Minnesota Vikings ‘D’ bounces back, Cousins shines in road upset over Eagles
The maligned Vikings ‘D’ responded with a terrific road performance, WR Adam Thielen became the first receiver since the NFL merger to eclipse 100 yards receiving in each of the first five games of a season and Minnesota hung on to exact revenge on the Philadelphia Eagles, 23-21, in a rematch of last year’s NFC title game.
Thielen, the former undrafted receiver from Minnesota State, set the record on a 68-yard third-quarter reception from Kirk Cousins, who was on the verge of being tackled in the end zone for a safety before uncorking a 30-yard dime down the left sideline. Thielen did the rest, juking oncoming rookie S Avante Maddox with a move toward the middle of the field and racing into the record books.
Thielen, who is chasing Charley Hennigan’s NFL record seven consecutive 100-yard receiving games to begin the 1961 season, also also caught a gorgeous drop-in-the-bucket three-yard touchdown in the first half and recovered the final onsides kick to preserve the victory following the Eagles’ frenzied comeback attempt after being down 20-6 with less than 20 minutes remaining.
The Vikings, who arrived in Philadelphia on extra rest after losing 38-31 to the Los Angeles Rams last Thursday night, didn’t allow a touchdown until the fourth quarter. After the two teams exchanged field goals early, Linval Joseph notched a 64-yard fumble return for a touchdown, minutes before Thielen’s touchdown. On the play, Vikings backup DE Stephen Weatherly, pressed into action with Everson Griffen away from the club indefinitely because of mental health issues, beat All-Pro RT Lane Johnson with an inside move to hit Wentz, whose errant throw was easily intercepted by Joseph.
Weatherly has been a revelation for the Vikings in Griffen’s absence. He beat Johnson multiple times Sunday coming off the right edge, where Danielle Hunter normally plays. Hunter has also shined for Minnesota’s shorthanded D-line, picking up his fifth sack of the season.
In addition to missing Griffen, the Vikings played without RB Dalvin Cook for the second time in the past three games. Cook is dealing with a hamstring injury but played on a pitch count in L.A. 10 days ago, making his surprise absence Sunday a concern for the league’s worst rushing offense.
The Vikings opened up a 17-3 lead after the Cousins-to-Thielen touchdown, which occurred two plays after Michael Bennett was penalized on a questionable roughing call that turned a would-be third-and-long at the Eagles’ 31-yard line into first-and-goal at the 10. But after a rough first half on offense, Carson Wentz’s Eagles heated up in the third quarter with 68- and 72-yard drives, only to come away with 3 total points because of a Jay Ajayi fumble.
Wentz, though, didn’t waver, finding Wendell Smallwood on a 12-yard touchdown early in the fourth. Then, after failing to convert a botched screen play resulting in a fumble into points, Wentz (24-of-35 for 311 yards and two TDs) capped another long drive with a seven-yard TD to Zach Ertz. The PAT made it 23-21, but after appearing to momentarily bobble the ensuing onsides kick, Thielen fittingly secured the win for the Vikings.
Thielen, who earned second-team All-Pro honors last season after catching 91 passes for 1,276 yards, has quickly developed a special rapport with his new quarterback, Cousins, who found Thielen with an impossible 22-yard touchdown in the final minute of regulation of Minnesota’s come-from-behind tie vs. the Green Bay Packers.
Cousins, who entered Sunday sporting a 10-2 TD-INT ratio and 103.6 rating, was again brilliant, standing in the pocket and delivering one big throw after the next, many while under duress. He finished 30-of-37 for 301 yards and one TD, helping the Vikings get back to 2-2-1 and dealing the reigning champion Eagles (2-3) their second consecutive narrow loss.