The Minnesota Vikings found another way to tell the one-score story, but they couldn’t escape the tropes as they eked out a 27-22 win over the New York Jets. Moving up to 10-2, the Vikings are now NFC North division leaders with a beeline for the second seed in the NFC bracket of the playoffs without instilling much confidence in analysts who had hoped they could do more against another backup quarterback.
Minnesota Vikings Write a New Script, Tell the Same Story
For what seems like the first time in ages, the Vikings were largely silent in the first quarter before roaring out to a 20-3 lead. After that, they let up on the gas and allowed the Jets to consistently drive into the red zone.
While the defense tightened up inside the red zone – sometimes through luck more than skill – the Jets found themselves back in the game with a pair of late fourth-quarter drives that could have allowed New York to gain the lead.
The first-quarter malaise was a product of both the prodigious pressure both defenses could bring into the pocket as well as general inaccuracy from the quarterbacks; their combined completion rate was 41.7 percent in the first frame.
Cousins dug himself out of that hole, and a combination of gritty play, shorter passing dropbacks, and impressive receiver play allowed the Vikings to generate a big lead and put the first touchdown on the board.
Both quarterbacks were under duress; defenses combined to hit both quarterbacks 17 times over the course of the game, and both found ways to impress onlookers. Cousins didn’t end up with extraordinary statistics – 173 passing yards on 35 attempts for 4.94 yards per attempt – but he was also the victim of uncharacteristic drops as the game went on.
None of that excuses the sailed passes and misreads, but it turned out to be a difficult game to evaluate for Cousins. It was perhaps his grittiest performance, but it certainly wasn’t his best.
Mike White Stalls in Case as a Franchise Quarterback
As for White, there still exists an outside chance the Jets see enough in him that they put him into a genuine quarterback competition next offseason. This game didn’t help his case, but he did make some critical throws in big moments, including an end zone throw to Braxton Berrios late in the fourth quarter that would have put them ahead if not for the drop.
More important to either team were the performances of their defenses. The Jets entered the game with a claim to the league’s top defense and was one of a string of high-level defenses that the Vikings took on over the last four weeks. This could have been a good game to establish what the Patriots and Bills could not – the ability to clamp down on a team with multiple threats.
While the Vikings didn’t do anything like put up 40 points on New York, the 27 points they did score pointed to the fact that the Jets can’t just live on the performance of their pass rush and rookie cornerback Sauce Gardner.
D.J. Reed has been an excellent corner for the Jets, but an injury to Reed exposed a hole in the Jets’ defense that the Vikings could exploit. Not only that, the safety group has been exciting for both teams, sometimes preventing big plays and delivering big hits and other times missing assignments or causing penalties.
It is nevertheless a credit to the Jets that Justin Jefferson was held to 45 receivng yards, even if some of those came on a touchdown.
The Vikings, who had problems producing pressure at the beginning of the season, found ways to get to the quarterback but also saw holes open up for the Jets’ young receiving corps time and again. Sometimes, the Vikings suffered from tackling issues that enabled big plays from the Jets, especially at the second level.
Both the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings Have Work To Do
As both teams approach the playoffs, their weaknesses have become clear. The Vikings aren’t consistent enough on offense to put teams away and have issues on defense that expose them to big plays. They stepped up in a big way in the red zone, especially when it came to goal-line run defense, but they also benefited from drops and miscommunications – not something they can continue to count on in the postseason.
The Jets, on the other hand, are clearly an enormously talented team without the type of quarterback that they can count on in tight spaces. The Jets were 1-for-6 in the red zone and cannot continue that pattern if they take on a division winner in the AFC bracket.
Both teams can come away from the game thinking they should have won but the Vikings were the ones to add another game to the win column. The blown chances and given opportunities should haunt both teams more as they prepare for the final stretch of the season and solidify their playoff seeds for after the regular season.