up to force and recover a fumble on a sack of Saints quarterback Andy Dalton on the next possession, Minnesota had a short field to work with.
But the Vikings were called for a false start penalty on third-and-10 at the Saints 20-yard line and settled for a 36-yarder from Joseph to go into halftime with a 13-7 advantage.
"That was one where I went back and forth in that short-term that you have to kind of decide, and I just thought points at that moment were the most important thing," O'Connell added. "Inevitably, we've gotta finish better in the red zone. We came from a game where we were 3-for-3 scoring touchdowns to, quite frankly, missing some opportunities there to maybe get seven instead of three, that could have changed the whole dynamic of that second half."
The Vikings had another strong opportunity in the early stages of the second half after cornerback Kris Boyd forced and recovered a fumble on a New Orleans punt return. Cousins delivered a deep ball to Jefferson for 41 yards to the Saints 3-yard line, but a delay of game penalty followed by a pair of 1-yard gains forced the Vikings to get a 24-yarder from Joseph.
O'Connell said Cousins and the rest of the Minnesota offense is still relatively new to the system that O'Connell and his staff are trying to implement. At the same time, O'Connell knows there needs to be more consistency, both on the field and on the sidelines.
"I think Kirk's gonna continue to be more consistent, make the throws we ask him to make while running the show and doing a lot at the line of scrimmage within our no-huddle, within our offense, where I feel great about where Kirk's headed," O'Connell said. "And obviously there are things I can coach hard, I can coach better, to help him be at his best and truly start maximizing what we're going to become as an offense.
"Kirk's going to continue to improve. He's made some big-time throws," O'Connell said. "Consistency's a factor for all of us at this point, me included, and we'll continue to look inward and build our offense up however we see fit week-in and week-out to maximize our chances of scoring points."