Vikings hold off Jets 27-22 to improve to 10-2, clinch share of NFC North title

Alexander Mattison #2 of the Minnesota Vikings celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the second quarter against the New York Jets at U.S. Bank Stadium on December 04, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  ((Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images))

It’s never easy for the Minnesota Vikings, but they’re 10-2 after a 27-22 win over the New York Jets on Sunday in yet another one-score game at U.S. Bank Stadium.

They didn’t get any help from the Detroit Lions, and have to wait at least another week to win the NFC North title. The Lions beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 40-14 on Sunday, which means the Vikings need to beat the Lions in Detroit next Sunday to win their first division title since 2017, and earn at least one home playoff game.

It was another game where the Vikings feel they didn’t play their best football, but still found a way to win. The Jets cut a 20-3 deficit to within five points twice in the fourth quarter before Minnesota made enough plays for its ninth win in a one-score game this season. The result gave the fan base some tense moments, as it has multiple times this season.

"Our guys expect to find a way. Being at their best when we need them to be, that’s kind of been the theme for us this year. I still think it is within us to be a little more consistent, but as I told our team after, 10 wins in this league through 12 opportunities, I think they’ve earned the right to feel confident," Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell said after the win.

Kirk Cousins got off to a slow start, missing on his first five passes, and had a rough third quarter, but made plays when it mattered the most. He hit Justin Jefferson for a 10-yard touchdown in the back corner of the end zone to give the Vikings a 27-15 lead with 8:33 to play. Cousins broke down the team in the locker room after the win with a message: Tough times don’t last, tough people do.

"It’s just a mantra that I’ve kind of lived by my whole pro football career. Mike Shanahan would always say tough times don’t last, tough people do. I believe strongly in that," Cousins said.

Cousins finished the day 21-of-35 for 173 yards, certainly not his best game with the Vikings. But when O’Connell needed him, he produced a touchdown drive in the fourth quarter when the game was getting tight.

Jefferson, fresh off winning NFC Offensive Player of the Month for November, finished with seven catches for 45 yards and the score against an aggressive and physical Jets’ defense.

"I thought it was huge, there’s going to be days like that. It was just one of those days but when we had to have it, to find Justin the way he did, that’s a far hash, full-field throw for a toe-tap. That’s how you win football games in this league," O’Connell said. "We don’t win this game unless we get that seven points right there."

Dalvin Cook had 20 carries for 86 yards and a touchdown. Alexander Mattison carried the ball just twice for 17 yards, but had a 14-yard touchdown run. The Vikings’ defense bent, allowing 486 total yards, but limited the Jets to 1-of-6 in the red zone, 3-of-16 on third down and forced them to settle for five Greg Zuerlein field goals. The Vikings were 3-of-3 in the red zone, and 9-of-18 on third down.

The Jets answered Jefferson’s touchdown with Mike White scoring on a sneak on 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line with 6:45 to play. He was initially ruled short of the goal line for a turnover on downs, but the Jets challenged and replay showed White scored, getting them within 27-22. White, playing after Zach Wilson was benched, finished 31-of-57 for 369 yards and two interceptions after throwing for three touchdowns last week.

The Jets got two more chances in the red zone for a potential go-ahead score, but the Vikings’ defense had the answer. They had three plays from the Vikings’ 1-yard line, and on 4th-and-goal, Braxton Berrios dropped a go-ahead touchdown.

On their last chance, White’s pass to the end zone on 4th-and-10 for Corey Davis was intercepted by Cam Bynum to seal a Vikings’ win. Bynum wore a Phillipines’ flag, his native country, in the locker room after the win. He joins Josh Metellus, Cam Dantzler and Patrick Peterson as Vikings' defenders to seal wins with a turnover.

"That’s what we live for every single week, knowing that this game might come down to us and that’s how we want it. Big moments in the fourth quarter, it wasn’t easy. Odds were stacked against us to be honest," Bynum said. "We want the game to be in our hands. One play to lose a game or win the game, that’s normal football to us."

O’Connell has preached all season about the Vikings being at their best when it’s required. It wasn’t always pretty, but they did just enough to get a victory.

"I feel confidence in our guys to execute the call. When the field shrinks, it’s about execution. It’s about tightening up and finding a way to just be a little bit better. Every blade of grass matters down there," O’Connell said.

The Vikings finished a three-game home stand 2-1, and swept the AFC East with wins over the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots and the Jets.

Minnesota clinches at least a share of the NFC North title with Sunday’s win. The Vikings can win it outright with a win at Detroit next Sunday.