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Vikings showed everything they can be in win over 49ers

Victory over a top NFC team was all the Vikings' potential realized at once -- and they need it to stay that way.

MINNEAPOLIS — A lot of elite performances.

That’s the way Kevin O’Connell described the Minnesota Vikings’ 22-17 win over the San Francisco 49ers at US Bank Stadium.

Over the first month-and-a-half of the 2023 season this Vikings team has played at a high level only in spurts. Portions of the second half against the Eagles and Chargers offensively and parts of the Carolina and Chicago games defensively looked like a team that could play with just about anybody. They had not outplayed another team from tape to tape until Monday night. What a time to have it all come together.

In the win the Vikings received terrific quarterback play from Kirk Cousins, who was supported by a rising star receiver in Jordan Addison, top-notch tight end TJ Hockenson and possibly the best offensive line performance we have seen in a long, long time from the Vikings. On the defensive side Brian Flores’ group flustered 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy, causing two key interceptions and held the NFL’s leader in rushing to just 45 yards on the ground.

This is just one week after only producing a single offensive touchdown against the Chicago Bears.

Let’s go through what made it all work versus San Francisco and what they will need for it to keep working as they head into a stretch of extremely winnable games, starting with the Green Bay Packers on Sunday…

As always, the team goes as Cousins goes. He put on an accuracy display, going 35-for-45 for 378 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Per NFL NextGen stats he completed 12.3% over his expected completion percentage based on the location of defenders.


Prior to the game, Cousins talked to his team about what it would require to beat a team like the 49ers, who entered with the second best defense in the NFL in terms of points per game allowed.

“I just challenged them and said, you know, understand here it is, this is a challenging group, we have to be our best,” Cousins said. “Not just our best at the big picture of winning, but the motions, how we handle snap counts, prepare the details. We've got to be at our absolute best, and tried to challenge them from that standpoint. I felt like everybody was up for the challenge.”

The Vikings’ quarterback opened the game with an interception that Addison took responsibility for after the game and then consistently moved the ball through the air with explosive plays. He hit a 22-yarder to TJ Hockenson, 27-yard connection with Brandon Powell, 30-yard screen pass to Cam Akers and, most notably, a 60-yard touchdown to Addison.

Cousins explained what he saw on the game’s biggest play:

“They bring a blitz…I had to throw it earlier than I wanted to and I didn't really know where to lead [Addison],” Cousins said. “I was like, I don't want to over-lead him and then what I did was I under-led him, and so then you allow the DB to undercut it. I thought it was getting picked, and Jordan -- I still don't quite know. I haven't seen it in slow motion. I still don't know how Jordan came away with it.”

If Addison wasn’t in the rookie of the year running before Monday night, he is now. And he badly needed to be considering the Vikings are without No. 1 receiver Justin Jefferson, who remains on injured reserve for at least the next two weeks. Addison totaled seven receptions for 123 yards and two touchdowns.

He had already been receiving praise from Cousins, who declared after the Kansas City game that the Vikings hit on the first-round pick they spent on him, but last week he failed to haul in a deep pass against the Bears and was limited to only a handful of catches.

“I told him after the game, hey, your play before the half won the game, and then there is probably two more plays out there we can connect on for touchdowns, too,” Cousins said. “So it's exciting to see his potential and the playmaker he is. There is a lot of things about his ability you can't teach, and we're fortunate to have.”

None of the plays that led to Cousins’ huge night would have been possible if not for the offensive line, which limited superstar Nick Bosa and the violent 49ers D-line to just six QB hits on 45 drop-backs and zero sacks.

“To answer the bell like they did tonight, can't say enough about [Christian Darrisaw] and Brian O'Neill for what they mean to this team,” head coach Kevin O’Connell said. “How about Dalton Rosner stepping in there? How about Ed Ingram's continued progression? To me this guy just continues to get better and better and having Garrett [Bradbury] back in there now consistently running the show, the rapport between him and Kirk is tremendous. I gave that whole group a game ball. This one will be special for them.”

After the game O’Neill talked about what it was like to go up against Bosa.

“It was a fun battle — sometimes those battles aren’t fun because he’s that good — but it’s Monday Night Football against the premier rusher in the NFL, you can’t ask for much better than that,” O’Neill said. “We walked off the field and [fellow tackle] David Quessenberry said it best, ‘it was a hell of a scrap.’ Yes it was. It’s a scrap for four hours. That’s why you play is for games like this.”

Special indeed but not completely new. The Vikings’ O-line has been graded extremely well by Pro Football Focus this year, ranking in the top five in run and pass blocking. The offense was able to take advantage of that with a consistently effective attack.

In previous weeks, they did not always make the most of it, averaging under three yards per carry against Chicago and going 2-for-13 on third down.

There were some opportunities left on the field still for the Vikings. Again they could not plow the ball over the goal line in the red zone, which has been a persistent issue. On two separate occasions they could have widened the gap and instead came away with three points after missed passes in the end zone, a stuffed run and a failed “Tush Push” that was stuffed.

“We have to be better in the red zone,” Cousins said. “When you kick field goals like this down there it drives me crazy.”

On the defensive side, Flores’ impact was fully felt. The Vikings ran all sorts of different looks and personnel at Purdy and ultimately made game-changing plays that were there to be made. They caused a fumble after the Vikings’ opening interception (and recovered it) and then picked off Purdy twice late in the game.

“The best part about it in my mind is we can morph and change based upon what's required,” O’Connell said of his defense. “That's a really good formula with the type of coaches we have, and especially because the type of players we have to allow it continue to evolve and change, understand what we're strong at, and continue to try to find ways to keep people off balance. Can't say enough about the job that he and his staff and our players did defensively tonight.”

As impressive as the defensive showing was, the Vikings still allowed 9.1 yards per pass attempt to Purdy and 6-for-10 on third or fourth down conversions. Most times when the opponent moves the ball through the air that efficiently they end up scoring more than the 49ers did on Monday night.

But in the coming weeks the Vikings do not face the 49ers. They face Jordan Love, Desmond Ridder, Derek Carr, Russell Wilson and whoever is playing QB for the Bears. There is an opportunity to carry over the playmaking and improve the efficiency.

In every area, the Vikings’ potential was realized on Monday night. O’Connell has been talking all year about being close and looking to play a complete game and they got it. Can they do it again and again or just on any given Sunday?

“We got a short week and go on the road in the division,” Cousins said. “They don't get easier from here. We talk about trying to go 1-0 each week, and win or lose you compartmentalize that and go to the next one. That's what we'll do. We got to show we're a mature football team that after this can get right back to work and get the next one.”