Vikings’ competitive rebuild starting to take shape after win over 49ers


Virtually no one gave the Minnesota Vikings a chance against the NFC’s best. The San Francisco 49ers were coming in off a loss to the Cleveland Browns and were going to be mad.

Mad and fielding the best defense in the league. 

That wasn’t good news for a struggling 2-4 Vikings team in the middle of a competitive rebuild.

But on primetime, Minnesota pulled off a near-miracle and defeated San Francisco, 22-17, thanks in large part to a quarterback known for not showing up to such games. 

Kirk Cousins turned in his best game of the season as he stood in the pocket in the face of pressure and delivered time and time again. By the time the clock hit zero, Cousins had completed 35 of 45 passing attempts for 378 yards and two touchdowns. The Vikings were eight-of-13 on third down. They amassed 452 total offensive yards. 

Cousins was not sacked even once, which had as much to do with Cousins himself as it did a reinvigorated offensive line that had Dalton Risner in for an injured Ezra Cleveland at left guard. In fact, Cousins’ 45 pass attempts without being sacked matched the most of any NFL team this season.

For once, Minnesota won the turnover battle, too. San Francisco came into the game leading the league in turnover margin. The Vikings were last. A pass was ripped away from Minnesota rookie wide receiver Jordan Addison on the first drive of the game that counted as an interception of Cousins. But Cousins bounced back immediately, capitalizing on a turnover by the Vikings’ defense on the 49ers’ first possession. 

Cousins hit Addison on a 20-yard strike to put Minnesota up 7-0. They would never relinquish the lead. Addison even got his own redemption right before halftime when he ripped the ball out of Charvarius Ward’s hands and took it 60 yards for another score. Addison is now consistently justifying the Vikings’ choice to add him with this year’s first-round pick.

“Jordan has been everything I’ve hoped for from the moment I cut on the tape of his time in college,” said head coach Kevin O’Connell. “But he’s been more than that. He’s been really taking on a role within our team, within our offense and earned the incredible amount of trust from Kirk and the rest of our guys. Jordan was fantastic tonight and this is for sure a performance he can build on for the future.”

Cousins found Addison for both his touchdowns on Sunday night. Addison recorded his first 100-yard game in the NFL, catching seven of 10 targets for 123 yards and those two touchdowns. More importantly, he’s stepped in for the injured Jefferson seamlessly, giving Cousins the weapons he needs to be successful.

Cousins has been largely playing well all season, regardless of the Vikings’ win-loss record. The QB threw for 340 yards or more in the first three games of the year. Against Philadelphia on Thursday Night Football in Week 2, Cousins threw for four touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough. The Vikings still lost. Minnesota’s defense, after undergoing a drastic makeover with new defensive coordinator Brian Flores at the helm, was still trying to figure it out. This was the rebuild element of the competitive rebuild, and the two phases of the ball just weren’t on the same page.

The defense had started to come alive in the last few weeks. First, safety Harrison Smith went off with three sacks and a forced fumble in the team’s first win of the season over the Carolina Panthers. Last week, it was linebacker Jordan Hicks‘ turn. He had an interception and a scoop-and-score touchdown in Minnesota’s second win of the season over the Chicago Bears. 

[How Jordan Hicks, NFL’s Defensive Player of the Week, benefited from Vikings’ new defense]

The issue in the last few games was that Cousins and the offense had tapered off, especially with wide receiver Justin Jefferson out. Though they won last week, Cousins went just 21 of 31 for 181 yards and a touchdown. He fumbled twice.

But on Sunday, the offense and the defense came together to beat one of the NFL’s best teams. Cousins turned in the performance of his career in primetime. Safety Cam Bynum had not one, but two picks of 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy that stopped the 49ers from taking the lead each time.

It followed two conservative calls from O’Connell, one to punt for the first time all game with 9:14 left and another after Minnesota kicked a field goal try and missed, surrendering the ball back to San Francisco with 1:11 to play at their 40-yard line. O’Connell elected to trust his defense. And he was rewarded.

The Vikings recovered a fumble by running back Christian McCaffrey at the beginning of the game, too.

The win now puts Minnesota in second place in the NFC North. While you can’t glean playoff hopes from one game, their 49% playoff probability (per ESPN) almost certainly validates general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s decision to not tear the team down to the studs.

With a relatively easy schedule going forward, you can’t count the Vikings out of the postseason yet. They’re putting it all together and competing in the process.

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.



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