MINNEAPOLIS — In the tension of these habitually tight finishes, the Minnesota Vikings have become quite the confident and comfortable team.
Justin Jefferson’s touchdown catch with 8:33 left gave the Vikings a large enough lead to hang on for a 27-22 victory despite a relentless rally by the New York Jets on Sunday.
Camryn Bynum’s interception at the 1-yard line with 10 seconds left finally sealed it for the Vikings (10-2), who completed a four-game sweep of the AFC East in their typical high-wire fashion. But nail-biters? They’ve been leaving that part for the fans.
“It feels like any other play,” Bynum said. “I know pressure’s on us. We’re in the red zone, fourth down, one play to lose the game or win the game, but to us that’s normal football.”
Mike White, who was picked off twice, was 31 of 57 for 369 yards in his second start this season for the Jets (7-5). He scored on a fourth-and-goal sneak from the 1 to pull within five points with 6:45 to go after a replay review reversed the initial ruling that he was stopped short.
With 1:43 remaining and the chance to take the lead, White’s fourth-and-goal pass from the 1 was incomplete when Braxton Berrios bobbled it and the ball hit the turf.
“They’ve been winning like this all year, and we didn’t make the play that we needed to make,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said.
The Jets had all three timeouts left and got the ball right back at the Minnesota 43, but with White under plenty of pressure they stalled out at the 19.
“When these moments do arise,” linebacker Jordan Hicks said, “nobody has a doubt that we’re going to win the game.”
Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison rushed for second-quarter touchdowns, and Greg Joseph made his two field goals and three extra points for the Vikings, who took a 20-3 lead late in the second quarter. Blowouts just aren’t their thing, though. They netted 10 yards on three third-quarter possessions and found themselves in their ninth one-score game of the season
They’ve won them all, and the Vikings are one win or one Lions loss from clinching the NFC North. They have a healthy lead for the No. 2 seed in the conference.
“I do feel like we’re going to be able to rely on these experiences, how we’ve won games,” first-year coach Kevin O’Connell said.
White had folk hero status after passing for 315 yards and three touchdowns to beat Chicago in his first start following the benching of 2021 second overall draft pick Zach Wilson. This performance sure didn’t hurt his reputation, with a 60-yard completion to Garrett Wilson and a 31-yard pass to Corey Davis on fourth-and-10 as the fourth-quarter highlights.
Third-down conversions (3 for 16) and red zone touchdowns (1 for 6) need work. The Jets had to settle for five field goals from Greg Zuerlein, including a franchise-record 60-yarder at the end of the first half.
“We stared adversity straight in the face and responded,” White said. “Just got to respond better.”
With a formidable four-man rush led by Quinnen Williams on the interior and stingy pass coverage with star rookie Sauce Gardner, the Jets defense — ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in most major categories — was as good as advertised.
Kirk Cousins, who finished 21 of 35 for 173 yards, delivered his share of clutch completions on an otherwise-difficult afternoon.
Jefferson made an over-the-middle catch before safety Jordan Whitehead leveled him with a hit flagged for unnecessary roughness. Cook scored on the next play from the 4.
Then on third-and-6 from the 10, Cousins looked off his first three options before firing a pass from the far hash to an out-breaking Jefferson for the toe-tap catch and a 27-15 lead.
“It’s all about the trust, Kirk having the trust to stay in that pocket and launch me the ball and me just having that confidence and seeing a defender coming to hit me and still making that grab,” said Jefferson, who had seven catches for 45 yards.
The Jets are at Buffalo next Sunday.