‘T-shirt and hat game’: Vikings aim to sweep Lions, clinch NFC North title

It’s been about 10 months since Kevin O’Connell was hired to replace Mike Zimmer as the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings.

With a win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Ford Field, the Vikings can accomplish something they haven’t done since 2017: Win the NFC North Division title. After beating the New York Jets last Sunday, and the Lions beating the Jaguars, the Vikings are labeling Sunday a "T-shirt and hat" game. Meaning if they beat the Lions, they’ll be on the field after celebrating a division title with T-shirts and hats typically linked to NFC titles and Super Bowls.

O’Connell said Wednesday from TCO Performance Center it’s already been a whirlwind season, and there’s still five games to go. 

"It does feel like we’ve accomplished a lot of what we wanted to do here from day one. I can remember being in this indoor with you guys with a suit on talking about a lot of things, but I think we’ve been able to put a lot of those things into motion," O’Connell said. "I just hope our players feel the ultimate goal every single day, which is to try and be at their best and be the best versions of themselves collectively."

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins last had a T-shirt and hat game in 2016 in Washington. They were an NFC Wild Card team that season before losing to the Green Bay Packers, 35-18.

Cousins has won one playoff game with the Vikings, in New Orleans in 2020 as a Wild Card team. He’s seeking his first division title.

"It would be everything to us. It’s a great opportunity, and you have to go earn it. You don’t want to back into anything, so we want to go earn it and win a football game. It’s going to take everything we have to get there," Cousins said.

Winning the NFC North has been the goal since O’Connell and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah started a new era with the Vikings.

"Winning is winning. No matter how you get it done, get it done. The feeling is going to be the same as capturing one of those goals we set as a team. That’s what we get when we win, so we’re trying to win," running back Dalvin Cook said.

If we know anything, it’s to expect another close game between the Lions and Vikings. Minnesota got a 28-24 win in Week 3 after Cousins hit KJ Osborn for a game-winning touchdown with 45 seconds to play. Both games in 2021 came down to the wire. The Vikings are 9-0 this season in games that have been within one possession in the fourth quarter, or come down to the final play.


Kirk Cousins gave a shout-out to his neighbor earlier this season for helping him shovel during Minnesota winters. That same neighbor came to the rescue again Tuesday. Cousins went out to his garage to find a pool of water after new washer was incorrectly installed.

One phone call was all it took for the mess to get cleaned up.

"Minnesota neighbors continue to make a meaningful difference," Cousins said. "If I ever wanted to move, upgrade or come closer to the facility I really can’t because I would have to be buying him a house too with me. I joke about moving over to Sunfish Lake, being closer to work, bigger plot of land but I can’t bring him with me. I’m stuck there."

Sunday is also a homecoming for Cousins, a native of Holland, Mich. He says more than a dozen family and friends are making the three-hour drive to Detroit.

It’s also tight end T.J. Hockenson’s first game back in Detroit since being traded to the Vikings. Hockenson started 42 games in Detroit over three-plus seasons after being drafted by the Lions No. 8 overall in 2019.


The greatest concern on the Vikings' injury report Wednesday is that five players were out due to illness. The list includes fullback C.J. Ham, defensive back Patrick Peterson, safety Harrison Smith and rush end Danielle Hunter. The illnesses do not initially appear to be COVID-19 related. Garrett Bradbury was also limited with a back injury.

O’Connell said defensive back Cam Dantzler and running back Ty Chandler, both designated to return from injured reserve, were expected to practice in a walk-through on Wednesday at TCO Performance Center. Dantzler has missed four games with an ankle injury.

The Vikings put rookie defensive back Akayleb Evans and tight end Ben Ellefson on injured reserve. Evans was removed from the Jets’ game after suffering his second concussion in a month. Ellefson had a procedure for a sports hernia. Despite going on IR, O’Connell does not believe Evans’ issues are long-term.

"The No. 1 thing is just a daily watch by us as an organization that making sure that one of our young players we feel very strongly about is feeling like we’re wrapping our arms around him and helping him in any way we can," O’Connell said.

Christian Darrisaw is still progressing through the concussion protocol, and his status against the Lions is uncertain. He’s missed the last two games after suffering his second concussion in less than two weeks against the Cowboys. He was limited on Wednesday.