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Justin Jefferson's TD salvages ugly second half for offense

Minnesota scores on much-needed drive after sputtering -- again.

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Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson catches a touchdown in the fourth quarter Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, defended by New York Jets cornerback D.J. Reed. The touchdown was key as Minnesota's offense had faltered in the second half.
John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press
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MINNEAPOLIS -- It was an ugly second half Sunday for the Minnesota Vikings’ offense, but one drive ended up making a big difference.

In a 27-22 win over the New York Jets at U.S. Bank Stadium, Minnesota’s offense rolled up 198 yards in the first half and had a 20-6 lead. But in the second half, the Vikings had just 89 yards of total offense and seven points.

On their one touchdown drive of the second half, though, the Vikings went 75 yards on seven plays. It culminated with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to Justin Jefferson for a 27-15 lead with 8:33 left in the game.

“It was what we needed,’’ Cousins said. “That’s where you believe that, ‘Hey, the next possession, the next play, anything can happen, anything can turn, so just stay going.’ ”

Cousins on Sunday was like a baseball pitcher able to get a win despite not having his best stuff. Taking a number of hits from the Jets’ physical defense, he completed 21 of 35 passes for 173 yards and the one touchdown. In the second half, he was 7 of 11 for 69 yards.

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“Just spent too much time on the sideline of our own doing, three-and-outs, and third and fourth quarter just not sustaining drives enough to score points and give our defense a break,” Cousins said.

A weary Vikings defense gave up 336 yards in the second half after allowing 150 in the first half. But the defense was able to make a number of timely plays late in the game to preserve the win.

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Leading 27-22, the Vikings stopped the Jets on four straight plays after they had first-and-goal at the 4 at the two-minute warning. Then, after the Jets had first-and-10 at the 19 with under 40 seconds left, they stopped them on four more plays, the last being a game-clinching interception by safety Camryn Bynum.

But the game wouldn’t have come down to those plays had the Vikings been more efficient on offense in the second half.

“I was hoping to get off to a little bit better start there in the third quarter,’’ Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell said.

In the second half, Dalvin Cook rushed for just 30 yards after he had 56 in the first half. Jefferson’s touchdown reception was his only catch of the second half, and he finished with seven grabs for 45 yards.

“We had a great first half,’’ Jefferson said. “We came out doing what we needed to do. Putting points on the board. We just need to have a better second half.’’

The Jets defense getting to Cousins didn’t help matters. Both of his sacks came in the second half. For the game, the Jets had nine quarterback hits against a team that was without star left tackle Christian Darrisaw due to a concussion.

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Cousins shrugged off the hits and said he’s in a “car accident every week and you’ve got to put me back together.” But he didn’t deny the hits played a role in some of the offensive struggles.

“It was more that their rush made it uncomfortable in the pocket, so even if they’re not hitting you, you feel like they’re affecting your accuracy, they’re affecting your timing,’’ he said.

After the game, though, Cousins used some of the adversity he faced in talking to the team. He pointed to the Vikings’ key touchdown drive in the fourth quarter and made note of something he learned from Mike Shanahan, his first NFL coach with Washington from 2012-13.

“He would always say, ‘Tough times don’t last, tough people do,’ ’’ Cousins said of what he passed onto the team. “I felt this game in a way was a little bit of a microcosm of that.’’

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